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Dog saying goodbye to his dying master: Story behind viral image

Massachusetts General Hospital

At first glance, the image seems quizzical. A dog on a hospital bed? Huh? But a closer look reveals a haunting image that won't soon be forgotten: A faithful pup saying goodbye to his master as he lay dying in his hospital bed.

It was an image that stopped the Internet in its tracks this week after Evan Smith, 21, of Danvers, Mass., posted it on Reddit. It has since been shared, tweeted, written about and commented on thousands upon thousands of times.

And thousands upon thousands of strangers have opened their wallets to help the terminally ill man's family with its ballooning bills.

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We contacted Smith to find out more about the heartbreaking image. Here's what he told us:

The man in the hospital bed is Mike Petrosino, 21, of Beverly, Mass. He was 13 when he was first diagnosed with metastatic Ewing's sarcoma, a rare form of cancer that attacks soft tissue and bones.

"He's in a lot of pain, but he's as comfortable as he can be," Smith told the Los Angeles Times. "We were told there is nothing else he can do, and that we don't have long."

Friends and family have been making a somber pilgrimage to Petrosino's bedside at Massachusetts General Hospital to say their goodbyes. And the photo, taken by Mike's brother, John, captures one very special goodbye, when the Petrosino's family dog, Rusty, came to Mike's hospital bedside.

"A couple of strings had to be pulled" to get the dog inside the sterile hospital environment, Smith explained.

Smith said it is "amazing" the way in which the world has responded to the image. Many followed the photo to the family's Go Funding page. More than $30,000 has been raised so far.

The page was originally set up by Mike's mom, Paula, to help cover the costs of driving to and from the hospital for medical treatment, and other expenses. In recent months, however, as Petrosino's condition worsened, expenses have skyrocketed. And there's another reality: The family will soon face funeral costs, Smith said.

"To see these people who have no idea who he is ... [donating money], it is really touching," Smith said. "We all really appreciate it."

Smith and Petrosino have been friends since their sophomore year in high school and share many interests, among them HBO's "Game of Thrones." "He's just a really great guy," Smith said.

Smith said the way the image ricocheted around the Internet allowed him to look at it anew, with fresh eyes, and understand why the photo has cut through the media clutter and captured the public's attention.

"It's a great photo, he's with his sister. You can see there's a lot of love in that photo. People really latch on to that. There are so many static and silly images out there. And when you see something that cuts through the emotion, it really hits you."

Paula Petrosino posted this update on the Go Funding page about an hour ago: "Ambulance coming to pick up Mike at 2 to bring him home for Christmas. Its all he wants. Again thank you all for your donations and kind words and prayers... There are so many wonderful people in the world."

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