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Lost and found

  • Luigi, a black Lab mix, lays in a backyard

    Lost and found

    Beloved dog returns home after friends, CVM community, and many more spread word to help 

    Luigi rests in his backyard after spending nearly a month missing in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northwest Minnesota. Photo courtesy of Zane Brunette. 

Wherever Zane Brunette goes, his black lab mix, Luigi, follows. Their unbreakable bond began when Luigi was just a pup and has only strengthened over the past seven years. 

“He's a very gentle dog, and he gets along with everybody,” Brunette says. “He's a local favorite at all the coffee shops. I bring him everywhere.”

Luigi and Zane smile for a photo. 
Photo courtesy of Zane Brunette. 

Everywhere includes trips to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northwest Minnesota. Their most recent trip in June 2022 is one the pair will never forget. 

Luigi disappeared while Brunette’s group traveled through a portage in the Kawasachong Lake area. It kicked off a month-long search that mobilized animal lovers across the state—including members of the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine community.  

On that day, the portage was full of travelers, including some fellow dog owners. As Brunette and his friends navigated a nearby trail in two groups, Luigi bounced back and forth between them. Then, he was gone. 

Brunette began scouring the area immediately. His best guess as to what happened is his group passed by Luigi playing with other dogs but didn’t see him because of the boat they were carrying on their shoulders. As time wore on and the search continued into the night, Luigi never responded to his calls. 

Reaching out

For two days, Brunette stuck around the portage area, holding out hope his companion would come bounding up to their campsite. But Luigi never showed and Brunette made the heartbreaking decision later that day to drive back to his home in Minneapolis.  

There, he and his friends got to work. They made dozens of flyers and headed back up north, posting them on any community message board they found and dropping them off at law enforcement offices. 

Back in the Twin Cities, Brunette’s friends began reaching out. Amanda Kuhrke, customer service supervisor at the CVM Veterinary Medical Center, is one of Brunette’s close friends. Once she heard the news, Kuhrke sent out emails to colleagues hoping for help. She received more than she could imagine. 

Word spread like wildfire through the College, and Kuhrke received dozens of offers of help, with CVM faculty and staff reaching out to contacts in clinics, animal shelters, the Department of Natural Resources, and more. Kuhrke says she had to create a spreadsheet to track everything.   

Luigi lounging is in backyard. Photo courtesy of Amanda Kuhrke.

“The response we got was incredible,” she says. “When Zane went back up and was posting flyers, he said it was kind of surreal because he went into places and people already knew he was coming, had heard about Luigi, and were happy to put the flyers up.”

Dr. Lindsey Knox, an assistant professor of community medicine, also is a close friend of Brunette. She joined the effort of putting the word out. The idea of Luigi being out in the wilderness alone worried her, not only as a concerned friend but as a veterinarian. Dogs in Luigi’s situation may face injury, parasites, malnutrition, and other health concerns. 

“The thought of Luigi being alone and in discomfort or pain was difficult,” she says. “In our field, we have the opportunity to relieve suffering when needed and elected. But knowing that I wasn’t able to do that or not even knowing if he was suffering—I think that was the part that was hardest for me.”

All Knox, Brunette, and the rest of the friend group could do was await news about Luigi. 

A long-awaited reunion

The call came while Brunette and his friends gathered in a backyard for a game of cards. It had been 29 days since Luigi had disappeared. In the weeks since, Brunette had fielded calls from scammers and people who thought they had found Luigi but were mistaken. 

This call was different. The woman on the other end said the dog in question responded to the name Luigi, and photos she sent to Brunette showed a black lab with distinct gray hairs on his chin. 

Luigi signed a card thanking the woman who called and
reunited him with his owner, Zane. Photo courtesy of
Amanda Kuhrke. 

“We drove up there right at that moment—literally left the party we were at,” Brunette says. “We drove six hours up to Duluth and met her at 12:30 at night. As soon as he saw me, he came right to me and just started crying. I just held him—he was so light. I just held him up so he wouldn't have to be on his feet. And we just cried for a minute.”

In the month between their last moments together, Luigi had reappeared more than 30 miles away from where he went missing. He can’t tell the tale of what happened to him during those weeks, so Brunette and his friends are left to guess. 

Luigi returned home about 25 pounds lighter, but with no major injuries. Brunette theorizes someone may have kept him tied up in a backyard, as Luigi’s coat was free of burrs and parasites, and his nails were grown out and two of them recently broken.  

Safely back home with Brunette and his cat Flapjack, Luigi has been busy recovering over the last couple of months from his ordeal, slowly putting on weight and falling back into his old routines.

Luigi relaxing at home one month after being found.
Photo courtesy of  Amanda Kuhrke. 

Friends have been stopping by, including Kuhrke and Knox, to shower him with attention. All are grateful for the help they received from CVM and beyond that made it possible to bring Luigi home. 

“He just gets happier and healthier every day,” Brunette says. “We just do more and more of the stuff we used to do all the time. He's just very, very happy.”