Patrick and his wounded bald eagle, Sarge.


Vietnam veteran helps heal other veterans through wounded birds of prey

Largo, FL

I met Vietnam veteran Patrick Bradley when I interviewed him for our new book called "Vets and Pets: Wounded Warriors and the Animals That Help Them Heal." What an amazing man. After he was severely wounded in Vietnam, almost losing his left hand due to a shrapnel wound, he was angry. So much so that his doctors at Walter Reed felt he couldn't be discharged and placed back into the population because of his rage. One of his doctors, who was also an avid falconer, found a grant that needed someone to spend three years studying and counting bald eagles in the Canadian wilderness. Patrick, who was a trained survivalist and animal lover, especially birds of prey, was happy to go. He was dropped in the wilderness, and learned to calm his demons through immersing himself in nature. His night terrors and rage dissipated, and after three years he was literally transformed. His experience, and being so alone for so long, gave him the confidence to return to college, get a zoology degree, and begin a career that took him around the country educating the public about animal species, training bears and others for movies and television and managing birds of prey exhibits and theme parks. His son, Skyler, also is a veteran and returned home after a number of deployments with severe PTSD. He decided to have Skyler take a walk with a bird in the nature park he managed, and found it helped him relax and also deal with his negative and destructive emotions. Patrick began to see the healing power of these birds, and four years ago created the nonprofit Avian Veterans Alliance. Along with Bay Pines VA Hospital in Florida, Patrick has had more than 2,000 veterans with PTSD visit his park and many have been dramatically healed by simply taking a walk with a wounded bird on their arm. Patrick, remarkably, is also a volunteer, and isn't paid for the groundbreaking work he does that has even been noticed by someone in Holland, who visited the park to learn his methods. His co-founder, a young woman who was also helped by Patrick, and is now studying the effects of this program as part of her Ph.D., hopes to quantify why these birds help so many veterans. Patrick is a shining example of the best of the veteran spirit and dedication to serice.

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