Nestled in Argyle, Texas is a small piece of heaven on earth. At least that’s what it feels like for the animals that call it home. Established in 2008, Ranch Hand Rescue (RHR) is a sanctuary for special needs animals who, due to their specific medical or emotional needs, are deemed are the “worst of the worst.” RHR welcomes farm animals that other shelters and rescue farms lack the resources to rehabilitate. If the animals become well enough to be adopted out, they’re placed in loving homes. If not, they remain at RHR’s farm animal sanctuary and serve as therapy animals for the children and adults in RHR’s equine and animal-assisted therapy program. You see, RHR is more than an animal shelter. It’s also home to a unique therapy program which uses animals to connect with severely traumatized children and adults.
Bob Williams, founder and CEO of RHR says, “I always wanted this to be a place where healing happened for both animals and for people, but I also wanted it to be a ministry. I wanted to inspire people and I wanted people to know that there is hope…I established a sanctuary for special needs animals because I believe with all my heart that all life is precious…The animals that we take are what I would call the ‘throwaways.’ The ones that nobody wants and would usually be euthanized on the spot. Someone needed to be their voice, so we always try to take those animals and do everything we can to restore them to good health.”
The Ranch Hand Rescue team includes professional counselors, stable hands who care for the animals, and a host of volunteers. The facility is clean and well maintained, and the whole place has a warm and safe atmosphere. The people who come to RHR for therapy are referred to as “clients.” They meet with their counselor in one of RHR’s homey, welcoming cabins, but the majority of their time is spent outside in the barn with the horses, goats, donkeys, alpacas, pigs, lamas, and sheep.
“We know that some kids will tell an animal something before they will tell an adult in a traditional office environment. We also know that animals have a way of reaching people in a way that other people can’t. That’s why we say that it’s people helping animals and animals helping people,” says Williams. “The kind of cases we receive are the most horrific kinds of child physical and sexual abuse. They are horrific cases of witnesses to murder or physical, mental and sexual torture. They’re really bad situations. They’re the kind of things that people don’t want to talk about, but they’re the kind of things that need to be talked about.”
The majority of the RHR’s clients are referred to them from other therapists, clinics, hospitals and other counseling organizations. They are sent to RHR if traditional clinical therapy hasn’t helped them process the trauma they’ve experienced.
“We serve the individuals that are falling through the cracks…if you think about that segment of the population that is not responding to traditional help, where do they go? That’s what I wanted our program to reflect. I wanted us to be able to target that segment,” says Williams.
“Ranch Hand Rescue adds another critical piece for those children who have reached a wall, where our counselors have done the best they can and those kids cannot get to that next level of being able to verbalize their narrative in counseling,” says Dan Leal, Executive Director of Denton County’s Children Advocacy Center. “When you connect those kids with an animal that they can identify with and they see that the animals have been hurt and have been broken, when they’re able to connect with the therapists at Ranch Hand Rescue, amazing things happen. Those kids can overcome an obstacle because they identify with the animals.”
Cathy Champ is a licensed professional counselor and Ranch Hand Rescue’s Clinical Director. She oversees RHR’s team of counselors and regularly measures the effectiveness of their therapy programs. According to Champ, RHR regularly sees a 60 percent rate of trauma reduction by mid-treatment and a ninety percent rate of reduction when treatment is completed. Champ and the RHR staff directly attribute this success to the equine and animal assisted therapy.
One parent of an RHR client said this of her daughter’s experience at the sanctuary: “Ranch Hand Rescue has been able to give my little girl her life back. My daughter looks forward to coming to RHR and feels brave enough to talk about her sexual abuse. She feels connected to the animals because she says they understand what she’s been through because they were abused too. She told me, ‘Mom I get goosebumps when I see how happy and strong those horses are after bad people have hurt them. I’m going to be as strong as a horse someday.’”
Ranch Hand Rescue is home a number of amazing animals with amazing stories. Perhaps their most famous resident is Midnite, a black pony with a prosthetic leg. Midnite walks and even runs easily on his prosthetic leg! He regularly visits hospitals and clinics to be an encouragement to children and veterans who are facing life with a prosthetic limb.