This Jan. 1, 2012 photo shows center co-founder, Mathew Sinmans, with two of of 29 rescued wolf dogs at The Lockwood Animal Rescue Center in Lockwood, Calif. It's been three months since this California animal rescue center retrieved 29 wolf-dogs from an Alaska tourist attraction that had fought the state over owning, breeding and selling the wolf-hybrids. Chains were so deeply embedded in the necks of two of the animals that they had to be surgically removed.The task of taming the wolf-dogs has been given to a couple of U.S. military veterans who say they can relate to the stress of trying to transition to a normal life. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)
LOS ANGELES (AP) — It's been three months since a California animal rescue center retrieved 29 wolf-dogs from an Alaska tourist attraction that had fought the state over owning, breeding and selling the wolf-hybrids.
Chains were so deeply embedded in the necks of two of the animals that they had to be surgically removed. Many developed limps because they'd never used the pads of their feet.
Now the task of taming the wolf-dogs has been given to three U.S. military veterans who say they can relate to the stress of trying to transition to a normal life. The program is called "Warriors and Wolves."
"I get along with the wolves," said one of the three, Stanley McDonald, a 10-year Navy vet who has been foreman of the Lockwood Animal Rescue Center in Frazier Park, about 75 miles (120 kilometers) northwest of Los Angeles, for more than four years.
McDonald said he knows what it is like to be homeless, alone and lost. "They've been in a bad situation, which I've been in most of my life. Most of them are afraid, taken away from the only thing they knew," he said.
The wolf-dogs are now thriving in small packs of two to six animals after joining 12 wolf-dogs already at the shelter, according to Lorin Lindner, who founded Lockwood with her husband, Navy veteran Matthew Simmons, in 2008.
Lindner said the wolf-dogs, which normally travel up to 40 miles (64 kilometers) a day, had been tethered in Alaska. Once they had room to run at the 20 acre (8 hectare) Lockwood sanctuary, they went lame because their muscles were not acclimated to the exercise.
"It's taken three months, but we are just now noticing them running without limps," Lindner said.
The animals are fed high-priced, high-quality food made of buffalo, venison and game birds, in addition to 5 pounds to 10 pounds (2.3 kilograms to 4.5 kilograms) of meat each day. Markets in the area give the rescue group their expired meats "so we are not killing any additional animals to feed the wolf-dogs," Lindner said.
In Alaska, they had been fed raw moose meat to keep them looking good so tourists could get close enough to the animals to take their pictures for a $5 fee.
Before the wolf-dogs arrived, Lindner and Simmons were running the sanctuary on $10,700 a month. But with the new arrivals, that's jumped to $15,500 a month, including salaries for the three veterans.
To help pay the bills, Lindner and Simmons are inviting supporters of the sanctuary to volunteer, donate or sponsor a veteran or a wolf-dog.
Lindner, Simmons, the vets and volunteers built enclosures for the animals that stand 10 feet (3 meters) fall and include guards against the wolf-dogs digging under them.
Because some of the animals have bad hips and arthritis, Simmons is building soft-webbed trundle beds so they can sleep off the ground. They've put out a plea to firehouses since old fire hose makes good webbing.
McDonald, 48, is the wolf-dog program's biggest booster. He says he has been an alcoholic since he was 18. He spent 10 years in the Navy and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
"I wasn't a mean or angry drunk," he said. "I would just take everything we had to buy alcohol."
McDonald says he's learned from the animals and knew if he could help them, he could help himself. "I made a wonderful change," he said.
Since working with the animals, he's begun reconciling with his ex-wife and reconnected with a son, now 19, whom he'd lost touch with. His son didn't trust him at first, McDonald said.
"It took some work by both of us. It took a lot of forgiving," said McDonald. "I'm back with my family doing things I love to do."