After actor Ken Wahl fractured his vertebrae in after suffering a bad fall in 1992, animal therapy helped him with his recovery and continues to help him cope with his disability to this day.
Now, Wahl is hoping he can help veterans suffering from physical or mental traumas find the same solace he did.
“What really got me going on this was finding out about the incredible suicide rate” of veterans, Wahl told The Daily Caller in a phone interview, saying it was so high that he decided he had to do whatever he could. For Wahl, who remains disabled, that means tweeting up a storm on the subject, following and engaging with every veteran who follows him, and referring veterans to organizations that can hook them up with animals.
“When I got hurt, everything just came to a screeching halt… Your life is completely different in a split second,” Wahl explained. “And with me, and I know with a lot of these other guys, that feeling of not being useful anymore, of just being a burden to everyone, is the most horrible depressing thing.”
“Because that ability was taken away, you get a tendency of just feeling worthless, and the animal definitely helps that. I take care of the animals. It gives me a sense of purpose, as a replacement of things I used to be able to do before,” he said.
Wahl and his wife Shane Barbi (one-half of the Barbi Twins of Playboy fame, and an animal advocate), live with a revolving cast of animals, some that they own, some that are passing through as foster animals. Barbi rattled off a list of animals they have or have had that includes cats, dogs, guinea pigs, rabbits, and chickens. Wahl adds squirrels. (Barbi sent pictures of some of those animals — cats and two pitbulls, added to photos of Wahl from his acting days).
Wahl recommends that people be open to a similarly wide array of animals when looking for a comfort animal.
“It’s definitely not one-size-fits-all. Some people respond to cats, like I do. For me, it was cats and dogs. Some people it’s just dogs, some people cats, some horses, some it could be a tarantula – some people have pet spiders. Whatever works. It’s a mistake to try to think it’s one size fits all, because it’s not, it really depends on the person’s personality and their circumstances,” he said.
Wahl himself is particularly fond of a cat: Kiddinz. Kiddinz is blind in one-eye, and Wahl and Barbi rescued her after her returned to the shelter after her previous owners discovered she was blind.
“I found her on the internet, and she looked so sad and dejected, ‘cause you can imagine how happy she was that she was adopted, and then they just discarded her because she wasn’t perfect,” Wahl said. “And for me, the more messed up a kitty is, the more I love them — any animal, but when they’re messed up and nobody else wants them, that’s what makes me want them more.”
“I know,” he said in a cooing tone to the cat, who meowed audibly into the phone. “You hear her? She’s so possessive — she just hates it when I’m on the phone or at the computer.”
Wahl says that Kiddinz coexists peacefully with the chickens and the guinea pigs and any other animals that pass through the house.
“Well, she does get jealous,” Barbi piped in.
“Yeah,” Wahl said. “If I pay too much attention to any of the other ones.”
“Including me,” his wife added.
“Yeah, she’ll get jealous,” he said.
“She hates me,” Barbi continued. “I’m the other woman.”
Wahl says Kiddinz gives him what he calls “purr therapy.”
“When my kitty lies on my chest and she purrs, that just puts me into the most peaceful sleep,” he explains. “I can feel the vibration of her purring on my chest, and it helped me very much with my own injury. And I’ve heard from other people that that helps them too. Now, obviously that might not work for everyone, but it’s definitely worth a try because on top of feeling so nice, it is really cute — kitty’s lying on your chest and just looking at you with those lovey eyes and she’s just purring away. I have a very difficult time sleeping, and when she does that, I just go out like a light.”
Wahl says the animal can help someone who is suffering mentally or physically by helping them feel “connected” to another living thing.
“The main thing is to get them connected again. Because it’s very easy when someone has a traumatic injury to tend to isolate. And then you ruminate… and you have a tendency to get depressed cause of that. The animal helps you get out of your own head because you have to take care of the animal, and that’s why it’s especially helpful,” he says.
He described the relationship as “mutually beneficial.”
“The animals help the military personnel, and vice versa, because one of the problems with somebody coming back with their limbs missing or just being extremely injured is that there’s an incredible sense of uselessness, that they feel that they have no value,” he explains. “And I’m not saying that it’s a panacea to connect them in an animal, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction. Because not only does the animal provide comfort for the military person, but the military person is also helping that animal, or rescuing it, and that gives him or her a sense of self worth, a little bit, it definitely helps on the road to recovery.”
“Especially when you’re injured and not feeling that great about yourself, that unconditional love that the animal gives you and that you give to the animal in return just means the world to both animal and human,” he adds.
A number of organizations work to connect veterans with comfort animals, but Wahl is partial to Guardians of Rescue, a group that rescues animals and helps pair them with people. Guardians of Rescue runs a program called Paws of War, where they help bring back animals from war zones that bonded with the troops there. Wahl and Barbi are also fans of Dogs on Deployment, a group that helps find reliable care for the pets of troops while they are deployed, and Horses 4 Heroes, which does equine therapy.
Wahl insisted that he does not want to compare his injury and continuing disability to what the troops have gone through.
“They’re the ones that are risking their life and limbs, I’m not,” he said.
But he hopes that his experiences can help them.
“This has been his–” Barbi begins, in talking about the importance of animals and the therapy they have given her husband.
Wahl finishes the sentence for her: “Reason for living.”