Strangers rally to help a homeless man and his dog

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The story of a homeless man and his undying loyalty to his dog has touched the hearts of strangers.

Jay Mitchell lost his Randall, Minn., home in January, just weeks after his wife died from cancer. His only option was to move into the front seat of his ’94 pickup truck because he refused to give up his only companion — a 10-year-old labrador-golden retriever mix named Hero.

But unforgiving subzero temperatures took their toll, and Mitchell was rushed to HCMC’s burn unit to be treated for severe frostbite. It’s almost certain doctors will have to amputate some of his toes and maybe even his feet.

Despite his uncertain future, Mitchell found comfort because Hero is being cared for by a stranger. And on Friday, he was stunned by the generosity of many more strangers stepping up to contribute to a GoFundMe page set up to help him during his recovery. Others are also offering to help him through the ordeal.

“It’s amazing,” he said Friday from his hospital bed. “I thought there was no hope. I thought that these wounds would heal and I would be out homeless again, and it looks like that won’t happen.”

The first person to step up was John Ganfield and his wife, Julie, in Hanover, Minn. They agreed to care for Mitchell’s dog while he recovers. It was easy to say yes after his wife, who works at North Memorial Health Hospital where Mitchell first went for medical attention, got an e-mail from a colleague about the search to find someone to take care of the dog.

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“It’s no big deal to take the dog,” said Ganfield, who has his own dog, Bailey, an American bulldog-Dalmatian mix. “It’s just one of those things.”

Getting to know Mitchell, Ganfield said it’s obvious the former handyman has “looked out for others more than himself.” Now after a series of bad breaks, others need to step in and give Mitchell a little help, he said.

Ganfield also set up the GoFundMe page because requests were pouring in from strangers who wanted to help Mitchell. Eight hours after setting up the page on Friday, more than a 100 people had donated more than $4,500 after reading about Mitchell’s plight in the Star Tribune and seeing other reports on TV.

Pius Eigenmann of Ply­mouth said he read the story Friday and cried, recalling how brutal a minus 22-degree temperature felt while he stood outside to pump gas into his car earlier this week. “Imagining that someone [like Mitchell] didn’t have warm shelter — little more than just a truck — was brutal,” said Eigenmann, a fellow dog owner. “The hardship that he had leading up to this, it was just a perfect storm.”

Learning about the outpouring of community support, Mitchell gets emotional.

“I’m just blown away,” he said, his voice cracking as he searched for words of gratitude.

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