Helping others comes easily to a lot of people, but helping oneself is often challenging. It’s not always easy to take your own advice and practice self-care.
Doctor Rob Garofalo experienced this when he was diagnosed with HIV. He built his career helping young AIDS patients. Part of his work was teaching them to love themselves and not give up, despite their diagnosis.
In 2010, someone sexually assaulted Rob and he believes that person infected him with HIV. The trauma of both the assault and his subsequent diagnosis left him in a state of severe depression. He was plagued with night terrors and thoughts of suicide.
I couldn’t afford myself the same compassion that I’d spent a career teaching other people to have.
Rob suffered in silence, as he told no one what he was going through.
But then, he found Fred.
The Yorkie’s unconditional love changed Rob’s life.
I had this little bundle of pure joy. He made me re-engage with the world.
He had to leave his apartment to walk the pup and to buy dog food. Because Fred is so freaking adorable, people stopped him all of the time to talk and pet the pooch. These small interactions with fellow humans helped Rob to heal.
Fred did more than get his human back into the world. The pup would be right next to Rob ready to give him comforting snuggles when he awoke from his night terrors.
Fred’s love gave him the courage to tell his family and friends about his diagnosis. He also sought counseling.
Rob knew that Fred would inspire others, so he used his pup’s image as the face of a charity to help teens with HIV. Rob shared his story on the charity’s website. This prompted other dog lovers to share similar stories of how their pups helped them to cope with the emotional aspects of HIV.
As a response to these stories, Rob launched When Dogs Heal, along with photographer Jesse Freidin and writer Zach Stafford. The project tells the stories of the healing bond between people with HIV and their dogs through a photo exhibit.
Tremaine, who is pictured above with his dogs Rockee Balboa and Madam Russia, was diagnosed at 17. He says that his life was never the same after he met Rockee.
I remember that day: Looking in his eyes you could see his quiet strength, strength I really connected to and desperately needed in my life. When I took him home, I thought about all the stuff going on in my life and said to myself: If you can’t turn your life around for yourself, then you have to do it for him.
Thanks to Fred, Rob’s career as a doctor is blossoming. He is the director of the Center for Gender, Sexuality and HIV Prevention at Lurie Children’s Hospital.
Watch Rob discuss the impact Fred had on his life and the When Dogs Heal project in the video below:
The When Dogs Heal exhibit debuted in Chicago on November 20, 2015 and has its NYC debut on Thursday, December 3, 2015. You can contact When Dogs Heal to have a photo exhibit in your community. You can share your personal story of healing on the When Dogs Heal website.