Nonprofit ‘Pet Access’ program gives people battling mental illness a chance to adopt a forever friend

“What does she mean to me? Life!" Rochelle Rosa said about her dog.

As Rochelle Rosa gives us a glimpse into what she cherishes most, it’s hard to imagine not long ago she was at rock bottom.

"My downhill spiral started five years ago, when I was crossing the street and I was hit by a car,” she remembered.

She was a successful hospital technician for years before her tibia and meniscus were shattered, making it very difficult to continue her career.

"I got into a relationship without giving it much thought and within a year I was actually thrown out onto the street,” she said.

She quickly found herself inside a homeless shelter, with nothing and no one besides her eldest son.

"You go from people accepting you in society to people actually looking at you like you’re dirt, like you’re filth,” she said with anger.

With help from the City's Commissioner of Housing, she was able to get a place inside a low-income building run by the non-profit, Community Access.

"It empowers people with mental health concerns by providing quality housing, advocacy and employment training,” Carla Rabinowitz, Advocacy Coordinator, explained.

Rochelle struggles with serious depression and anxiety.

"I actually wanted to die," she said.

But then she heard about the organization’s ‘Pet Access’ program.

"Pet Access will actually help in the adoption process, pay for the entire adoption and all the startup fees,” Kurt Sass, Pet Access Coordinator, explained.

But what these animals do for their new owners is priceless.

"A pet gives people love, gives them responsibility and it gives them a reason to get up in the morning,” Sass added. "Also, people who are in the Pet Access program are less likely to go to the hospital than people who aren't in the program."

Since 2004, they’ve helped more than 100 people find their furry friends.

As for Rochelle meeting Elvira, a four and a half year old Maltese, it was love at first sight.

"From the day I took her home, it’s like my whole life changed,” Rochelle described.

Rochelle still battles her bad thoughts every day but with every walk, hug and kiss, she keeps going.

"When I look at her, I know I won’t give up," she smiled. "How can I give up? I have her!"

 

Produced by: Kim Pestalozzi