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Introducing... Wolf Therapy for Addicts

By Ben Feuerherd 04/25/13

A new hybrid treatment program helps addicts and wolf dogs recover.

Connection on a "primal level" Photo via

Promises Malibu, a swanky rehab center in West LA, has teamed up with Wolf Connection, an animal rescue center, to introduce "wolf therapy" to the addiction treatment world. Recovering addicts in the program are encouraged to connect "wolfdogs" (wolves that have been bred with dogs as pets) as part of their comprehensive treatment. The therapy is designed especially to help young adults with a range of mental health issues, including drug and alcohol addiction and PTSD, and to target behavioral patterns like aggression and peer rivalry. “What we do is bring people into the world of the wolf,” says Wolf Connection founder Teo Alfero. “What that means is you cease to be a human with all of your beliefs and past experiences and get to connect with an animal that takes you to a very primal level."  

Integrating animals into treatment helps people to "connect in a way that is different than talk therapy," Promises program director Kelly M. Seidlitz tells The Fix. The rehab also offers activities like art therapy, rock climbing and nature trips, so the wolf therapy exercise "seemed like not an unreasonable stretch," he explains. On a typical day of wolf therapy, the participants will go on a walk or hike along with the—leashed—animals, completing various exercises designed to help them move through feelings like anger, shame and sadness. "Wolves will be able to come up with dramatic feedback with how the clients are doing," says Seidlitz. "If they are angry the wolves will avoid them."

Every member of the Wolf Connection pack is a rescued animal, typically with a background of abuse or neglect—and the program is intended to benefit its four-legged participants too. The wolves undergo intense behavioral training, and are encouraged to interact with other animals and humans without aggression. (But just in case, trainers are on hand to keep things safe.) "Getting out into nature and working with wolfdogs allows our young adult clients to let down their defenses and be present in the moment,” says Seidlitz. “In that moment, they are more open to trusting others and listening to what they have to say and, just like the wolfdogs, making the most of the second chance they’ve been given.”

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Benjamin Feuerherd is a city reporter at the New York Post. He has previously worked for The Daily Beast and NBC. You can find him on Linkedin and Twitter

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