Photo exhibit tells powerful story of those with HIV/AIDS

CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) - An estimated 400,000 HIV positive people in the United States own a dog.

Man's best friend can truly be a lifesaver for people who often times don't have support of family or friends.

“When Dogs Heal' is a new photo series that launches in Chicago Tuesday, which happens to be World AIDS Day. The exhibit at Flats Studio tells powerful stories of HIV positive people and their dogs. It's the creation of three talented guys: A doctor, a photographer,and a journalist.

When Dr. Rob Garofalo was diagnosed with HIV five years ago, the division head of adolescent medicine at Lurie Children's Hospital suddenly felt very alone.

"I didn't know who to turn to or how to share the struggle I was dealing with," Garofalo said.

On a whim, Rob adopted Fred, an energetic little Yorkie.

"I never had a pet, I had never had a dog."

It turned out that little Fred made a big difference.

"The unconditional love that they give is so pure that he dragged me out of my isolation and made me engage in the world again ways that I wasn't sure I could ever do again."

Fred had such an impact, it inspired rob to start a non-profit called “Fred-Says' to benefit teens living with HIV and AIDS.

"People thought I was nuts! They said, ‘you are going to start a charity with your dog?’ I certainly am!"

Rob's good friends Zach Stafford and Jessie Freidin found his story so compelling, the three came up with an idea to feature real people, like Rob, living with HIV who have relied on their dogs to help them overcome the challenges and stigmas associated with the disease.

Just like that, “When Dogs Heal”' was born.

Jessie is award winning animal photographer. So naturally, he took the pictures.

"We have photographed 30 people in five different cities in the past two years or so."

Zach Stafford is a journalist for The Guardian. He did the interviews.

"At the end, when you walk away, even if you cry, you know that each person here is alive.”

Not just alive, but thriving in different parts of the United States.

The pictures and the powerful stories reveal the dark realities faced by so many living with HIV or AIDS. And they show how a dog, like Fred, can turn darkness into light.

"These amazing ordinary people in these five cities gave of themselves and told their stories and allowed us into their lives in ways that hopefully gives the whole world insight into the power dogs can have in healing and helping people," Rob told FOX 32 News.

“When Dogs Heal” opens Tuesday for one day at Flats Studio on West Wilson Avenue. It's free with a suggested donation of $10 to $20 dollars.

For more on Fred, check out Fredsays.org.

 

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