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A dog can have nine lives, too.

Luigi, a Labrador retriever mix, surfaced last week miles of woods and water away and nearly a month removed from where he went missing from his family during a trip into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

Luigi was spotted July 24 in the woods by a visitor at Loon Lake Lodge off the Gunflint Trail, touching off a happy reunion several hours later with one of his owners, who had made "Luigi" a household word across the North Country. They'd plastered paper flyers, posted on social media, and spoken with whoever they thought might help them.

Luigi's odds looked grim 29 days earlier.

On June 25, his owners, Zane Brunette and his cousin Max McKernan, both of Minneapolis, lost track of Luigi almost immediately when they and two friends arrived at a portage between lakes Kawasachong and Polly, about 30 miles northwest of Lutsen. They were launching a 10-day trip with two friends and Luigi when their plans changed abruptly.

With other paddlers in the vicinity and a long portage, Luigi went missing while Brunette and others moved gear, the owner said. In retrospect, Brunette suspected Luigi might have been taken by others with dogs at the hectic portage. Regardless, their dog couldn't be found.

Brunette said they stayed in the area for six hours, searching and calling for Luigi. They then camped for about three days in the area and, he said, put out "greasy pans" in places, hoping to attract the dog.

Luigi, at home, last week.
Luigi, at home, last week.

Courtesy of Zane Brunette

When those attempts failed, they turned to the internet, posting on social media and BWCA blogs. Brunette said they also papered the North Shore and interior lands with their loss.

"It didn't matter if he was taken or [strangers at the portage] ditched him … we put up flyers on everything north of Two Harbors," said Brunette, who added that he leaned on connections to veterinarians.

His lasting hope as the days went on, he said, was that someone would find Luigi and bring him to a veterinarian's clinic.

Only Luigi knows what transpired over 29 days lost in the rugged wild between where the resilient dog started and where he turned up. Was he snatched, like Brunette suspected, and let go? Did he avoid wolves? Find food — if any? He did find some sort of survival mode: He had owners who wouldn't quit on him, and he encountered good Samaritans when he perhaps needed them most.

Marit Warren and her family came upon Luigi in the woods July 24 near their cabin at Loon Lake Lodge, where they were guests, 30 miles or more northeast of where the dog disappeared. Warren's son alerted her. She went to investigate the skittish black dog he'd found and, over time and using cheese treats, earned Luigi's trust. Brunette said he started doing tricks.

Later that day, Warren contacted a Cook County sheriff's dispatcher with her news. The dispatcher recalled a poster for a missing black dog. That led Warren to Brunette. She called and sent photos. One of them showed a black dog with a distinctive lean — just like Luigi's, Brunette said.

Brunette immediately drove six hours from Minneapolis to Warren's cabin, arriving just after midnight.

"I knew him immediately," Brunette said, adding that Luigi ran into his arms, whined and cried, he recalled of the joyous reunion.

Luigi, normally 69 pounds, was 25 pounds lighter and had some broken toenails but otherwise was in good shape. There wasn't even a tick on him.

"He wanted to get in the car," Brunette said with a laugh.

"We were lucky he found Marit because she was the right person for him," he added. "I'm eternally grateful."

Luigi has since returned to his playful self in the comforts of home in Minneapolis and is getting some extra food like eggs, Brunette said, still sounding floored by the weekslong experience.

"I give all the credit to [Luigi]," he added. "I don't know what he went through, but he persevered."