The Story Behind When DOgs Heal

Through powerful images and compelling narratives, explore extraordinary stories of ordinary people overcoming stigma and grief and the unwavering bond between humans and canine companions. Written by Christina Garofalo, award-winning dog photographer Jesse Freidin, adolescent HIV+ specialist Dr. Robert Garofalo, and LGBTQ advocate and journalist Zach Stafford, When Dogs Heal shows how the best medicine isn’t always found at a pharmacy or in a doctor’s office. Sometimes it comes in the form of a four-legged friend.

What was your inspiration for this book?

Photographer Jesse Freidin: “Rob commissioned me many years ago to photograph Fred, when Fred was still a puppy. He flew all the way to San Francisco from Chicago so that he could work with me. He was not out about his HIV status at that point, but I could tell that there was a very obvious, very poignant connection between him and Fred. It was more than a portrait, and Fred was more than just a companion. We kept in touch for years, and not long after he came out and started doing more advocacy work with Fred Says he came to visit me at my LA studio with Zach. While we were chatting the three of us somehow began discussing the power of the portraits I created with Rob, and how we wondered if there were other positive people whose dogs had saved their lives. Rob blurted out the most wonderful title for this project, and we found ourselves at the start of the When Dogs Heal series. After our preliminary shoot in Chicago not long after that, we all knew that we had something very special.”

This idea went on to become an art exhibition in Chicago and New York. The participants whose images were featured include a young mother from Los Angeles who was born with HIV, a Chicago man who tested positive after he was gang raped, and an HIV-positive man in San Francisco who quit dealing drugs so he could provide a more stable life for himself and his newly adopted dog.

Whether it was to combat loneliness or stigma, to discover the importance of unconditional love, to manage medical care, to overcome addiction, or to simply have a best friend in a time of need — each person’s story is a unique and empowering account of the incredible bond between a person and his or her pet.

More than 30 years after the first case of HIV/AIDS was identified, the virus and disease remain one of the greatest challenges to global public health. But we want young people to hear a different story about HIV — one of love, connection, and survival. The book aims to change the narrative from “how” people contracted the virus to how they are celebrating their lives, thanks to the compassion and unconditional love of their dogs.

A portion of the proceeds from When Dogs Heal will go toward the non-profit organization Fred Says in order to continue providing financial support for the healthcare needs of HIV+ teens.

Praise for When Dogs Heal

A unique collection that is unflinchingly honest and infused with hope. These valuable lessons of empathy, self-care, and acceptance will inspire all readers and will be especially encouraging for young people who are living with HIV.–School Library Journal, starred

The [Fred Says] charity is matched in importance by the significance of this excellent book, which deals affectingly with a subject that remains too absent in books for young readers. It deserves the widest possible readership.— Booklist, starred

The book has been covered by media ranging from The Bark and Medical News Today to Positively Aware.

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