LOS ANGELES — There’s nothing like going out for a hike in the Antelope Valley to see picturesque views of rocky hilltops, hearing the chirping of birds and howling of wolfdogs from Wolf Heart Ranch.
More than 33 wolfdogs were rescued and brought to the Ranch as part of Wolf Connection’s therapy program that helps at-risk youth and others like Edward Amaya learn how to be in tune with their own emotions.
As Amaya heads out on a hike with two wolfdogs and two staff members, he shared how it felt for him to be a part of their pack.
“Very much so magical, in a sense, to me, because they are very pack oriented and it makes me feel like I’m one with them,” Amaya said.
With Wolf Connection staff members holding onto the leash, Amaya recounts how the connection with the wolfdogs has helped him learn more about himself.
“I was raised in a household where machismo was a thing. I would get punished if I were to show emotion, and so, I would refrain as much as possible from showing anything,” Amaya said.
Through his continuation school, Amaya applied to the Wolf Connection program that offers an eight week course for at-risk youth in the Antelope Valley to learn self-empowerment, leadership and more by working with the wolfdogs.
Through the program they learn the different roles wolves have in a pack, wolf principles they live by and learn how that structure can be applied to their own lives. According to Amanda Beer, the director of programs at the rescue, the program can also help at-risk youth get through the loneliness and fear caused by the pandemic. At the same time Beer shared the wolves also learn how to trust again while balancing a domesticated and wild life.
“We see youth who are really acting out their trauma and so the work here helps them regulate their emotion like a wolf would and then we see the opposite end of the spectrum where young people really shut down and go inward because of trauma or their past and the program gives them the space to slowly open up,” Beer said.
Recently, the organization broke ground on a $2 million expansion that will make room for an additional wolf den, program opportunities with LA County’s Department of Mental Health and potentially rescue more wolves. Amaya’s program ended more than two years ago. But his experience kept bringing him back, from volunteer to part-time staff.
“It makes it feel a lot better when I have the people that can encourage me to be a way that I wasn’t used to, to make it normal for me again,” Amaya said.
Wolf Connection has plans to expand a virtual learning experience to reach individuals all across the globe. For more information about their programs, visit wolfconnection.com.