After the War: How Wolves and Veterans Can Help Each Other Heal

Image by Christels

“There are things I’ve seen that I can’t unsee. There are things I’ve done that I cannot undo. Just saying ‘well I did it in the name of my country’ doesn’t help you sleep at night. But what does help […] is having a companion.”

These are the words of navy veteran Matthew Simmons, who, together with his wife, clinical psychologist Dr. Lorin Lindner, runs the Warriors and Wolves programme at the Lockwood Animal Rescue Center in California. As well as providing a permanent 200-acre home for over 40 rescued animals, they offer a unique form of support for soldiers suffering from post-traumatic-stress disorder, anxiety and other trauma. Each veteran is paired with a wolf or wolf-dog, forming a deep bond that can help them on the road to recovery. Needless to say, it’s not only the soldiers who need healing.

Blue-black she-wolf Ebony endured a miserable existence on a 6-foot chain buried underground. Beautiful white wolf Sera Sera, who belonged to a Saudi prince, was not given enough calcium as a pup and snapped his hind legs at the age of 6 months. And playful Danny Boy was just one of 29 wolves rescued from a roadside attraction in Alaska, who were otherwise due to be destroyed. To help their wolves settle in, the centre houses them side by side and monitors their behaviour and bonding, eventually releasing them into a larger enclosure with their “chosen” pack. The wolves also take the lead when choosing a veteran partner.

“They notice if you’re injured or if something’s wrong with you, […] they have the trauma, and we had some type of trauma in life, you kinda get that connection[…],” explains veteran volunteer Jesse Martinez. “One wolf will be your friend for life.”

There is no cure for PTSD, and many soldiers also return with a crisis of identity after serving. Depression and addiction can take hold, further isolating them from their peers and a “normal” life. Helping care for the wolves and other animals at the centre, either through feeding, play or even building their enclosures and toys, can give them a focus, comfort, and new skills. For Jim Minick, who is now a manager, the Warriors and Wolves programme was a life-saver.

“Conventional therapy isn’t really something for me…drinking myself to death might have been the last chapter of my life. […]They [the wolves] teach you to be calm and confident.[…]It’s got some deeper meaning when they accept you.”

It’s not just about day to day care. In addition to Warriors and Wolves, LARC and its veterans run “Wolfguard”, conservation campaigns such as the one that rescued Danny Boy in Alaska, or in Montana, where illegal poachers were tracked, reported, and even blocked with human chains.

The fight continues, and although conflicts are unlikely to cease in the near future, the Warriors and Wolves programme can help mitigate their effects. It serves as a shining example of how humans and wolves can live together in harmony, and as Matthew Simmons found,

“…There’s something about being around these animals […] even the most wounded veteran, they feel different.[…] It keeps them part of something greater than themselves.”

This article was originally published in issue 61 of Wolf Print, the magazine of the UK Wolf Conservation Trust.

SOURCES

“Healing with Wolves: A Great Big Story” http://lockwoodarc.org/warriors-wolves/

“Warriors and Wolves: Helping Heal the War After the War”: http://lockwoodarc.org/warriors-and-wolves/

“SoCal Wolf Rehab Program Gives Vets ‘Space to Figure Things Out’” http://newarc.org/warriors-wolves/

“Montana Wolfguard Campaign”: http://lockwoodarc.org/montana/

“Alaska Rescue Campaign”: http://lockwoodarc.org/alaska-rescue-2/

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