Winona suddenly became home to both an animal hero and villain Monday, when a photo of a man hugging a dog outside the Winona post office in subzero temperatures shot across the Internet.
A bit of investigation Tuesday, though, turned up a pampered dog, an owner shocked at backlash created from little context and a heartbroken accidental photographer.
The photo, taken by Winona State University student Brittany Knight, pictured a man hugging a dog tied outside the post office. Knight explained in the photo caption that the man had been inside waiting in line, and, when he saw the dog, he stepped out into the cold weather and hugged the dog to keep it warm.
“Most incredible man award,” the heading read.
The photo soon had more than 150,000 views and was splashed across the Internet. On Facebook viewers posted comments praising the man in the photo and condemning the dog’s owner.
(Admission: an early Daily News Facebook post Tuesday about the photo described the man as a “Good Samaritan,” which kept the condemnations coming.)
Knight, who admitted she didn’t know the full circumstances and simply wanted to photograph a guy she saw doing something nice, was surprised by the attention and comments her photo has received.
“I’ve been kind of heartbroken at the negative ones,” she said. “That part sucks.”
Most surprised was the dog’s owner, Winona resident Diane Kennedy.
Kennedy takes her now-famous yellow Lab, Tilly, with her to the post office every day, usually followed by a trip to the bank, where Tilly gets a treat. They take the trip all seasons, warm and cold.
“She loves the cold, loves the snow,” she said. “She’s very disappointed if she doesn’t go with me.”
Kennedy left Tilly outside Monday while she completed her errands as usual, and never saw the man holding her dog. When she came outside, she found him standing next to Tilly and petting her.
“She’s really friendly,” she said. “People come up and pet her a lot.”
Since Kennedy does not have a Facebook page, she only found out about the photo later, when her daughter stumbled across the picture on social media.
As for the comments, Kennedy’s family has instructed her not to read them.
Temperatures Monday were well below average, but Tilly wasn’t in any real danger, said Suzie Ehll at Winona’s Pet Medical Center, in part because dogs have a much higher tolerance to cold than humans do.
“Twenty minutes really isn’t that much for a dog,” she said.
Although every situation is different, depending on conditions and the breed, many dogs, including hunting breeds such as yellow Labs, are fine not just walking but living outdoors in winter conditions, as long as they have a dog house, fresh bedding and a heated water bowl, she said.
“A lot of people think that animals are children,” she said. “Dogs are not like people.”
A lot of people who saw the photo online, it seems, leaped instantly to making all kinds of other wrong assumptions.
“I’m sorry that they took it out of context,” Kennedy said. “She’s the most spoiled, loving and loved dog as can be.”
The Winona man, who was not able to be reached Tuesday, might have came out the best in the incident — after honestly misreading the situation, he got a hug from the loving dog. Or maybe it was Tilly herself who came out best — she doesn’t have a Facebook page.
After the incident at the post office, Kennedy said, she and her dog walked home.
Tilly, she said, stuck her face in the nearest snowbank at every opportunity.
“A lot of people think that animals are children. Dogs are not like people.” Suzie Ehll, Pet Medical Center