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The Healing Power of a Dog


Today’s wellness story comes from Jeff Fink, the founder of Go Fetch Wellness. Jeff’s story demonstrates the amazing impact animals can have on people’s lives and the importance of a holistic approach to mental health. We are grateful to Jeff for sharing his story with us at rtor.org. –Veronique Hoebeke, Associate Editor 


Suffering, medications, endless crying, panic, electric shock therapy, more medications, hospitalizations, trans-cranial magnetic stimulation, more medications, more crying, hopelessness, talk therapy, and more opinions than I can count. That was my life for the last 17 years.  My challenges with mental health began at the age of 18 and proved to be much harder to treat than I could ever imagine. When the young psychiatrist at The University of Wisconsin told me that I had major depression and it was treatable, I still had hope. After my 70th combination of psychiatric drug cocktails, my hope quickly dwindled away and I resigned to a life filled with extreme anxiety, insomnia, severe depression, and everything in between. I lived in fear of ending my life, in isolation from the world, unable to work, unable to get relief.  My family was supportive, searching for answers, helping get me to the best medical advice available, reading, attending support groups but still I suffered.

Earl as a Puppy
Earl as a puppy

Three years ago, I found a new reason to live, and with that a best friend, Earl.  He is my now 3-year-old service animal. He’s a sweet golden retriever that continues to save my life daily. While with him, I can be in the present, my over-active mind feels calm, leaving me to focus on the road ahead. Earl’s presence helps to stimulate conversation with strangers, get me into nature and, of course, keeps me exercising and moving.  After more psychiatrists than anyone should ever visit, and more evidenced-based treatments that failed to provide relief, who would have thought that this sweet dog would have been my answer to stability?

gofetchThe human-animal bond is a powerful thing and very hard to research why its effects are so profound. For me, when all else failed, I had to try more complementary approaches that involved the whole-person treatment of mental health struggles. In turn, I decided to share this powerful bond with others who were struggling. This is why I founded Go Fetch Wellness. We visit people in their homes—those who live as I did for so many years, in fear of the functioning world. Through our work, we have gotten people on their own path to healing, not through magic, but through this unbelievable connection animals have with people. They do not care what you look like, whether you are wheelchair bound or severely depressed, whether you are black, white, or green, they love and accept you for you. I am not saying animals are a cure all, they certainly are not. However, they do help tie many existing therapies together to help generate movement, hope, and healing.

Now, I can proudly say that I have a life worth living, a purpose in this world—something I felt would never be achievable. I hope and pray that by introducing others to the power of the human-animal bond, I can help someone else avoid the painful nature of severe mental illness, particularly those that are not responsive to treatment.

If you are reading this and feel lost, isolated, in pain and without support, please know there is light at the end of the tunnel. Try any and everything you can to regain a sense of purpose, be easy on yourself, and know that you are worth it!

To learn more, please visit:  www.gofetchwellness.com or call me at 404-694-0003.

–Jeff Fink


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11 thoughts on “The Healing Power of a Dog

  1. J. Adelman says:

    This article is written so sincerely and beautifully and tells a truly heartfelt story. I wish this could be published and re-published for the world to read. Whether people have suffered, will suffer, or know someone who does; this article could be extremely helpful. If there is any chance to get this writer, article and message out to the public, I would surely like to help. Bravo !!!

  2. Denise Vestuti, Resource Specialist says:

    I am so honored to have met Jeff and his amazing Golden Retriever Earl at a NAMI event in Westchester. Thank you so much for your remarkable story. I believe so many people will love and resonate with how powerful animals are to the healing process.

  3. Jeff says:

    Thanks J. Adelman for the very thoughtful remarks! I am sharing my story with the hopes to help others that have battled mental health challenges. If people respond to the human-animal bond and its powerful connection, so much of their outlook on life can change. We need more treatment options that are directed at recovery and hope!

  4. Jeff Fink says:

    Denise, it too was an honor to meet you and I very much appreciate your inviting me to write for Resources to Recover. What an amazing organization, helping connect people to quality mental health providers. When I was traveling from provider to provider in my search for wellness, I would have loved to have had access to something like Resources to Recover. Otherwise, parents, loved ones, and consumers all simply search the internet blindly hoping to find the right provider and/or treatment center to help. For many, this process is very overwhelming and Resources to Recover has taken the overwhelm out of the search! Thanks for your great work!

  5. Andrea says:

    Excellent article authored by Jeff, and wonderful message disseminated by Resources to Recover! The power of animal-assisted therapy for individuals grappling with mental health disorders is a topic that needs to be discussed more! So often are these men and women, old and young, told to medicate, but left with a hopeless feeling if certain medications don’t necessarily help in the way they expected. Animal-assisted therapy is an excellent approach to enhancing a sense of calm, belonging, and responsibility… With or without the use of medications. I can’t wait to see more about Jeff and Earl’s journey with Go Fetch Wellness; I’m certain they will change the lives of many who felt there were no options left.

  6. Jeff Fink says:

    Thanks Andrea! Great point about how those that are given medications are not also given other tools to help compliment medication therapy. As you stated, for some, medications may play a small role in their recovery and for those individuals, they must have different outlets to keep hope alive. Interacting with animals is just one type of complementary treatment modality and can work great in conjunction with other more well known and recognized interactions.

  7. Aaron shaw says:

    That was very inspiring Jeff. I have battled through depression myself, but it makes me feel better knowing I’m not alone. I’ve been lucky enough to spend time with Earl and Jeff and I will definitely say with all sincerity that they have lifted me up through some of my dark times. Thank you for sharing jeff.

  8. Greg Dunn says:

    Some years ago I enjoyed a popular tv comedy show entitled “My name is Earl”. The premise of the show was a troublemaker named Earl won the lottery and devoted his life to “making amends” for all the persons he offended. Upon reading this story, I smiled at the ironic fact that the dogs name is Earl and the fact that he has had such a positive impact on Jeff. Way to go Earl and Jeff..keep up the good work!

  9. Jeff Fink says:

    Thanks for sharing Aaron. We know you have battled some very difficult times and were glad to be there to support you through the process. Keep up the fight and Earl and I are looking forward to spending time with you (and hopefully your new puppy) real soon.

  10. Jeff Fink says:

    Hi Greg, the plot of My Name is Earl is so interesting and since I never really watched it, I had no idea it was about Earl making amends to all those he wronged. After I got Earl I had a lot of people ask me about why I named him Earl. Of course there would be those that would hear his name and then say “like My Name is Earl the TV show?” Thanks for sharing!

  11. Jason says:

    Very inspiring article, I hear so often about how animals can help us get through tough times and heal ourselves. An inspiring and positive story!

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