Over the course of thousands of years, as hunting has moved from a subsistence activity to a social one, there's no question that it has become controversial in nature, as well. Sport hunting, canned hunting, hound hunting, trophy hunting and now, even, therapy hunting.
That's right, a recent USA Today article explains how wounded Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans are turning to rugged activities such as hunting and fishing to help heal physical and mental wounds.
The Armed Forces Foundation was profiled in the article as being among groups that organize outings aimed at getting a growing number of veterans out of hospitals and into the "therapeutic embrace of nature."
A Washington DC-based non profit, the Armed Forces Foundation provides comfort and solace to members of the military community through financial support, career counseling, housing assistance and recreational therapy programs.
When I reached out to The Honorable Julie Mogenis, who heads the organization's outdoor sports program, to express my dismay that hunting was being championed as therapeutic, I subsequently received an email from Army Spc. Brett Wolf, the wounded war vet who was profiled in the USA Today article, as well as five of his pro-hunting friends and colleagues.
What started out as an exploratory mission to extend the Armed Forces Foundations' outdoor sports program to include other outdoor activities that don't promote killing, quickly became a personal one.
I suggested extending the program to include war vets volunteering with Big Brothers Big Sisters of America and even lending a hand at an outdoor animal shelter. Instead of receiving an answer from a representative of the Armed Forces Foundation, I received several hostile emails that pegged me as a tree hugger, as someone who has never spent time in the country and as someone who is insensitive to the needs of wounded soldiers.
While my intentions were not to start a holy war with the men and women who protect our country, I must say, that most of the accusations from Mr. Wolf and his friends and colleagues are not true. I have spent time in the country, as well as in other countries. In fact, if they must know, my father used to hunt when we lived in Africa. That was until the day a lone gazelle danced before him in the field as he prepared to shoot. He said it was one of the most beautiful things he had ever seen -- the gazelle, negotiating nature -- and he put down his gun. That was in 1979 and he has not hunted since. I also attended a Maritime Academy in Maine, where my friends were permitted to leave campus during hunting season, and did. What Mr. Wolf and his fellow soldiers don't know is how grateful, yet sorry I am that they are fighting for our country. I am not a proponent of war anymore than I am of killing animals. But I will give them the satisfaction of calling me a tree hugger. I am pretty sure that I have even been called that -- albeit affectionately -- by my own mother.
After the emails from Mr. Wolf and his compatriots stopped trickling in, I reached out once again to the Armed Forces Foundation to ask that they kindly refrain from handing out my contact information to people I did not know. It was then that I finally received a response, as well as an apology, from a representative of the organization.
Sasha Lahr, Director of Marketing and Communications at the Armed Forces Foundation, said that while she is not an avid hunter, she has come to appreciate that what she finds therapeutic -- dance, massage, a corona -- is not for everyone.
"I eventually realized there was nothing I could do but help support him in whatever he decided to do as he tried to move on," said Ms. Lahr, referring to a young man she worked with who was barely out of high school and had just come back from Iraq after having sacrificed both of his legs for our country. "He was forever changed by his selfless civic servitude, and I feel strongly that I have little room to judge what constitutes a milestone in his eyes."
Ms. Lahr added that she liked many of the ideas that I suggested, especially Big Brothers Big Sisters as well as volunteering at an animal shelter. She even agreed to explore an additional program within the foundation, which would include a partnership with United Action for Animals, and serve as another avenue of recovery for veterans.
"Who would have thought that an article about hunting could bring soldiers and animals in need, together," said Jennifer Panton, President of United Action for Animals. "I think it's great and I look forward to working with the Armed Forces Foundation as it pertains to saving animals and not killing them."