MITCHELL, S.D. - In most cases, a customer hands money to a cashier, and that's it. Things got more personal in Mitchell, when a cashier handed a customer a lifeline. It's helping him cope after a series of devastating losses.
Most people go to the gas station when they're empty, including Brad Roop. If he's not filling one tank at the Cubby's Convenience Store in Mitchell, he's sipping coffee and filling another.
"When he first started coming in, it was just get his coffee and go," Larissa Donaldson said.
Over the years, Roop would encounter Larissa Donaldson and Faith Lentz. The two employees noticed the man who came in by himself, wasn't actually alone.
"He would come in with that dog," Donaldson said. "She would stay tucked inside his coat."
A blurry photo Roop has on his phone shows the focus of his life: a Chihuahua named Sweetie.
"You get kind of attached. Just like a second hand," Roop said.
Roop brought the 14-year-old dog with him everywhere, up until a few weeks ago when Sweetie died.
"I still feel like I forget something," Roop said. "I'm so used to carrying Sweetie around. It's kind of hard," Roop said, his eyes welling up with tears.
After that, Roop didn't come back to the station for a while. Donaldson wanted to cheer him up, and told him she had a Christmas basket for him. When he got there, he found out that wasn't the whole truth. There was the basket, but that's not all.
"I said, if you could have one thing for Christmas. For the holidays. I said, anything at all. What would that item be?" Donaldson said.
"And I said another Chihuahua," Roop said.
That's exactly what Donaldson and her co-workers gave Roop. Now a black Chihuahua puppy named Toby is the brightest light in Roop's life.
"It's the first time I've cried in public. It's hard to hold back right now...yup," Roop said.
Roop and Toby have only known each other for a few days, but they're already bonding. In fact, the puppy has already settled into a spot on the inside of Roop's coat. The two were sharing a breakfast sandwich at Cubby's like old friends.
"He's just a piranha," Roop said.
"That is just the best gift anybody could give is just companionship," Donaldson said.
Donaldson worked with a local breeder, who donated the puppy. This gift comes when Roop needed a pick-me-up, because Sweetie's death is the latest in a series of heartbreaks. A few years ago Roop lost his house, and --even worse-- his wife, in a fire. Add to that a series of health problems and years of dialysis.
"I've been kind of going downhill instead of going uphill and I started falling apart," Roop said.
Needless to say, a dog in his coat isn't all that Roop carries with him.
"You don't feel like talking to people and stuff like that," Roop said.
That's why Donaldson and Lentz wanted to help, because customers like Roop turn into much more.
"They're not another dollar to us. We don't treat them like their another to us. We treat them like family," Lentz said.
Most people wouldn't notice when someone is feeling a little empty.
"I'm a big believer it's who you have not what you have. So, I thought I couldn't give you a better present for the holidays than a who. Not a what," Donaldson said to Roop.
Leave it to a few friends at the gas station, and a dog named Toby. They were able to see the big hole in Brad Roop's heart, and know how to fill it.
"I really appreciate everything y'all done. More than you can ever imagine," Roop said.