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September 06, 2018 05:34 PM

Dr. Lorin Lindner and Matt Simmons are saving the world’s wolves and helping America’s veterans at the same time.

The two are the caring brains behind Lockwood Animal Rescue Center in Ventura County, California. At this rescue — the focus of Animal Planet’s new show Wolves and Warriors — the pair cares for, rehabilitates and releases wolfdogs (wolf/dog hybrids), wolves, coyotes and foxes in need of a little extra help.

Alongside Dr.Lindner and Simmons are the numerous combat veterans the rescue employs. Lockwood provides our country’s veterans with job experience and also offers them a priceless connection: Many of the veterans form therapeutic bonds with the wolves and the wolfdogs they look after, a bond the helps the animals heal and also allows the vets to overcome some of their own traumas.

Wolves and Warriors takes a look at these special relationships, the intricacies of wolf behavior and how Lockwood is protecting some of the county’s most misunderstood animals.

With the first season of the show now airing Saturdays on Animal Planet at 10 p.m. ET, Dr. Lindner talked to PEOPLE about how Lockwood got started, the amazing things the rescue’s been doing and what you can expect to see when you tune in.

Courtesy DR. LORIN LINDNER & MATT SIMMONS

How did you and Matt meet? 

Matthew and I met in 2006 when he came down to volunteer at the parrot sanctuary, Serenity Park Sanctuary, I had recently started on the grounds of the West Los Angeles VA Healthcare Center. He had been coming to the VA for help with his PTSD and related problems, and group therapy wasn’t working for him. His psychiatrist wrote a prescription for “parrot therapy” at my sanctuary and it really worked. He helped me heal the wounds of a wild parrot who fell out of her nest. When she forgave him for hurting her with his medicinal ministrations he learned to start forgiving himself and that was a major path in his road to recovery.

In the meantime, he became such a good volunteer at Serenity Park that I couldn’t help but notice him. But notice was all I did for the first two years or so and by that time he tripled the size of the sanctuary and our funding. But “why” we met is that we were always meant to be together and our life’s struggles brought us together. We got married at Serenity Park in 2009 and James Cromwell was our officiant. He read a beautiful poem by a Native American writer and I carried a bouquet of feathers that had dropped from the parrots over the course of several years.

Why did you decide to start Lockwood Animal Rescue Center? 

Many of the major moments in our lives were serendipitous. After we got married we moved about 70 miles north of L.A. into the mountains of Ventura County. I had always planned to rescue horses and started off rescuing horses used in the Premarin pharmaceutical trade where mares are kept pregnant and catheterized to collect their urine for menopause drugs thus, Pregnant Mare Urine – or Premarin.

While at a horse rescue we noticed a strange-looking dog and it turned out to be a wolfdog. Although we couldn’t rescue him we quickly learned about the problem of wolfdog ownership. Breeders are mixing wolves and dogs and selling them at premium prices as one of the new trophy pets. Problem is, unsuspecting buyers have no idea what they are in for when sharing their homes with a part wild animal. We learned that doing parrot rescue – these wolfdogs are getting relinquished just as frequently as the parrots who need re-homing. And wolfdogs can’t go just to another home.  If they jump or dig out of their backyards they end up at a shelter and cannot be adopted out so they are euthanized unless a sanctuary comes to the rescue.

Most wolfdog sanctuaries around the country are full or close to it because of the tremendous number of relinquished wolfdogs. It was time for us to start a new non-profit to help wolves and wolfdogs. We also do campaigns in the wilderness to protect wild wolves.

Courtesy DR. LORIN LINDNER & MATT SIMMONS

What is your goal for the center? 

Lockwood Animal Rescue Center’s (LARC’s) goals are to bring attention to the plight of the wolfdog  Part wolf and part dog … talk about an identity crisis. Does she sleep at the foot of your bed or chew your foot and your bed? At some point that identity crisis is going to rear its ugly head and almost always that is not good for the animal. More wolfdogs are euthanized proportionately than any other breed. So, educating people about wolves as pets is one goal – we’d love to be put out of business through education and societal change.

Protecting wild wolves from illegal hunting, trapping and poaching is another goal as well as protecting their natural habitats. Providing sanctuary for wolves and wolfdogs, coyotes and foxes in need is another purpose of LARC.

Combined with helping animals, LARC operates the Warriors and Wolves program which brings veterans to our sanctuary to help them learn valuable job skills for future permanent employment, and to learn ways to help them reintegrate into society and reunite with friends and families. A select group of veterans participate in LARC’s WolfGuard campaign protecting wolves in the wild.

Courtesy DR. LORIN LINDNER & MATT SIMMONS

How does the center help veterans? 

First and foremost, LARC provides employment outdoors in a natural, eco-therapeutic setting. Many combat veterans, especially those with PTSD, do not want to work in close, confined quarters with bright lights and lots of people around.

Also important is that the veteran is doing something of service again. Veterans can feel like their lives have meaning again, they have a purpose and this gives them a sense of dignity and honor. The wolves and wolfdogs they care for are often traumatized in the same ways they are and the veterans feel like they are helping save lives. In addition, the veterans learn job skills that help them acquire meaningful, well-paying jobs in their communities. We help them stay clean and sober, and we help connect them with other resources and benefits they may be entitled to.

Courtesy DR. LORIN LINDNER & MATT SIMMONS

Why is helping veterans important to the both of you? 

Matthew is a US Navy veteran and comes from a family of veterans, as do I. He is a completely devoted veterans’ advocate. As soon as I became licensed to practice psychology I devoted my practice to helping homeless veterans and now veterans in need of job training and employment as well as housing.

What effects do the animals have on the veterans? 

The two species understand each other. They both suffer from similar traumatic experiences. Domesticated animals are great as companions and healers but part-wild or wild animals do not have to allow you in their pack, and when they choose you – that is magic. Being part of a pack is something veterans are very familiar with and returning to one in the form of a wolf pack is extremely meaningful.

Courtesy DR. LORIN LINDNER & MATT SIMMONS

Where do most of the animals from the center come from? 

Family relinquishments are most common. People who thought owning a part wild animal and keeping him or her in their homes was a good idea. Also Animal Services and US Fish and Wildlife contact us when animals are seized and we work with law enforcement and other governmental agencies. And shelters contact us because the shelter personnel do not want to put these animals down even though it is required. They hope a sanctuary may have space so this animal’s life can be spared.

What can people expect from the show? 

Greater awareness regarding the plight of both wolves/wolfdogs and veterans and what each individual can do to help.  There is hope!

How many pets do you have at home?

We have eight rescued dogs living in our home, eight doggie beds downstairs, eight doggie beds upstairs. Most of our dogs are Great Danes or German Shepherds from Westside German Shepherd Rescue. More than 1,000 lbs. of dogs greeting me when I get home … I have to sit down before they come barreling over!

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