PARRISH, Fla. (FOX 13) - “Man's best friend” was almost an understatement for the relationship between Drew Epp and his emotional support dog, Java.
"That was his life,” Drew's mother, Donna Epp said. “The dog was his life.”
The 36-year old Parrish man was never without Java. His mother says he suffered from bipolar disorder and paranoid delusions, but Java was his confidant and constant companion.
"He could take care of her, it was very therapeutic for him," she continued.
But a horrific accident changed everything last Friday, when Java was killed by an alligator at Palmetto's Dog Leg Park.
"While he was there, she apparently bolted and found another hole another dog had dug," she said.
The chocolate lab made it to the other side of the fence, where there was a pond.
"He was running after her, and she must have stopped to take a drink of water in the pond when the gator hit her," Epp said. "Gone. Just ripped out her throat. He finally found her and slung her over his back, and ran back through the dog park."
Java died on the way to the animal hospital.
It was too much for Drew, who took his own life the next day.
His mother found him in the garage, where he spent countless hours with Java.
"I ran to go get my neighbor and said, ‘We have to revive him.’ And he said, ‘He didn't just die; it's been a while,’" she said through tears.
The family says Drew wanted to check in to a mental health facility recently, somewhere he'd been in the past. But the facility couldn't see him until August.
"No one can ever, ever be turned away who is seeking help for a mental illness issue," Epp said. "I don't care if you're 90 or 9. If you're asking for mental health [help], you need to get it."
If you or a loved one is feeling distressed, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The crisis center provides free and confidential emotional support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to civilians and veterans. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Or text to 741-741.
CLICK HERE for the warning signs and risk factors of suicide. Call 1-800-273-TALK for free and confidential emotional support.