Being thrown to the wolves could be the best therapy session ever for the war vets featured on “Wolves and Warriors.”
The Animal Planet series, premiering Saturday (Sept. 1), pairs veterans — many suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) — with wolves and wolfdogs (part wolf/part dog) at the Lockwood Animal Rescue Center (LARC) in Frazier Park, Calif.
It’s the brainchild of Clinical Psychologist Dr. Lorin Lindner and her husband, Navy veteran Matt Simmons. “The amazing thing about starting up a relationship with a wolf … is that it’s a relationship that you can’t will to be,” says Simmons. “You have to walk in slow. You have to walk in quiet. You have to walk in open. You have to be willing to share a piece of yourself.”
Lindner, a Queens native, met her first wolf as a student at SUNY New Paltz when, during her first-semester field biology course, the Fund For Animals brought in Jethro the wolf, an ambassador for wolf conservation. She moved from SUNY New Paltz to UCLA, where she eventually became Clinical Director of New Directions for Homeless Veterans at the Greater Los Angeles VA Healthcare Center. While there, she founded Serenity Park — a place for abandoned, abused and neglected parrots used to interact with veterans experiencing trauma.
As fate would have it, one of the veterans in the program was Simmons, who suffered from PTSD and who worked with a parrot named Ruby.
“[Working with Ruby] allowed me to look at my internal struggle differently and allowed me to look at other veterans struggles differently,” he says. “It repurposed and refocused me on being an animal advocate and being an animal spokesperson and as a spokesperson for veterans.”
Simmons and Lindner, who married in 2009, relocated to Frazier Park, north of LA, where they founded LARC — and fate was about to step in yet again.
Simmons was on his way to LA when his trailer came unattached from his truck. He managed to get the trailer chained back up, but instead of heading to LA, he headed to nearby Bakersfield for repairs, where he got a call from Lindner that there was a wolf in a local shelter that was going to be euthanized. Simmons walked less than half a block and rescued a wolfdog named Wiley — and, shortly thereafter, LARC become home to more than a dozen wolves and wolfdogs, introducing the “Warriors and Wolves” program for vets to work with the animals.
LARC currently has eight-to-10 veterans working in the program. Lindner and Simmons would love to employ more vets because they’ve seen how successful the program has been — and how it’s had a positive impact on both the veterans and the wolves.
“If I had $10 million, I could run 40 veterans, 50 veterans, every six months through this program without expanding my footprint,” says Simmons. “But I don’t need more wolves, I don’t need more land … I have yet to find that magic person that’s going to allow me to hire 50 vets and I hope with this [series] that I’ll be exposed to that individual who really cares about veterans, who wants to run a bunch of guys through this program and help me do it.”