Gladys Eisenstein was a longtime contributor and friend to her local animal rescue center, and one those wolf dogs she saved was named Wiley.
Wiley is a service dog providing help to veterans returning from war with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and was a loyal companion to Gladys.
When Gladys died, the family brought Wiley to the funeral. Afterward, he walked right to her headstone, laid down his head, and began to cry.
Sarah Varley took a short video to put on her personal Facebook account, and her friends urged her to make it public. The touching 9-second clip of Wiley mourning Gladys’s passing has since been viewed over 8 million times. Some commenters suggested he was really “reverse sneezing,” which some dogs do, and other commenters with experience with animals said that was not the case. A vet also assured Sarah that Wiley was healthy and this was not a symptom of some ailment.
Whatever it may be, Wiley was clearly devastated by Gladys’s death.
“It is such an incredible legacy for Grandma, who touched so many lives, both during and after,” Varley said.
Varley works with organizations to rescue wolves and wolfdogs. Eight years ago, she was diagnosed with PTSD, and found no relief despite multiple therapies. It was by chance that she began working with wolves and wolfdogs, and that turns out to be her “salvation.”
“When you are with an apex predator, there is no room for flashbacks, self harm, anxiety, fear, or any of the other symptoms which rule your life when you are suffering from PTSD,” she wrote. “You are forced to be present, to be with this animal who deserves your utmost respect. In these moments of presence, I began to find a way forward and began to heal.”
“Wolves are beautiful, big, strong animals, and when you’re with them for the with time it’s just breathtaking. But yet, as I watched this animal for the first time, I realized he wasn’t some mythical, invincible creature. He was hurting—just like I was.”
“He had been rescued from a living on a 6-foot chain his entire life. He had been abused and neglected as part of a roadside zoo,” she said.
She saw the same distrust and fear in the wolf as she did in herself. But by reaching out with compassion to rescue this wolf, she realized she deserved compassion herself.
She worked so hard every single day from then to gain the trust of the wolf and help him out of his shell.
But the day he really turned around, it was a huge test for Varley. Wolves greet people and other wolves they respect licking them on the face—everything Varley knew instinctively told her not to let that happen. It was dangerous. It was a risk. it was unsanitary.
“But there was no way I was going to turn away this animal that I had just worked so hard to gain his trust,” Varley. And then later that day, when her PTSD acted up, she remembered she had just been kissed by a wolf, and that she was okay.