A north-east man who suffers from mental health difficulties has started a men-only walking group to encourage people to open up about their feelings.
Toby McKillop was inspired to start Pawpalz after adopting a Balkan street dog who changed his life for the better.
The 44-year-old was going through a rough time last year due to problems with his family when he was desperate for some company.
He came upon the Balkan Underdogs website and decided to adopt Ebby, a miniature pinscher-cross, who was rescued from the streets of Romania.
Ever since she came into his life, Toby has noticed a massive difference in his mood and the way he can open up about how he feels.
He attributes this to long walks he takes with Ebby and wants to get more men active and talking about their emotions.
Toby said: “Mental health is an issue that cuts close to my heart as I was addicted to heroin for 20 years and went to the Phoenix Futures rehab in Glasgow to sort me out.
“I’ve suffered from depression and isolation especially in the time before I got Ebby as I was having a tough time.
“Ebby has been absolutely unbelievable for me since I got her, it is almost like she knows how much she has helped me.”
Toby lost a friend to suicide during the festive period and has credited Ebby for pulling him through a tough period.
“I go out on walks with her and she makes a huge difference to my mood and makes me feel better about myself.
“I’ve always believed that if something helps me, it will help others in the same situation which is why I came up with the idea of a men’s walking group.”
The walking group is for anyone who fancies a long stroll around Ellon and a chat with like-minded men.
Toby hopes to attract males who have yet to reach out for professional help and to use his own experiences to signpost them to different organisations who may be able to help further.
In time and if the group proves popular, he hopes to go further afield for walks by organising transport to some routes outside Ellon.
He said: “The walk is all about highlighting the benefits of walking and having a four-legged friend cutting about with you.
“Ebby is a street dog as well so exhibits some challenging behaviours, much like people with mental health problems do, so it is almost like we were made for each other.
“One major problem with mental health is that we don’t challenge ourselves enough to get out of our own head.
“There is no magic pill that fixes everything, you need to be doing work inside your own head and the only way to do that is by speaking about things, you can’t just bottle it up.
“I always say the only advice you get from yourself is bad advice so you should always find someone you can open up to.”
The Pawpalz initiative is inspired by a similar project down in Bristol called Dudes With Dogs, which revolves around men walking with dog companions.
Toby has had a positive response so far from people who may want to take part in the walks.
He said: “It is an opportunity for men to get out and about with like-minded people and have a blether and make yourself feel better.
“I’m nae feart to reach out and ask for help and I want others to feel the same.
“Keeping on top of your mental health is important.
“This will get you out and about with like-minded folk and is an open invitation for men to come along and fell better by giving yourself a purpose.
“I want to get it out there that it is OK for guys to feel bad and need support.”
The next meeting of the Pawpalz will take place at McDonald Park in Ellon at 1.30pm on Saturday.