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The story behind the photo of the man holding the dog in Winona

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A photo of a man hugging a dog that was left outside in subzero temperatures in Winona Monday quickly circulated online this week, drawing both criticism of the dog's owner and praise for an "incredible man."

But with further investigation, the Winona Daily News found the situation may not have been as dire as it appeared.

Brittany Knight, a Winona State University student, was inside a downtown post office when she spotted a yellow Lab outside with its leash tied to a bike rack.

Knight explained in her post on imgur, a photo-sharing platform, that a woman had left her dog outside while she went into the building.

"Not a big deal most of the time. But this is Minnesota and it was -20 out. [The dog] was shaking so bad," Knight said.

A man waiting in line at the post office also saw the dog and went outside to keep the animal warm. Knight took a photo of the unidentified man in action, which has been viewed more than 375,000 times on imgur since Monday and created some buzz on social media.

Many comments turned nasty, condemning the woman for being a bad dog owner while the man was regarded as a hero.

The newspaper caught up with the owner, Diane Kennedy of Winona. She says she takes her dog "Tilly" with her every day to the post office followed by a trip to the bank, where Tilly gets a treat.

"She loves the cold, loves the snow,” Kennedy told the Winona Daily News.

And some animal experts say there's nothing wrong with that.

"Dogs are not like people," Suzie Ehll, practice manager at the Pet Medical Center in Winona, told the newspaper. "Twenty minutes really isn’t that much for a dog.”

Ehll says dogs have a much higher tolerance to cold than humans and Tilly wasn't in any danger. In fact, some breeds are just fine living outdoors in winter conditions.

"Longer-haired and thick-coated dog breeds, such as huskies and other dogs bred for colder climates, are more tolerant of cold weather; but no pet should be left outside for long periods of time in below-freezing weather," according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.

After Tilly got a brief warmup by the stranger, Kennedy said she and her dog walked home.

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