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Ryan and Nahko: Man hikes cross-Canada with his dog for mental health

Langley animal society helped the pair out while in town

Sarah Jones knew exactly who Ryan Giesbrecht and his dog, Nahko, were when she spotted them in her neighbourhood last week.

“I just saw him walking along Fraser Highway and almost screeched. I turned the car around, bringing my 11-year-old daughter with me, to meet him and ask if he needed anything,” recalled Jones, executive director of Langley Animal Protection Society (LAPS).

She has been following Giesbrecht’s story since October, the Saskatchewan resident had started hiking across Canada to raise awareness for mental health by sharing his own story.

“I think what aligns with LAPS is that mental health impacts all of our staff, it’s a huge issue in our industry because we are constantly exposed to suffering or failure to animals,” Jones explained.

“Mental health is so multi-layered, so when someone who is sacrificing themselves to raise awareness I think it’s something we need to rally behind.”

Giesbrecht, a 36-year-old artist, took on hiking across Canada with his German Shepherd Husky mix, Nahko, seven months ago.

On his GoFundMe page, Giesbrecht shares his personal story of mental health struggles and his suicide attempt. He discovered painting art helped him “feel more like myself,” he describes, and painting the wilderness and animals provided an escape.

“I developed a skill set in painting and started a small business painting dog portraits and all kinds of recreation of peoples loved ones and it helped me save the money to get started on this HUGE dream I had while in the hospital,” Giesbrecht wrote.

He trained and prepared his body for seven years, right after he was discharged from hospital for his suicide attempt. He set out in June last year on his own, but adopted Nahko less than a month later who has been on the journey with Giesbrecht since.

“He said he wouldn’t be able to do this without Nahko, without that companionship,” Jones recounted from her conversation with Giesbrecht. “And we see that everyday in the work we do, how people are bonded to their pets.”

By the time Giesbrecht crossed Langley, he was in need of tick medication for 11-month-old Nahko, and that’s where LAPS came in.

“I arranged a telephone appointment for him, because its a prescription, with Dr. Adrian Walton in Maple Ridge and brought Ryan the tick medication,” Jones said.

She also donated some toys for Nahko and discussed tips Giesbrecht can do to keep Nahko calm when walking past big trucks, and some things to keep Nahko’s mind busy.

“He’s an active dog. His life has been this journey, he’s conditioned now for activity,” Jones explained.

She described Nahko as a friendly dog, who was eager to keep moving forward with his companion.

Giesbrecht and Nahko went all the way to Tofino last month, and are making their way back east now through Abbotsford, Chilliwack, and Hope.

People can follow Giesbrecht’s journey on his Facebook page, Bushman Art.

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Kyler Emerson

About the Author: Kyler Emerson

I'm honoured to focus my career in the growing community of Aldergrove and work with our many local organizations.
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