In 2012, Jeff Fink drove to a Tennessee farm to adopt Earl, a golden retriever Fink credits with keeping him alive during his prolonged struggle with treatment-resistant depression and anxiety.
Fink has used his knowledge and learned experiences to help others. He established Go Fetch Wellness Foundation Inc., with a charitable goal of educating and implementing programs to address mental health challenges for individuals and communities with limited financial resources. Fink wants to minimize for others the type of suffering he has experienced and works daily to engage in conversations about mental health and well-being.
During the last eight years, Fink has spoken to various groups, conducted seminars and clinical trainings, and worked with universities and businesses to bring greater awareness to mental health issues in a relatable way, with a focus on the human-animal connection. “Earl gave me purpose and facilitated healthy human connections. Dogs ‘bring people to you,’ which combats loneliness and isolation. They can help you ‘get out of your head’ and reduce anxiety by encouraging movement.”
Go Fetch Wellness conveys hope and optimism while encouraging people to consider connecting with animals as an integral part of their mental wellness plan. Fink shares his adventures and hardships through social media and has been featured on several platforms such as WebMD, national mental health advocacy organizations, and news outlets across the country. Fink and Earl have traveled the U.S. together with their shared passion for getting outdoors, hiking, human connection, advocacy, consulting and public speaking.
Fink consults with professionals, including social workers, universities and businesses about a variety of mental health topics, with a special focus on how animals can play a positive role in encouraging difficult conversations and bringing people together. He does not suggest that everyone go out and get a pet, but encourages exposure to animals to experience the positive impact animals can have on one’s health and wellness.
In 2017 Fink was selected as one of three individuals to be featured in a documentary with executive producer, star and singer Demi Lovato. “Beyond Silence” gave each individual a platform to share details of their individual struggles with mental illness and the efforts of each to enhance knowledge and understanding while working to eliminate the stigma of mental illness.
Fink has been compelled to speak about mental health to a variety of audiences, not just hospitals, rehabs and treatment centers. “If we want to normalize the conversation, we must reach people that aren’t typically engaging in these conversations. People often show up to see Earl but will leave an event with a new awareness of what it is like to have a mental illness and the role animals can play to foster survival, connection and recovery.”
Fink is a strong advocate for education, connection, compassion and kindness. He stresses the importance of listening to others and supporting them in their struggles with patience and understanding. He said, “70 percent of U.S. households have pets, and a quarter of the population struggles with some form of mental illness. Why are we not doing more to connect people and pets to address the mental health crisis?”
During the pandemic, Fink used the virtual world to coach and mentor individuals who were experiencing depression, anxiety or other mental health challenges, and expanded his focus to work with individuals on the autism spectrum.
The tables have turned on Earl, who has been fighting chronic illness since late 2017. “Earl spent the first five years of his life saving me, and now I fight daily to save him. No matter how sick, we care for each other, overcome obstacles, and muster as much resilience as we can. Earl has been the inspiration behind my work.”
Fink is working on a book that will discuss his learned experiences, his struggles for survival with Earl by his side, and his hopes for the future for himself and those struggling with mental illness.