Bob Williams opened Ranch Hand Rescue in 2008 and it’s one of the most unique nonprofits in Denton County. The mission is simple: animals helping people and people helping animals.
“I believe that all life is precious,” Bob explains. “Our kids, animals, the elderly—especially those that can’t take care of themselves. We need to be their voice. Our supporters know that that’s our mission.”
Ranch Hand Rescue is first and foremost a sanctuary. It opened in 2008 for abused animals, most of them in need of so much medical care it was much cheaper to euthanize them. The nonprofit’s mascot, Midnite, came to them severely neglected and in agony from a missing hoof, with the recommendation that he be put down. He became the first horse ever to receive a prosthetic limb without an amputation and lived out the rest of his days happily in the ranch’s stables.
Ranch Hand Rescue has been featured on National Geographic for some of their accomplishments in treating animals. They performed the first ever stem cell transplant in a horse to heal a hoof without scar tissue and the first double fusion on a horse to straighten its leg after it was beaten with a baseball bat. Recently, they were first to do open heart surgery on a sheep. However, RHR’s potential goes far beyond healing abused animals.
“I was diagnosed with PTSD and severe anxiety in 1997,” Bob says. “When I was saving these animals, I noticed there was something magical happening with my own trauma but I didn’t understand what it was. They were having a positive impact on my health.”
There have been many studies conducted on the power of animal-human bonds. Dogs, for example, lower blood pressure in nursing homes. Equine therapy is a well-known phenomenon. However, all of these studies were conducted with healthy, well-cared-for animals. RHR was first to study the connection between abused animals and people healing from deep trauma, partnering them together.
“I never thought it would become what it’s become today,” Bob says. “I ask myself continuously, where’s the void? There was a void with people—veterans, children, trauma survivors—who didn’t respond to traditional counselling. There was a void for special needs animals. Our wheelhouse is those who don’t see any hope.”
RHR caters to the three-to-eight percent of people who don’t respond to traditional counselling.
Bob offers an example: “Anytime a child is sexually abused they certainly have PTSD and anxiety. But when they aren’t getting better and they’ve been in counselling for 12-15 months and start to regress, they start exhibiting other things. Eating disorders, self-mutilation, the list goes on and on. If they aren’t getting better, they come to us.”
Christopher Maples, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, runs veterans programs. He himself has been diagnosed with severe PTSD and anxiety after discharge.
“I had a hard time connecting with people when I came here,” he says. Over time, I saw clients, six-year-olds, 12-year-olds, connecting with animals. Then a few months later they’d be running around playing soccer with a counsellor. I saw their lives getting better. I thought to myself these children were able to find their path back to life. If they can can do it, then I can do it too. So I started talking to the animals too. Veterans especially don’t want to talk when they first come here. They don’t want counselling. But a year later, they’re looking forward to coming here every week.”
Christopher admits readily that he has been restored over the past year and a half here. “I’m always amazed at how animals who have been abused can rebuild humans. That animal is always there for you regardless of what’s happened to you, because of what’s happened to them. Animals live in the moment. That helps us remember it’s okay to live in the moment. I can tell this animal everything before I can tell another person.”
Chris and Bob reminisce about a veteran who came through the program, wrestling with PTSD and severe anxiety. He came at his wife’s request, but he found it ridiculous. He’d tried counselling before and it had never worked. Bob took him out to the pasture, letting him meet the animals. He connected with a particular horse. He stroked its back.
Bob laughs. “I only tell this story because he tells it all the time now. The next thing I knew, he was crying. He called me over and asked what was happening to him. It’s like magic.”
RHR is beginning a new chapter with a shelter for male survivors of sex trafficking. In December 2016 the University of Texas estimated that there are 79,000 minor and youth victims of sex trafficking and 234,000 workers who are victims of labor trafficking in Texas. That means there are at least 313,000 victims of human trafficking in our state. The problem does not discriminate between race, gender or wealth and while it’s estimated that 40 percent of the victims are male, most experts suspect that there are many more. Male victims are just much, much harder to find.
“We can’t find one long term facility for boys 18-24,” Bob explains. “We need better laws and more education for law enforcement. We need a sensitive police force. If they revictimize the male or assume he is the batterer, no one will ever come forward. We need to change our idea about these forms of abuse.”
Bob calls it his moral obligation to do something. While taking shelter at the working ranch, survivors at Bob’s shelter would get to join the huge community of people Bob helps. In his vision, they would be able to take care of the animals, an integral part of the healing process.
“I never thought it would be me but I’m glad it is,” he says. “This organization is the single greatest thing that I’ve ever done. It’s critical to saving lives.”
Ranch Hand Rescue | 8827 US-377, Argyle | ranchhandrescue.org
Ranch Hand Rescue and Bob Williams appeared in Plano Profile’s March 2018 feature story, “Men Too.”