Saturday, June 22

‘This is my family:’ Navy veteran visits Palm Beach Zoo to help with PTSD

For Walter Smith, a trip to the Palm Beach Zoo is a walk through his second home.

Animals are my family, I know all the animals, he said.

Smith knows because he visits the zoo several times a week and has done so for the past 13 years. With his long lens camera, Smith makes a bird call, snaps a picture of a flamingo and smiles as he takes in the zoo.

I see the smile on your face, like, this is your happy place? asked WPTV anchor Mike Trim.

Well, this is my family, Walter said.

A family that heals wounds unseen. Smith is a Navy veteran who served in the late 1960s. Non-combat related incidents, hed rather not talk about, led him to a dark place mentally for most of his life.

I knew there was something wrong, he said, but I never could put my finger on it and acknowledge it.

Through help with the Veterans Affairs, a post-traumatic stress disorder diagnosis was a breakthrough, helping Smith get to brighter days.

Ive dealt with it, I accepted it, and Im just trying to live my life as it is and I don’t want to go backwards, he said.

Now its forward, walking his path through his peaceful paradise. Seeing his happiness means a lot to zoo staff as well.

He is an ambassador of the zoo, hes an ambassador of Palm Beach County, Erin Ward, VP of marketing at Palm Beach Zoo, said. I mean how lucky are we that we get to have him every week.

Every week is a new step in Smiths healing.

Ive come a long way, I really have, he said.

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