Animals have a positive and lasting impact for people with mental health challenges
We know that people are falling through the cracks, so we must find ways to help those who suffer from mental illness seek out and receive help that is available.
Through Go Fetch Wellness (GFW), Jeff and Earl, a golden retriever, are helping people connect to animals as part of a whole-person approach to mental health treatment. GFW builds on the human-animal connection to help reduce stress, alleviate symptoms, and improve one’s quality of life. As a result, Jeff and Earl strive to fight the barriers that prevent individuals from seeking out available resources, without shame, and to find hope, purpose, and contentment in their lives.
Animals have a positive and lasting impact for people with mental health challenges.
Jeff knows firsthand that this approach is powerful.
Jeff had his first bout of severe depression and anxiety when he was 19 years old. The desire and belief that he should be “normal” like everyone else made it hard for him to discuss or address his issues with friends, professionals, or family. He had trouble sleeping, eating, exercising, socializing, and functioning. For many years, through no fault of his own, Jeff spent months at a time in isolation, unable to take care of himself, and lacking the strength or desire to provide for himself even in the most fundamental requirements for daily living. Searching for a solution, he tried numerous traditional and nontraditional medication and treatment combinations, all of which failed to enable him to live without profound suffering.
Finally, someone suggested that he get a dog. Knowing that he’d always been fond of the classic golden retriever smile, and at a time when he wasn’t sure he could care for a dog as he was barely able to care for himself, Earl came into Jeff’s life. Through training Earl as his own service animal and ever-present companion, Jeff credits Earl with helping him regulate his schedule, ease his stress, keep him focused on the present, manage his diet, sleep, and overall health, and keep his recovery moving in the right direction. Even though some days continue to be challenging, Jeff is, more than ever, dedicated to doing everything in his personal power to manage his illness. After all, he has responsibility both for himself and his loving dog, who needs him all days, no matter how challenging.
Based upon his own success and stability over the last many years, Jeff founded GFW to encourage the introduction of animals as a consideration for anyone who is struggling or might benefit from incorporating a dog or other animal into their therapeutic treatment program. This has been his continuing and enduring passion.
We started visiting people who were homebound or in residential treatment centers, and it was amazing how quickly they would respond to Earl and me. Receiving a visit from a dog with the personality and disposition of Earl improved moods, inspired hope, encouraged movement and exercise, and led to smiles and pleasure that was special for them.
Battling stigma is central to the mission of GFW. Jeff believes that sharing personal stories and speaking out about mental illness will reduce stigma, increase understanding, and encourage individuals to seek help. He also believes that helping people with mental illness make connections to available resources and support will go a long way toward improving lives.
We are dedicated to the creation of more awareness around the healing capabilities of the human-animal bond and finding ways to integrate this bond into a whole-person collaborative strategy for mental wellness.