EAST HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) – A man and his dog who had become homeless were saved from the dangerously cold temperatures last week by a good-hearted animal control officer in East Haven.
Martin Lillis, 57, and his 7-year-old boxer, Roxy, currently have a warm hotel room to stay in for the time being.
Lillis said they were homeless for about a month after a series of unfortunate events with landlords.
“It was too much money, or they wouldn’t accept dogs. This is the problem. People have animals, and they need these animals to survive,” Lillis said.
They needed to survive one cold night last week, and Lillis said they couldn’t turn to family and friends for help.
Lillis and his dog Roxy were parked in a Rite Aid Parking Lot, sleeping in their 1998 Dodge Intrepid, when the car’s heater kicked out in the middle of the night. They were cold, bundled up with blankets, and that’s when he made one final call for help.
“By this time, I was just full of tears. I was so scared about what was going to happen to Roxy. But the girl, Emily Higgins, god bless her. She was my angel,” Lillis said.
That angel on earth is officer Emily Higgins with East Haven Animal Control, who discovered Lillis.
“I could tell he was having a really hard time trying to figure out where he could go, what he could do because nowhere would be able to take him and the dog,” Higgins said.
Higgins paid for two nights at the Quality Inn out of her pocket, then posted the encounter to Facebook.
Jean Gagliardi came across the post and created a GoFundMe page to help the man and his best friend, Roxy.
“Being a realtor, putting people in a home is what I do. And I just lost my dog, so I felt so compelled to help,” Gagliardi said.
The online fundraiser is up $37,000 in less than a week, thanks to nearly 1,000 donors.
“Once I posted the story, people started calling the Quality Inn directly, outside of the GoFundMe and bought him nights. One woman donated a week,” Gaglardi said.
Gagliardi says they’ll put the money in a trust fund and use it to find Lillis and Roxy more permanent housing and another car.
“It’s definitely made me believe in humanity again. It made me believe that people are, generally, better than bad,” Gaglardi said.