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Transformative Stories of Human-Animal Harmony and Healing

Transformative Stories of Human-Animal Harmony and Healing

Healing Tails

Animals have an extraordinary capacity to touch our lives in ways that go far beyond the surface. As humans, cultivating deep and meaningful connections with our furry companions holds transformative power, offering healing in ways beyond imagination. Whether it’s the comforting presence of a service dog alleviating anxiety, a therapeutic bond formed with a horse, a cat becoming a motivating force for a senior to stay active or a cherished family pet imparting crucial life lessons, these connections go beyond the ordinary.

Join us as we delve into a few inspiring stories from around Atlanta that illustrate the incredible impact that animals can have. In these heartwarming tales, we’ll explore the profound bonds that have empowered owners to evolve into the absolute best versions of themselves.

Francisca OredekoFrancisca Oredeko: The Purple Leash Project

By Wyndi Kappes

In the midst of a challenging pandemic year, Francisca Oredeko found solace in the wag of a tail and the boundless energy of her furry companion, Theo. Three years ago, she welcomed Theo into her life, a decision that would not only bring her immense joy but also lead her on a journey of advocacy and compassion. “I’ve always been a dog lover, but my previous work schedules made it challenging to care for a puppy properly. Once I started working from home, I knew it was the right time,” Oredeko recalls.

Theo, a delightful 3-year-old mix of miniature poodle and shih tzu, quickly became more than a pet; he became a source of joy and stability during uncertain times. “He’s taught me a lot about life, and his outgoing personality brightens everyone’s day,” she says, reflecting on the positive impact Theo has had over the past few years. Partnering with the Purple Leash Project was a natural progression for Oredeko, whose heart beats for both her four-legged friend and supporting survivors of abuse. The Purple Leash Project’s mission to create pet- friendly domestic violence shelters resonated deeply with her.

“I believe that people and pets are better together,” Oredeko emphasizes, expressing the importance of helping individuals escape abusive situations with their beloved pets. Her commitment extends beyond advocacy, with plans to continue supporting and raising awareness for the Purple Leash Project in the future.

As for Theo, he’s just happy to be along for the ride. “Theo is happiest when he is out with me exploring the world and meeting new people,” Oredeko notes.

As a lifestyle blogger, known as @thefancyfrancy, Oredeko shares her intentional approach to wellness, fitness and travel. Together with Theo, aka @the_traveling_puppy, they provide insights into dog-friendly travel experiences and create a community that celebrates the bond between pets and their owners.

“Theo and I are on a journey to make a difference. Through our adventures, we hope to inspire others to recognize the profound connection between pets and people,” notes Oredeko. Now that’s what we call leaving a trail of paw-sitivity.


Jansen Jones

Jansen Jones: Healing Through Horses

From a tender age, Jansen Jones stood out as someone truly special, radiating vibrancy, confidence and undeniable charm. Yet, her journey wasn’t without its hurdles. Battling through speech and language impediments, motor skill deficits and various developmental delays, Jansen’s family remained steadfast in their support. It wasn’t until 2021 that they unraveled the mystery behind her challenges – SYNGAP1.

Armed with this newfound knowledge, the Jones family could now channel their efforts into securing the finest care and therapies for Jansen. That’s when Chastain Horse Park Equine Therapy entered the picture, offering a beacon of hope and support for Jansen’s unique journey.

Jansen’s journey with equine therapy at Chastain Horse Park spans over a decade. For her, it’s become more than a recreational activity – but a lifeline. Despite facing such formidable hurdles, Jansen’s life has since been a testament to resilience and determination. Described by her trainers as a “passionate and fearless rider who comes alive whenever she gets on a horse,” Jansen’s involvement in the therapeutic program has been a constant source of support and joy.

Motor and sensory creatures by nature, horses have a remarkable ability to read human emotions and respond to them. “Jansen seems to be her happiest when she is in the saddle, which has helped elevate her confidence in her motor abilities, her mother noted. “Equine-assisted therapy has helped her develop into an active little girl who enjoys swimming, baseball, puzzles and adaptive skiing.”

At Chastain Horse Park, Jansen’s therapy is provided by licensed medical or behavioral health professionals, all working within their scope of practice in counseling, occupational therapy, physical therapy, psychotherapy, recreational therapy and speech-language pathology. Jansen and every other individual that comes into Chastain Horse Park receives their own treatment plan, typically focused on improving a rider’s sensorimotor, cognitive, behavioral, emotional or psychological function for improved health and wellness.

You can learn more about SYNGAP1 and the therapeutic programs at Chastain Horse Park at and


Katie HearnKatie Hearn: Southeastern Guide Dogs

Katie Hearn grew up her whole life with a deep love for baseball. So, when she finally landed her dream job as a digital services coordinator with the Atlanta Braves in 2015, it felt like the stars had finally aligned. But in 2017, tragedy struck when, within a swift 2-month period, Hearn’s vision quickly deteriorated until she was considered legally blind, maintaining only 5-10% vision in her right eye.

When her doctor suggested she find a new career, Hearn instead decided to find a new doctor and thus began her journey with Southeastern Guide Dogs. Her incredibly supportive Braves family began restructuring her job so she could continue doing what she was so passionate about despite her newfound disability. The Braves staff was “1,000% behind Hearn in her decision to apply for a guide dog,” and even decided to show their support by sponsoring two dogs of their own.

That’s around the time when Hearn met her saving grace, Jack, a curious and affectionate yellow Labrador guide dog. Raised in schools and constantly surrounded by people, Jack is very comfortable around all age groups. Spending so much of his life attending parades and sporting events has helped Jack become such a successful and patient guide dog. Integrating Jack into Hearn’s routine was seamless. “Jack has given me my confidence back,” Hearn shared with Best Self. “When he guides me, his head and chest are forward and upright, so naturally mine are too. He is a core member of our front office as well, and it’s been great to see the organization support us both.”

Hearn credits Southeastern Guide Dogs for helping her regain normalcy in her life upon entering this new chapter. Since her diagnosis, Hearn has focused her attention on seeing the good in her life. While she might no longer be able to appreciate the sight of a beautiful home run, she still receives the same infinite joy when she feels the energy during a game at Truist Park. “Through Jack’s eyes and my brain, we can go anywhere and do anything.”

Find out how you can support Southeastern Guide Dogs at


Jeff FinkJeff Fink: Go Fetch Wellness

Jeff Fink has long suffered from debilitating depression and anxiety. Despite years of working with psychiatrists, therapists, healers, coaches, gurus and experiencing several hospitalizations, nothing seemed to help Fink’s ongoing struggle. In 2012, he embarked on a life-changing journey to a Tennessee farm, not just to adopt a Golden Retriever named Earl but to find a lifeline that would pull him out of the depths of his treatment-resistant mental health challenges.

Almost immediately, Fink and Earl were inseparable. Earl’s unconditional love, acceptance, lack of judgment and outgoing personality “grounded” Fink in a sense he never knew he needed and opened up the world for Fink in completely new ways, by helping to facilitate connections and conversations with new people, easing his chronic anxiety. With the proper training and attention, Earl soon graduated into becoming Fink’s personal mental health service animal, and the rest is history.

Spurred by Earl’s impact, Fink founded Go Fetch Wellness, with a clear mission to educate and create initiatives that tackle mental health challenges for communities with limited financial resources, with a focus on human-animal connections. By conducting seminars, clinical trainings and collaborating with social workers, Fink has managed to shed light on the therapeutic power of animals.

Fink’s journey through mental health struggles highlighted the complexities of treatment. Go Fetch Wellness seeks to simplify the mental health landscape, advocating for a holistic approach and the therapeutic power of animals. Fink, an advocate for compassion and connection, emphasizes treating the “whole person” and attributes his bond with Earl as a lifeline that kept him going.

To learn more about Go Fetch Wellness, visit


Antonio Merriweather: Top Dogg K9 Foundation

After completing his overseas service and transitioning to civilian life as a U.S. Army veteran, Antonio Merriweather faced formidable challenges. His return from Iraq marked the onset of overwhelming anxiety, depression, Post- Traumatic Stress Disorder and struggles with substance abuse. Despite trying several different therapy techniques and medications, he could still barely get out of bed every day. With all of the treatment Merriweather was receiving, somehow, he felt “there was still a piece that was missing.” It turns out, that missing piece was his amazing service dog, Sarge.

Merriweather found Sarge through the Top Dogg K-9 Foundation (TDK9), an organization with a mission to improve veterans’ quality of life and social well-being, by establishing companionship with service dogs that will, in turn, strengthen a family unit after post-traumatic events. As someone who has always found himself to be calmer around dogs, Merriweather is living proof that this initiative really does work.

During the darker days, Merriweather could hardly get out of bed. But with Sarge in his life, he describes himself as “a whole different person,” who truly looks forward to the days ahead. Prior to TDK9, he thought initiatives like this were too good to be true, but the entire experience has taught him that it’s okay to reach out when you need help, and that there is always someone to lend a hand. His connection with Sarge was instant and has tremendously brightened his spirits every single day, sharing that he “can’t go back now.”

Top Dogg K9 Foundation has seen an influx of disabled individuals looking to change their lives with a service dog. With a long waiting list of around 400 veterans, TDK9 is in desperate need of donations. Since opening in 2011, Rashad and his wife have graciously paired more than 400 veterans with their service dogs.

Learn more about how you can support TDK9 at

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