Pat Pauna thought she might be hallucinating.
What was that 6-foot-tall, fuzzy black creature with big ears standing on a remote road near Pauna's home north of Nashwauk on Friday morning? A dwarfed moose? A deer with a perm?
Oh, no -- it was just your average llama, lost in the northern Minnesota woods.
One-year-old Dolly had been missing from owner Tim Tellock's home for nearly a week. Neighbors had seen several dogs slip into Dolly's pen, and she jumped out to get away from them, Tellock said.
Tellock, a trapper by trade, tracked Dolly through the snowy woods for nearly five miles. He gave up around midnight, and then only because he was deep in a swamp and the batteries in his flashlight were fading. For days afterwards, Tellock said he combed the woods, calling for his llama. Dolly was wearing a thick winter coat, and she could browse on tag alder buds for food. As long as Dolly could avoid wolves or other predators, Tellock thought he eventually would find her.
"There are only so many llamas out there," Tellock said.
He also reported his missing llama to the Itasca County Sheriff's Office.
Pauna was on her way home when she spotted Dolly standing on the road. Though Pauna had never before seen a llama in real life, she recognized Dolly as such.
After calling thesheriff's office and quickly getting in touch with Tellock, Pauna was instructed to try and lure Dolly with carrots.
"Thankfully, I had 30 little baby carrots," Pauna said. Dolly eagerly nibbled at one, and Pauna caught hold of the halter around her head. She fed Dolly the rest of the carrots one by one as they walked the mile and a half back to her home and the shelter of an empty barn.
"She talked to me the whole way back," Pauna said. "She was humming all the way down the road, and then she gave me a kiss."
Tellock said he was happy to find his llama safe and sound, if a little bedraggled from her week in the woods.
He plans to train Dolly to walk his trap lines when she is a little more mature. Llamas are often used as pack animals, and Tellock has a friend who plans to donate some motorcycle saddlebags for the job.
Dolly also seemed happy to be home, Tellock said, though getting her there in the bed of his Ford Ranger was a little tricky.
And as for Pauna, Friday's llama-rescuing adventure became an instant fond memory.
"I'm 68 years old, and this was the best thing that ever happened to me," Pauna said. "I was so sad to see her go."
JANNA GOERDT covers the communities surrounding Duluth. She can be reached weekdays at (218) 279-5527 or by e-mail at jgoerdt@duluth news.com.