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Therapy dog dies in crash

An Oxford firefighter cleans up debris from a violent crash that took place in front of The Golden Nugget (1055 S. Lapeer Rd.) on Sept. 13. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
September 18, 2013 - He spent most of his life helping others feel better. It certainly doesn't seem fair that he should meet such a tragic end.

A violent crash in front of The Golden Nugget restaurant (1055 S. Lapeer Rd.) on Friday, Sept. 13 claimed the life of Mitchell, a 10-year-old English springer spaniel who was a registered therapy dog.

Mitchell was owned by Oxford resident Jim Hughes, 76, who was injured in the crash.

Hughes was turning left off M-24 into the restaurant's parking lot when his 2009 Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck was struck by a northbound gravel train driven by a 61-year-old Metamora man, according to the Oakland County Sheriff's report.

Here's a photo of Mitchell back when the Leader ran a story about him in 2006. (click for larger version)
The gravel train pushed Hughes truck off the road, causing it to hit three parked vehicles on the east side before it came to a stop in a parking lot. The gravel train jackknifed and ended up partly on a grassy area along the road.

Hughes was cited for failure to yield.

Hughes' other dog, Sarah, an English cocker spaniel was also killed in the accident.

Dealing with the loss of these special canines won't be easy, according to Hughes' son, also named Jim Hughes.

"They were like children," he said. "They went everywhere with my mom and dad. It's definitely a big loss for both of them. The dogs were family members."

Between 2005 and his retirement earlier this year, Mitchell visited hundreds and hundreds of patients at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak. Like any other hospital employee or volunteer, Mitchell had his own official identification badge containing his name and photo, which he proudly wore on his collar.

Registered with the New Jersey-based Therapy Dogs International, his main job was to boost patients' emotional health by helping to lower their anxiety levels and lift their spirits. He once visited 300 patients in a single year.

He also visited waiting rooms, bringing joy to folks anxiously waiting to hear news of their loved ones' conditions.

Although he never cured anyone, Mitchell did manage to work a miracle or two.

Once he got through to a female patient who was conscious, but not responding to those around her. She wouldn't acknowledge anyone's presence.

A nurse used the patient's hand to gently stroke Mitchell's soft head, then his furry back. Much to everyone's surprise, the patient began to pet Mitchell on her own.

Over the years, Mitchell also spread good cheer to other places such as Bortz Health Care of Oakland, a nursing home in Orion Township, and the Colombiere Conference and Retreat Center in Clarkston, which houses a retirement community for Jesuit priests and brothers who are infirm and/or elderly.

Mitchell became somewhat of a local celebrity when the Leader published a feature story about his role as a therapy dog in its Sept. 13, 2006 edition.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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