Scott and Melynda Renner of Herndon, Virginia, are avid Boundary Waters canoers. They’ve paddled the remote wilderness more than 20 times, including several with Eden, a skittish, 25-pound Tibetan Terrier who tends to stick close on portage trails, always anxious to be in the boat when it leaves shore.
In September, the Renners made camp on Long Island Lake, their favorite. Four days into the trip, they set out to explore the portage between Muskeg and Kiskadinna Lakes, which has a memorable 150-foot stair climb in the middle. Eden, as always, tagged along off-leash.
They climbed the stairs. Ran into a couple campers going the opposite direction. Arrived at the end of the trail. It was there that they realized Eden never caught up, so they doubled back. Yet the dog was nowhere to be found.
The Renners combed the trail over and over. The forest beyond was extremely dense and untraversable. They made a lot of noise and stayed a long time. They returned the next day and did it again. And the day after that.
Then they had to leave. It wasn’t that they had run out of food. At that point, neither could bring themselves to eat much at all. But they were concerned that if they failed to check in with their daughter at their pre-determined time, she’d send in emergency rescuers. Leaving Eden killed them, but all they could do was mark all the nearby trails with notes in Ziplock bags weighted down with rocks.
“It was a joyless trip,” said Scott.
Once they got cell service back, the Renners and their daughter started calling canoe outfitters to get the word about Eden out to every camping party heading into the Boundary Waters. They posted Eden’s photo on trip-planning forums, and contacted the Retrievers, a Minnesota-based nonprofit that helps people find lost dogs, often with the use of live traps.
Retrievers case manager Amy Addy says when dogs wander remote places for days on end, where they can’t see or smell any trace of their humans, they can go into “survival mode," and start thinking everything is out to kill them. Calling or chasing those dogs can push them further into the wilderness. It’s better to leave a scent trail by dragging a piece of dirty laundry across the path for the dog to follow back to rescuers, Addy says.
The Renners overnighted an unwashed shirt to Minnesota. An ingoing camper from Minneapolis named Joel volunteered to change his course so he could swing by the portage where Eden disappeared, lay that scent trail, and set up a series of remote cameras.
On Monday, Ron Monkman and Lynn Jones of Michigan went paddling by the north end of Cherokee Lake. (They usually go to Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario, but borders are closed because of America’s uncontrolled COVID spread.)
It was a windy day, and as they fought through choppy waters, they happened to look at the shoreline where a dog was sitting on a rock, totally alone. So the couple got out. Their Labradoodle puppy chased Eden a bit. Monkman tried to track her through the underbrush, but couldn’t catch her. Jones threw pieces of a snack bar, followed by dog kibble. It took a couple hours of pretending to ignore Eden, but eventually she approached and let Jones pet her. She had burrs in her fur and sap on her underbelly, but otherwise looked like she’d been lost a few days, tops.
Once they left the Boundary Waters, Jones used a number on a dog tag to call Scott Renner in Virginia.
“He goes, ‘But do you happen to have a dog attached to that tag?’ And I said, ‘Yes, we do. And she is alive.’”
Scott called Melynda, a nurse, who was on duty at the time.
“I went to tell everyone in the break room," Melynda says, "and they all understood immediately because, oh, I love this dog so much. She loves me so much. It was awful leaving her there. This is really the story of the kindness of strangers. I'm so grateful.”
Monkman and Jones are now on their way to Michigan with Eden in tow. Once they settle in, the Renners will drive up from Virginia to reunite with their dog.
Retrievers was able to contact Joel, the Good Samaritan, who is still in the Boundary Waters, to tell him Eden had been found.
Despite being on her own from September 17-28, Eden seems fine, reports Addy, who met up with Monkman and Jones when they stopped in Duluth on Wednesday. The dog had no injuries at all. Her paw pads are intact. She’s eating well, has no digestive issues, and didn’t even lose much weight.
“We don’t give them enough credit. Dogs have lived for months in the wilderness in remote locations,” she says. “She had plenty of water up there with the lakes. And she most likely survived on deer or moose poop.”