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Six months on, devoted family not giving up search to find missing Rowdi

Rowdi went missing on the North Shore in February, but Cory Carlson has hope Rowdi is still alive.
Cory Carlson recently paid for a billboard in hopes of finding his beloved dog Rowdi. 

Cory Carlson recently paid for a billboard in hopes of finding his beloved dog Rowdi. 

It's been nearly six months since Rowdi, a yellow lab, went missing from a resort on the North Shore. Despite no confirmed sightings of the beloved dog, his owners remain hopeful they'll be reunited.

Cory Carlson, his wife, young daughter and Rowdi traveled from the Twin Cities to the Surfside resort in Tofte, where they were staying. It was 9:30 p.m. on Feb. 10, Carlson let Rowdi out to use the bathroom — he had a tie out but Rowdi kept getting tangled, so he was off-leash as he'd been countless times before — when he went missing, Carlson told Bring Me The News.

It was 20-below zero and Carlson was watching Rowdi through the storm door, but it frosted over. About 10 seconds later, he peered out a nearby window. Rowdi was gone. 

Carlson put on his slippers and ran outside. He assumed Rowdi had just wandered around the corner but as minutes passed, he became worried and started calling for his beloved dog with no luck. He began to panic and called the sheriff's office, which quickly responded. They found tracks that led them to believe Rowdi wandered into the woods across Highway 61, with no signs he went toward Lake Superior.

Rowdi hasn't been seen since. It's been 175 days but the Carlsons and Rowdi's case manager Amy Addy with the volunteer lost dog team The Retrievers haven't stopped looking for him.

Dogs 'just don't disappear'

"I don't think I'll find my dog without trying," Carlson said during a phone interview on Wednesday, 174 days after Rowdi went missing. 

He's heard the heartbreaking stories — and has heard from a few people that say he's in denial and should stop looking because it's a lost cause — but the hundreds of success stories about dogs that are found after months or years in the wild keep him going.

Related [Feb. 26]: Twin Cities man going to great lengths to find his beloved dog, missing in northern MN

"There are just so many stories, time and time again, of dogs that survive. They do. They just don't disappear," Carlson said. "Dogs do survive ... families that don't give up do find their dogs."

Carlson said he may treat Rowdi like his baby, "but he's not a baby. He's a dog. He's an animal and they survive.

"If a little miniature poodle can make it through two Minnesota winters, I think my lab can make it through a few months," Carlson said, referencing a story about a dog in Minnesota that was found last year 531 days after it went missing. 

It's not uncommon for dogs to be found months after going missing. They go into survival mode and find ways to survive, usually by eating other animal's poop, Addy said. 

Naysayers have suggested Rowdi was killed by wolves or other animals, but Addy said it's rare for that to happen — even in northern Minnesota, where there are wolves. Addy said the most common causes of death are being hit by cars or drowning after falling through the ice. 

Of the 798 lost dog cases The Retrievers handled in 2020, 598 of the animals were lost by their owner and 104 were lost by a caregiver. The majority — 482 of all lost dog cases — were reunited with their owner, 100 incidents are listed as cold cases, 42 cases were dropped and 41 dogs died before they could be found. Twenty-seven (66%) of the lost dogs that died were hit by a car, six (11%) fell through the ice and three (8%) drowned. None were killed by wildlife. 

Signs point to someone having Rowdi

Stories, statistics, and the fact there's been no sign of Rowdi — alive or dead — since he went missing, despite extensive searches on the ground and by air, have Addy and Carlson believing he's still alive.

“With the amount of tourists and the amount of traffic, after this much time, he’s either still roaming — which is entirely possible — or the more likely option is some well-meaning person, maybe after a week or two he was looking haggard and his collar came off … and they picked him up and they took him home," Addy said.

There are a lot of people who will take in a dog and keep it, assuming the dog was dumped or the family didn't want them — they don't think it may be a long-lost dog, Addy said. Keeping a found dog is illegal.

"People have been actively looking, hundreds of people, for these whole six months and nobody has seen anything," Carlson said. "... Dogs just don't disappear. I think somebody has taken this dog."

"So my goal is to push awareness to the point where he can be flushed out from wherever he is," Carlson added. 

Using his own money and the roughly $13,000 he  has raised via online fundraisers, he and The Retrievers have launched an "aggressive" awareness strategy. They've bought missing dog signs and placed them at all the trailheads; bought and set up trail cameras in hopes of spotting Rowdi; sent out direct mail campaigns to every resident from Two Harbors to Grand Portage; and have "aggressively boosted" his Rescue Rowdi Facebook page, which has nearly 3,000 followers, to surrounding states and Canada.

They have also been in contact with shelters, vets and rescues in case someone brings him in, in addition to the aforementioned searches on the ground and via drone and airplane looking for signs of life or a body.

“We keep hope alive based on statistics, based on our skill set — we’re really good at what we do," Addy said. "The family has gone well above and beyond what most families have done or can do or would do. 

"We just get a feeling that there’s something about this dog — there’s something about him that I really think he’s still out there, whether someone has him or he’s still roaming," she added. 

New efforts to find Rowdi

Carlson and Addy believe the person who could be caring for Rowdi may not be on social media and doesn't go into town much, so they're unaware the yellow lab is even missing. 

This has prompted Carlson to expand his awareness efforts to include print advertisements in a few North Shore publications starting this week and a new billboard, which has been up for about a week on Highway 61 southbound outside of Grand Marais. 

Putting up a billboard for Rowdi also comes in response to a "surly minority" of people who have been removing the missing Rowdi signs from trailheads on the North Shore. Carlson said his family has also received some "nasty" phone calls and messages telling him to take down the signs (they have approval from the Minnesota Department of Transportation, the Minnesota DNR and local law enforcement to post them), saying he needs to get over it because his dog is dead. 

Carlson said he can't "keep tossing money at signs that keep going missing," so he bought the billboard and print ads to continue raising awareness. 

Although there have been a few "bad eggs," as Carlson calls them,  overall people on the North Shore and elsewhere have been supportive of his efforts and he's grateful for their donations, volunteers offering to search for Rowdi, and those who continue to share Rowdi's story on social media. 

Not giving up

Carlson said he's not ending his search for Rowdi any time soon, telling his naysayers "It's never a lost cause. Even if I don't find him, I can say I did my best and I did right by my boy."

He will hope and look for Rowdi at "some capacity" until "it doesn't make sense anymore in terms of just lifespan." Rowdi, who Carlson said is healthy, in good shape and doesn't look older than 5, turned 11 on July 18. The average lifespan of a lab is 12, though his friend's lab lived to be 16.

"I could definitely find some peace if we found a body, but I guess until then — I'll always leave a light on for him," Carlson said. "I don't know that I'll maintain this breakneck pace of an aggressive campaign, but I'd still like to keep some feelers out there."

Carlson said he doesn't think he can afford to keep a billboard up and keep ads in the newspapers forever — he's already spent a lot of his own money — but social media is free, so he can continue to share Rowdi's story hoping someone will recognize him.

The Retrievers also won't stop looking. Addy said they don't stop until there's a body, until they know what happened or until the family says to stop. 

Carlson has already cut back some of his in-person efforts. When Rowdi first went missing, he was traveling between his home with his wife and now-4-year-old daughter to the North Shore on his own dime to look for Rowdi. But now, since there haven't been any potential sightings of Rowdi, it doesn't make sense for his family nor his mental health to go up there every week.

"When I come to whatever the conclusion of this is — whether years down the road and we never find him or whether it's a couple months and he's back home with us — I can know that I did right by my boy," Carlson said. 

For Carlson, Rowdi is more than a dog — he's a large part of why Carlson is alive today. He is an abuse survivor and didn't realize all that had happened to him until he was an adult and his "very wise" wife encouraged him to go to therapy and that he needed to get a dog, he explained, tearfully.

"We got Rowdi when he was a puppy back in 2010 and that's when I started therapy," Carlson said. "No matter how I was, whether I was depressed, or angry, or sad or feeling too tired to get up, he was there to either say 'It's OK' and reassure me, or he was there to say 'Get off your ass and take me for a walk.'"

He misses Rowdi's chin on his lap and his "unmistakable sigh letting me know that everything's going to be OK," Carlson said.

"There's just a Rowdi-shaped hole in my heart," he added. 

How you can help

If you spot Rowdi, snap a photo and call 612-669-8488. That's the most important thing — don't chase him or try to catch him. Dogs that go missing are in survival mode and they'll run from everything, including their owners until they catch their scent and remember them, Carlson and Addy explained. 

"He's not a domestic dog anymore; he's a wild dog vying for his life," Carlson said.

You can also help by increasing awareness about Rowdi by sharing social media posts or donating money, which will go toward advertising to increase awareness. 

If someone does have him, Carlson said they just want the dog back, no questions asked. It's illegal to keep a found dog but Carlson wants people to know that if they have Rowdi and return him, they won't be in trouble.

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