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Fisherman uses ice auger for a heart-wrenching search

This was Pete Tuomisto's heart-wrenching search for his dog. Digger apparently fell through the ice in December chasing muskrats. Pete was drilling holes and using his underwater camera to find his beloved black lab. (Jason Durham / For the Enterprise)

"Are you fishing or clearing an ice skating rink?" I spoke the words in jest, not fully understanding the other angler's peculiar actions.

I had trudged through deep snow and slush atop the clear water of Blue Lake in late December and as I augered a few holes, noticed a man fishing forty or fifty yards away. Obviously a lake resident, since there were no other vehicles at the public access, the angler had a sled full of gear and was crouched next to a hole. A few minutes passed and he moved to another nearby hole. This took place over and over and as I watched out of the corner of my eye, never saw him catch a fish.

Soon the man started his auger and carved another half-dozen holes, shoveling the slush away after he finished. Fifteen minutes later he did this again. And again. And again.

I finally walked over to the fellow angler and took note of the area, maybe 30 square feet, clear of all snow and slush, an ice rink if I've ever seen one. The only difference was this rink had 30, 40, maybe even 50 holes drilled throughout the clearing.

The man laughed when I questioned his unique strategy. "I'm trolling", he said with a laugh. Yet when he told me of his true intentions, my heart sunk.

"I'm looking for my dog", he said and it all started to make sense; the underwater camera, the massive number of holes in such a small area and the newly noticed absence of any fishing rods whatsoever.

It was December 3rd when Pete Tuomisto last saw his black lab, Digger. Anglers launching their boat over the past couple years at the Blue Lake access have probably encountered Digger, since he often wandered from the Tuomisto's adjoining property to greet people.

After three days without the dog's return, Pete walked out onto the ice in front of his Blue Lake home. "I could see an area where it appeared something large had fallen through and chunks of ice surrounded the spot like an animal may have tried to unsuccessfully pull itself out."

Reflecting on Digger's disappearance, Pete recalled a couple possible clues. The first was a family of muskrats that were playing in the approximate area where he discovered the deformed ice. He surmised his dog may have ventured out onto the thin ice to investigate the creatures.

Pete also remembered observing the neighbor dog, Cedar, pacing the shoreline in front of his house for several days after Digger disappeared. Pete surmises Cedar may have been signaling Digger's location.

"If he did fall through, I simply want to recover his body", says Tuomisto. His attempts to find Digger beneath the ice using an underwater camera that cool December afternoon and another day last week proved unsuccessful, which offers hope. "I get calls from people, the UPS driver a few times, saying they've spotted a dog fitting Digger's description and I always check out the lead. At this point he hasn't turned up."

Pete Tuomisto urges pet owners to keep their dogs indoors or inside a kennel when the ice begins to form, wishing in retrospect he had done the same.

Digger is a male, eight-year-old black lab with one broken canine wearing a red collar. Anyone with information regarding Digger's whereabouts is asked to contact Pete Tuomisto at 732-0963.