EAST LONGMEADOW, Mass. (WWLP) — A veteran from East Longmeadow is riding his horse across the country with his dog in order to raise funds to train dogs to be companions for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and rescue horses for equine therapy.
Matt Perella, a former Marine Corps Sergeant who served from 1999 to 2003, plans to build “The Righteous Life Rescue Ranch” to rescue retired horses and death row dogs. As part of his initiative, he plans to empty kill shelters of aggressive dogs that nobody wants to work with, train them, domesticate them, and pair them with veterans who have PTSD.
The retired horses he rescues will be given a “sanctuary environment” where they can graze and run free. He is to also provide an equine therapy program for people with disabilities, veterans suffering from PTSD, or anyone who would benefit from horses’ comforting qualities.
Perella went through a tower moment, feeling like he had no purpose and that he had nobody to count on. He felt his life shatter when his New York business, Perella Events, had to close due to restrictions. Through Perella Events, he was creating parties for celebrities across the country. “My life had just gone from completely great to nothing so fast,” he said.
This traumatic time for him led him to develop PTSD. Over time, he knew that he had to escape this road he was on and find a new one. After receiving his dog, Raffe, he had this new sense of purpose.
“I was praying and hoping for death every day and two times I did try to take my life and Raffe had different plans for me and I couldn’t be more honored to have had this dog. There’s a bigger picture for me and it’s clear now and it’s this journey to create the righteous rescue life ranch to help others that are going through the same thing as I went through,” Perella said.
Both Raffe and his horse, Buck have become his therapy. “I just want to ride my horse everyday and work with horses and dogs everyday so it really inspired me to cross this country and set this record, because I feel like I’m meant for something bigger than what I was doing. ”
He added, “I just couldn’t be any happier to have a purpose, to have a mission, and to have these boys in my life to remind me I have a bigger purpose. Between the two of these boys, every day is just I wake up and feel nothing but happiness now.”
What led Perella to Raffe and Buck
“When I seen Buck, his face was in a dark stall, he didn’t want anything to do with anybody. He was just very quiet, the most relaxed horse I had ever seen. When he test rode him he said, ‘It was a no brainer, that he was the perfect horse for me.’ The fact that he was so available proves it meant to be a connection. With Raffe there was no guarantee that he was going to be the perfect connection because he was like wild wolf but knew he was sorry after bowing his heading after biting his arm in the public. I knew rights in that moment, he was my dog. After that never bit me again, growled a few times, then it was done and he was my dog. Four months later, he saved my life. So it couldn’t be more of a success story because he was on death row himself, and I saved his life, four months later he is repaying the debt to me. Now the connection between us is just absolutely incredible. For a dog to read my mid twice, the moments I decided to take my life, he knew just in that moment and came over to me. There is no other explanation for a meant to be connection,” said Perella.
Perella’s PTSD struck when COVID-19 happened and he had lost his business for two years and had lost all his funds. He was homeless for a year and a half, living in an RV in a parking lot during the winter where he couldn’t have any water in the RV because it would freeze over, couldn’t shower for a week, was having to go to the gym to shower in the pool shower (all bathrooms were closed during COVID).
“It was a very rough time of my life, I had to go back to doing manual labor, during the winter, couldn’t adventure,” said Perella.
His dog, Raffe was on death row himself and became Perella’s inspiration behind having companion dogs for veterans with PTSD. Perella rescued Raffe, “he was so aggressive when I got him, he bit me really bad in the first two hours of having him and within four months, I was able to train him all through YouTube, finding the aggressive dog training videos and then made him my service dog, five months later.”
“The training techniques that I have created for dogs like Raffe are going to work and we are going to save dogs lives and Veterans lives through my program.” Perella continued to say, “The dogs that we train are going to be able to recognize this behavior as Raffe has and they are going to give the Veteran, a purpose. Right now, since Raffe saved my life, I could not imagine another person owning Raffe or taking care of Raffe. So now I have a purpose.”
Perella has been horseback riding his whole life to connect with nature and cleanse his soul. He purchased Buck in 2017, after the first time he test rode him, he knew it was a meant to be connection.
Training dogs to be companions for Veterans with PTSD
The program is going to benefit those veterans with PTSD that may be lacking love for something, according to Perella this is why a lot of Veterans or people with PTSD are very suicidal. Perella says that he was a victim of that himself and Raffe saved his life. Raffe knew the moments when he was in his head and felt like calling it quits.
According to the National Veteran Suicide Prevention Report, on average there were 17 suicides per day since 2019. “There’s not a shortage of dogs and shortly not a percentage of veterans with PTSD that need these dogs, because we are losing veterans.” Perella explained how these aggressive dogs are going to become companion dogs, along with how they are going to give veterans with PTSD a purpose. These dogs are to become their best friend, their soul mate, or their caretaker.
“These dogs just connect with the people and everyone that I’ve talked to, that has just only a service dog and a rescue dog. It has been their best dog they have ever had, the dogs get it,” he said, “they know that you’re saving their life because of what they’ve been through and what they have experienced in the shelters, which is nothing but isolation, no love, no training. They’re going to get all of that, so when they see that humans are good for them, they’re going to change their energy, not only the Veteran’s energy as well. It’s going to be complete for reconnection with life for both people and be reciprocated on both levels.”
With the proper training, dogs that may be aggressive will turn into loveable dogs for the veterans. Perella is to collaborate with a friend, Bryan Doe who works with Veterans, who knows people that connect service dogs with veterans.
Equine therapy with horses
Equine therapy programs are going to get a lot of people to spend ton of time with animals. “I can’t wait for The Righteous Life Rescue Ranch to give back on a large scale,” he said.
The very first step to starting the equine therapy program will begin with reaching out to horse shelters or horse sanctuaries to see if they have extra horses that they can’t provide for anymore and take those horses off their hands. If there is a horse that is already retired, it will stay retired. This means they won’t be ridden, they will only be used for equine therapy. And that will be just people walking around with them, touching them, caring for them. If they have horses that are injured, they will take them and rehabilitate them.
“It’s proven that horses have this certain energy about them that just relives the stress hormone inside the human body just by their presence alone and that’s proven and documented,” said Perella
“Doing this journey has been a real eye opener that even the equine therapy programs that we are going to have are going to touch many lives as it has already with my one force on this journey as I have witnessed dozens of people come up and just touching him for a few moments, people have cried and said, ‘You know I just really needed that today.’ So it’s really special in what these animals have to offer with their energy and presence.”
When Perella took his horse, Buck down the streets of Baltimore city in Maryland, people had interacted with Buck by touching him and enlightened their spirits.
“It’s going to cleanse souls and many people have used that exact phrase, just from coming up and touching Buck. It’s really exciting in what the Righteous Life Rescue Ranch is going to bring not only to people but the animals as well.”
Funding and plans for the Righteous Life Rescue Ranch
The Righteous Life Rescue Ranch exists under a 501C3 nonprofit organization.
Perella told 22News how he wants the Righteous Life Rescue Ranch to be a big operation and how he wants to post many retreats at once either for Veterans or for autistic folks to where they have their own cabin or Tipi. “Get away and get really into nature, really experience nature for what it is.” Perella says each cabin or Tipi setting is going to have its own horse, “People are going to come and get a little brief lesson on how to take care of their horse, how to feed it, walking around their campsite, make them really dive into what these animals are about and how to take care of them.”
“Ashville, North Carolina is where the Righteous Life Rescue Ranch will begin. I chose that because it’s the furthest south, where you still get the beautiful mountain vibe, the winters aren’t super harsh, I can be operational 10 months a year,” said Perella. “My animals inspired me to do this, really heavy on my heart to get this operation going and to not only help animals but people as well.”
The money being raised is to create and build the Righteous Life Rescue Ranch. He already has his financial plan built, everything is in the works. “People have been very generous to donate to that and to donate to this journey itself.”
“Many other people have proven that with the right funding and determination, anything is possible.”
He said there’s has been a lot of logistics and funding for this trip. He has seen gear failing left and right, having to buy new gear, vet checks for horse, and new shoes for horse every four weeks.
“The bills add up real quick for this journey alone, so all the money is going towards very good things for the animals or for the production of the Righteous Life Rescue Ranch,” said Perella.
Perella’s continuing journey plans
Perella is currently on an American discovery trail that will take him to Limantour Beach in San Francisco as the state he visits. Only if the winter weather allows him to before October, if not he will have to take a detour south and then end up on a beach in Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in California, where he was stationed as a marine.
Perella has trained with Buck a lot on the roads of East Longmeadow and Springfield, he is trained to his choice of travel. Both Buck and Raffe learned left and right commands to follow.
He is looking forward to heading into Colorado the most and getting into the Rocky Mountains, “that’s where it is going to get eye-opening.”