Lifestyle & Human Interest

Homeless Widower Risks Life To Keep Dog: 'He's All I Have Left in the World'


After losing his wife, his home and possibly his life, a 57-year-old widower from Minnesota is receiving some much-needed help.

The last few years have been awful for Jay Mitchell, who is recovering from frostbite at a Minnesota hospital.

In Dec. 2018, Mitchell’s beloved wife died from cancer. They had been married for 27 years.

Mitchell spent what money he had left on his wife’s funeral.

On Jan. 2, Mitchell couldn’t afford rent, and moved out of his home and into his truck with his dog, Hero.

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Hero is a 10-year-old Labrador-golden retriever mix, and Mitchell’s wife Katherine loved him dearly. The pair picked out the dog when he was just 8 weeks old at a farm for $15.

“He’s all I have left in the world,” Mitchell told the Star Tribune. “All my other family is in the ground.”

As temperatures plummeted to unlivable conditions in Minnesota, Mitchell and Hero tried to stay warm under a pile of blankets inside Mitchell’s old truck.

“It was pure survival, an hour at a time,” said Mitchell, who said he would start the truck every hour for some much-needed heat.

In his hopelessness, Mitchell thought about surrendering Hero to the Humane Society, where at least his dog would be warm.

But he just couldn’t bear to part with his dog, the last remaining family member he has.

Eventually, Mitchell turned to a church for help. Church staff helped Mitchell and Hero check into a hotel for a weeklong stay.

It was at the hotel that Mitchell, finally warming up, realized just how much his feet hurt.

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“I hadn’t been warm for days,” he said. “My feet were cold but they weren’t in agonizing pain. They were just numb.”

Mitchell went to North Memorial Health Center, where he was immediately transferred to HCMC’s burn unit for frostbite treatment on his feet.

But despite his pain, Mitchell could only think about his dog.

Against medical advice, Mitchell left the hospital so he could return to Hero’s side.

“We made a pinky swear over 20 years ago, no one gets left behind,” Mitchell said according to KARE 11. “That included Hero. I wasn’t going to leave him behind either.”

“I know it may sound silly to give that much for a dog but he isn’t just a dog to me. He’s like a human being, like my own son.”

He lived in agony, thinking he would probably die.

And then, Mitchell received a phone call that made him return to the hospital: A Minnesota couple had agreed to let Hero live at their house for as long as necessary.

John Ganfield and his wife, Julie, heard about Mitchell’s plight and immediately agreed to take care of Hero.

“It’s no big deal to take the dog,” John Ganfield told the Star Tribune. “It’s just one of those things.”

Ganfield did more than just host Hero, he got to know Mitchell a bit and started a GoFundMe account on Mitchell’s behalf.

Ganfield launched the GoFundMe campaign on Feb. 1, and by Feb. 3, the account had reached over $33,000 of a $40,000 goal.

“It’s amazing,” Mitchell said, overwhelmed with emotion.

“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.”

Mitchell isn’t out of the woods just yet. He will likely have some of his toes amputated, and possibly lose both of his feet.

But Mitchell has regained something he thought he’d never have again: hope.

“I’m just blown away,” he said through tears.

While Mitchell has a long recovery ahead, he knows that he’s loved and Hero has a home until they can live together again.

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A graduate of Grand Canyon University, Kim Davis has been writing for The Western Journal since 2015, focusing on lifestyle stories.
Kim Davis began writing for The Western Journal in 2015. Her primary topics cover family, faith, and women. She has experience as a copy editor for the online publication Thoughtful Women. Kim worked as an arts administrator for The Phoenix Symphony, writing music education curriculum and leading community engagement programs throughout the region. She holds a degree in music education from Grand Canyon University with a minor in eating tacos.
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