Mike Heath spreads a dozen tattered fliers across the table of an Arby’s restaurant where he spends a lot of time, mostly because time is all he has.
The fliers are not printed or photocopied. Each one is written in pencil, each message slightly different. That’s because Heath is now homeless and someone took his laptop computer — one of the few things he had left — from one of the cheap motels where he usually spends the night. Heath, 69, said his memory has gotten bad as he’s gotten older, and he’s become too trusting.
His laptop isn’t the only thing gone missing.
“SERVICE DOG STOLEN,” says one flier. “Name: Baby. He is black and gray, cute and calm, $200 reward.” Heath doesn’t know exactly how he will come up with the $200 if someone finds Baby. His disability check should run out any day, but he knows a guy who just might help, if only he can find his dog — his best friend and constant companion for the past 10 years.
“He’s everything,” said Heath. “Please help me find him.”
I met Heath about three years ago, after he sued a fast-food restaurant that would no longer let Baby, a service dog validated by a doctor and the Disability Rights Center, into the premise. Heath got a small settlement, for which he agreed to stay away from the place. When he went to the drive-through in his car, thinking the agreement prevented him only from going inside, police were called and Heath was cited for criminal trespass.
I wrote about the case. The day the column ran, all charges were dropped.
Heath, a Vietnam veteran, said he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. He has episodes in which he doesn’t know where he is or has flashbacks and becomes unstable and confused. He has a letter from his doctor recommending he be allowed into establishments with the dog because of his brain injury.
A letter from the Minnesota Disability Law Center says that “Baby assists Mr. Heath by alerting him to when he is going to have a psychiatric episode by walking in a circle around his legs, nudging him and barking.”
But one night a couple of weeks ago, Heath shared a motel room with another homeless man to save money. The man borrowed Heath’s car to bring a woman back to the motel. Heath believes she was a drug addict. When they later went to a gas station, the woman started walking Baby down the street; Heath thought she was going back to the motel. He never saw either one of them again. The man in his room later told Heath that the woman sold his dog.
I told Heath he was too old to keep that kind of company. He gave me the OK sign and said, “You’re right about that. There’s something wrong with my mind. I’m trusting everybody too much. I see that woman walking away with my dog, and I don’t do anything? I think she’s coming back?”
“That image of her walking away with Baby stays with me,” Heath said.
“It looks like exploitation of a vulnerable adult,” said Mike Hartley, deputy chief of the Bloomington Police Department. “He hooked up with a couple of bad actors.”
Hartley said the police report indicates the couple also got the PIN for Heath’s credit card and drained his meager bank account. An officer is assigned to the case, but finding the couple and a Shih-poo dog is probably a long shot. Heath hopes the person who bought Baby doesn’t know he was stolen, and brings him back. The dog has an identification chip inside him.
“We’d like to find his dog,” said Hartley.
When I talked to him, Heath was awaiting a doctor’s appointment. He may need an aortic valve replacement soon. Not long ago, Heath worked out at the YMCA every day and felt strong and healthy. But he’s lost a lot of weight and gets winded walking short distances.
“I feel like a target,” he said.
That hasn’t stopped him from searching for Baby. He has been posting the fliers all over town. He’s sought out prostitutes and drug addicts looking for the woman, and even visited a potential drug den looking for Baby. The night before I talked to Heath, he had slept in his car in a parking garage, worrying about Baby.
“He’s my Baby boy,” said Heath. “He’s been with me every day of his life. I bet he’s sitting by the door somewhere waiting for me to come back. I hate it that in the late stages of his life, he doesn’t have me. He’s got to come back to the world he knows.”
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