Denton County Nonprofit Fuels Hope With Power of Human-Animal Bond

Ranch Hand Rescue may be the only nonprofit in the world pairing abused and neglected animals with human mental health therapy. In the last few years, it's experienced a surge of growth.

denton county

Ranch Hand Rescue has a soft spot for challenging cases — both humans and animals.

For more than eight years, the Denton County nonprofit has taken pride in serving people that couldn’t be helped by more traditional therapies. It’s also provided refuge for farm animals others had cast aside.

“We are the only ones in the world that have developed a program that partners abused and neglected animals and mental health therapy [for people].”
Bob Williams

Bob Williams, who worked years in the telecommunications industry, created the unconventional charity after noticing the impact animals had on his own health and receiving a little encouragement from his longtime friend and actress Doris Roberts.

“I never in my wildest dreams envisioned it was going to become what it’s become today,” Williams said. “But the reality is, we are the only ones in the world that have developed a program that partners abused and neglected animals and mental health therapy [for people].”

And, it’s hit a growth spurt. 

Ranch Hand averages aiding 30 animals a year and in the first quarter of this year, it has helped 150 people. It’s serving five times the number of clients it was in 2013.

The need has become so overwhelming that in May, Ranch Hand added a second facility to accommodate its blossoming staff and client base. The yellow-hued house is less than a mile from its Argyle farm off Highway 377.

“Our program is growing by 300-400 percent per a year and as people hear about the successes we get more and more requests,” Williams said.

The need has become so overwhelming that in May Ranch Hand added a second facility to accommodate its blossoming staff and client base. [Photo: Chase Mardis]

A SAFE HAVEN FOR PEOPLE, ANIMALS

For it’s human clients, the nonprofit’s meant to be a supplement to those area organizations already providing mental health support.

From child victims of sexual and physical abuse to veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, Ranch Hand pairs a range of counseling methods with equine and animal-assisted therapies to spark healing for those that haven’t progressed elsewhere. Referrals come from Dallas-Fort Worth area school districts, hospitals, children’s advocacy centers, and many others.

About 65 percent of its clients receive subsidized or free services.

“For me it’s not just about doing something different or unconventional. It’s about hope and inspiration.”
Bob Williams

“It’s that segment of the population that’s in and out of treatment, having trouble functioning in everyday life, and that doesn’t see any hope,” Williams said. “If we can get to the route of the trauma, we can put them on a good path of developing a program that can help them.”

For the farm animals, it’s transitioned over the years from a rescue to more of a sanctuary for animals needing critical care.

Many of its animals have received worldwide attention for the groundbreaking medical treatments they have received such as Midnite, the first horse in the world to have a prosthetic leg without amputation or Yoda, who was the first sheep to have an open heart surgery earlier this year.

“All life is precious so regardless what the situation is, if there’s a way we can help then we are going to try,” Williams said.

Ranch Hand partners with Oklahoma State University for many of the medical procedures required, which offers students there teachable moments.

“For me it’s not just about doing something different or unconventional. It’s about hope and inspiration,” Williams said.

CREATING A UNIQUE HUMAN-ANIMAL BOND

There’s a bond that’s formed between abused and neglected animals and people who’ve suffered trauma that is inexplicable, Williams said.

Licensed clinical therapist Sharon Beam has seen it time and time again.

Clients who might have witnessed a murder or have PTSD building healing connections with the horses, pigs, sheep, and other animals that call Ranch Hand home.

Licensed clinical therapist Sharon Beam with Gracie.

“It just helps with trust and rapport when there’s an animal involved,” Beam said.

She remembers her first animal-assisted therapy session with the nonprofit’s beloved horse, Angel.

“I got to a place with that client in one session where it would’ve taken an estimated five sessions with just me and him in the office,” Beam said.

Rebeca Mata, a bilingual licensed professional counselor supervisor at the nonprofit, has seen almost immediate connections form between her young clients and animals once they realize the animals on the farm have also been through trauma. 

“When they can see how strong, brave, and resilient the animal is and how they can go about their life … it really empowers the child to say, ‘I can live my life, too,'” Mata said. 

The therapy begins when clients turn off the highway, said David Lawson, who specializes in the treatment of adolescents with trauma and behavior issues as well as adults with trauma and chemical dependency addiction.

Weaving down a country road and pulling through the entrance, visitors will get a rural sense of place especially when they catch a glimpse of the animals frolicking on the property.

“Their frame of reference is influenced by the atmosphere of the ranch before they even open the door to my office,” Lawson said.

Once inside, they’ll find a counseling space more akin to a living room with windows looking out over the animals.

“Having all that at our disposal and recognizing that it’s all a tool, that’s an unspoken invitation for people to relax, be at ease, and know they’re in a safe place,” Lawson said. “That’s the platform to create relationships that foster change and growth.”

A SAFE SPACE FOR MILITARY VETERANS

The ranch’s effect has been noticeable for Army veteran Christopher Maples.

Maples, who served in Afghanistan and retired with PTSD and suicidal tendencies, started out as a ranch hand. After witnessing the therapy at work with clients and the improvement being around animals had on his own mental health, he decided to get more involved.

Ranch Hand Rescue Founder Bob Williams with Christopher Maples, who leads the nonprofit’s veterans program.

Now, he heads up the nonprofit’s veterans program and he said thoughts of taking his own life are not an option anymore.

“I get to serve my community again and I get to serve the military again, but in a different way,” Maples said. “It means everything to me.”

Williams said there’s been interest from the state to bring the veterans program to other areas in Texas.

“I think that if we can somehow package the recipe for success and train other organizations throughout the state in how our program works, than we can expand it,” he said.

The new office has given Ranch Hand space to hold its group sessions and start planning more. 

Soon, Williams wants to launch a parent group for guardians of kids who have been sexually or physically abused. 

“I get to serve my community again and I get to serve the military again, but in a different way.”
Christopher Maples

“A lot of times the parents don’t understand how to deal with the emotions the child is going through, so we really have to treat the family,” Williams said.

Ranch Hand also has received increasing requests for its Spanish-speaking counseling services. Mata is working to create a group therapy session for her Hispanic families.

“The need for our services in [Denton County] for Spanish-speaking families is huge,” Mata said. 

MEET SOME OF THE RANCH HAND ANIMALS

Photos by Chase Mardis.

Midnite is nicknamed “The Horse of Hope” and has received worldwide attention for being the first horse to have a prosthetic leg without amputation. Bob Williams said children as far away as Latin America have visited Midnite prior to having amputations. “They don’t understand what’s going to happen to them, so we introduce them to Midnite,” Williams said. “We show them how to change his leg and we show them that with his leg he can walk and run. The doctors say it helps them mentally understand that it’s going to be OK because they are going to get a new leg, too”

This is Midnite’s seventh prosthetic leg, which is made custom for him by ProsthetiCare in Fort Worth. “As he gets older, we have to continue to modify it,” Williams said.

Christopher Maples rubs powder and massages Midnite’s leg. The process is repeated three times daily.

Yoda is the first sheep to have open heart surgery. The procedure took place earlier this year at Oklahoma State University. “He had a long rehab, but he has just done great,” Williams said.

Maples plays with Yoda at Ranch Hand.

Mohawk the alpaca (left) and Shiner Bock the llama both have troubled pasts.

Lenny and Squiggy are pigs who both survived neglect.

Shasta the sheep.

Donkeys Tadoka and Moon Dancer. Tadoka suffers from seizures and Moon Dancer had cancer.

Maples pets Marlo the goat, who had a tumor that almost took his life.

Maples interacts with Neecer in a stall.

Dolly the miniature horse.

Al the llama; Tadoka the donkey; and Gracie the horse.


Dallas Innovates, every day

One quick signup, and you’ll be on the list.   
View previous emails.

R E A D   N E X T

Comments are closed.