What is Footprints of Hope?

Footprints of Hope Veterans Wellness Retreat is a two week intensive, fully immersive programme consisting of various therapies such as animal-assisted therapy (AAT) and mindfulness. The next program will take place at Imire Rhino and Elephant Sanctuary. Participating veterans will be taught targeted approaches to deal with negative emotions and their consequences for the individual.

Veterans for Wildlife believes that AAT, via exposure to (previously) wild animals, within a rehabilitation setting, offers a unique and insightful experience. By putting the needs of animals, often in a worse position than the participants, before themselves, participants are able to gain perspective on their own lives and to find a sense of purpose in caring for something other than themselves (in a similar sense to the brotherhood and buddy-buddy system that they would have encountered in military life).

The purpose of the programme is to provide a support structure in a contained environment in which the therapeutic advantages of working with animals can be explored and understood. In addition to this, working through their own personal trauma through Animal-Assisted Activities and gaining a better awareness of their own wellness will be explored.

Footprints of Hope has been endorsed by the Trauma and Violence Division of the Psychological Society of South Africa.

How is Footprints of Hope run?

The programme is broken up into three phases:

Phase 1: Selection and build-up activities

The build-up phase will be run as one-day sessions prior to the retreat and will provide participants with an introduction to, and expectations for Phase 2. 

This phase will consist of the following activities:

  • Introduction to the Veterans for Wildlife team, including the mentor, clinical psychologist, and alternative therapist.
  • Introduction to the other participants of the programme.
  • Introduction to Animal-Assisted Therapy.
  • Mindfulness sessions.
  • Yoga.
  • Introduction to the self-reflective journal system. 

Phase 2: The retreat

This phase will entail the actual therapeutic retreat at Imire Elephant and Rhino Sanctuary. The retreat will be a two-week intensive programme where candidates will engage in volunteer work as part of their therapeutic process.

This phase will consist of the following activities:

  • Group and individual sessions with clinical psychologist.
  • Daily completion of self-reflective journal.
  • Lectures on various topics such as understanding trauma.
  • Animal-assisted therapy in the form of caring for rhino and elephant. 
  • Yoga.

Phase 3: Post retreat engagement

This phase will take place after the retreat in the UK and will include regular and continuous engagement with the participants. This is aimed at monitoring and aiding in the recovery process as well as assisting with the personal development of the participants. 

Ultimately, the whole journey of coming out and working with Veterans for Wildlife should encompass a holistic experience of service, awareness, wellness and the creation of meaning for oneself.

Apply to Take Part in Footprints of Hope 2

Candidate Selection

Identification of suitable participants for the Veterans for Wildlife Wellness Programme will incorporate a rigorous application and selection process to ensure that we meet the ethical and scientific standards necessary to quantifiably evaluate the outcomes of the programme. One of Veterans for Wildlife's aims is to help remove the stigma associated with seeking help for mental health issues.  This will be met by adopting TRiM as a major component of the selection process, a framework that should already be familiar to many veterans due to its use within the military. 

The main strength of this approach is that it is not led by a medical professional, but by a peer with a military background, who has been trained in TRiM.  Studies have found that this makes the whole process seem less daunting and makes it more accessible to those who would resist an approach from a medical professional. However, a clinical psychologist will oversee both the selection process and the retreat to ensure that appropriate standards of care are being met and to ensure the safety of both the participants and the hosts.

Footprints of Hope 2 Sponsors


Many armed forces charities struggle to raise sufficient funding to support serving and former members of the British Armed Forces and sometimes their dependents who are in need. The Veterans' Foundation has been created to establish a new and nationwide source of funding to help these charities.  It acquires its funds through the Veterans’ Lottery and donations.

The Veterans' Foundation has supported Veterans for Wildlife by sponsoring places on the unique Footprints of Hope programme - aimed at employing animal-assisted therapy to help veterans cope with mental health conditions.


The Lt Dougie Dalzell MC Memorial Trust assists Armed Forces personnel who have been affected by war, as well as their dependents, and thereby improves the quality of life of those who have given so much for their country.

Many of those returning home from operations suffer a multitude of problems, including injuries to their body including the loss of limbs, mental trauma including post-traumatic stress, often triggered sometime after the soldiers' return from operations and, in some cases, loss of employment following a medical discharge. The problems endured are often ongoing and, in the majority of cases, remain with the soldiers for life.  Injuries sustained can have a life-changing effect.

The funds raised by Dougie’s Trust are used to:

  • Promote and protect the health and circumstances of those that have been wounded or injured while serving in the Armed Forces, through the provision of facilities, equipment or services for their rehabilitation;
  • Provide grants for education and other beneficial activities for dependants; and
  • Provide grants to other charities who assist members of the Armed Forces and their dependents generally. 
“The Trustees are delighted to support a veteran on this amazing opportunity for a placement with Veterans for Wildlife working with South African game rangers to protect the wildlife of the region. The project is a perfect fit for the Objects of the Trust. They were particularly impressed with the support on offer which surrounds the placement and are proud to be a sponsor.