Happy Paws, Happy Hearts: How Rescue Animals Helped One Man Overcome Mental Health Challenges
A Journey of Resilience, Love and Redemption with our Four-Legged Friends

Are you ready to fall head over heels for an organisation that is changing the lives of vulnerable people and rescuing animals across Australia? Enter Happy Paws Happy Hearts (HPHH). Co-founders Zoe and Graeme began HPHH in 2014 with the idea of taking their foster dogs to visit socially isolated family members. The first visit was an instant success, forming connections between the people and the furry companions.

From that day forward, HPHH has grown into a national program, working alongside the RSPCA and other partners to rehabilitate people and animals alike. HPHH provides a community for vulnerable individuals to learn new skills, give back in a meaningful way and share a mutual love of animals. 

But HPHH is more than just a training program. With a mission to benefit both people and pooches (and a few cats, too), HPHH is also a space where rescue animals waiting for their forever home can receive love and support. What’s more, it’s an immersive, hands-on experience where education and connection happen in a larger community. By taking participants out of the training room and into shelters and wildlife sanctuaries, HPHH ensures that everyone is supported with the necessary resources to learn and develop practical skills.  

Co-Founder Zoe Black

Through HPHH, participants experience improvements in social interactions and communication skills, everyday life skills, responsibility, and community. They also benefit from enhanced psychological and emotional wellbeing, reduced risk of mental health issues, and are better equipped to handle anxiety around other people. The increased confidence and skills gained from HPHH provide better employment and life prospects.

It's clear that HPHH's holistic approach of bringing animals and humans together creates a positive impact on people's lives. Adrian Forbes a participant of HPHH’s In-Shelter training program, believes the initiative is the “Best thing thats happened to me in the past six years.”

A former mine worker, Adrian had been living with mental health challenges before joining HPHH in 2022. In one of his early sessions, Adrian was partnered with a shy dog named Rocky, Due to a complicated past, Rocky was hesitant around new people, but the pup was drawn to Adrian the moment they crossed paths.
In a heartwarming twist, Adrian officially adopted Rocky from RSPCA Wacol just three weeks later. 

Nine months on, Rocky and HPHH have changed Adrian’s life “drastically” with the ex-miner now well on his way to achieving his dream of working in the animal care industry. 

I was in a bit of a hole, and I am still digging my way out, but Happy Paws Happy Hearts has made it more realistic that I can actually get back on my feet and get to where I want to go,” he says. 

Empowered by the skills and knowledge gained in his HPHH sessions, Adrian has recently enrolled in a TAFE course in animal psychology and behaviour. 

“Its all working towards one goal... to be employable and somehow, by the end of it, to work with animals.”  

When reflecting on his time at HPHH, Adrian says his absolute favourite thing about the program has shifted over time. 

If youd asked me in my first week, Id say the animals. But if you ask me now, Id probably say the people. The trainers make it really individual, so you can get as much as you want out of the program that youre willing to put into it. So, its up to you to either take advantage of it or not take advantage of it... every trainer that weve had has been really patient and really knowledgeable. Honestly, I havent been in an environment thats been more welcoming.” 

Adrian Forbes

If you love animals and are passionate about helping people, volunteering for Happy Paws, Happy Hearts is a great way to give back to your community. The team currently deliver programs across Queensland, New South Wales, the Northern Territory and Tasmania.

To learn more and find a HPHH near you, head here

Kristina Roach

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Happy Paws, Happy Hearts: How Rescue Animals Helped One Man Overcome Mental Health Challenges