Ranch Hands Rescue Treats Complex Trauma in Animals and Humans

The Ranch Hands Rescue (RHR) organization treats animals and humans who have experienced severe trauma by pairing them together in cross-species counseling sessions. This unique treatment modality helps to achieve results with humans and animals who were previously considered to be “lost causes” when it comes to healing. Since its founding, RHR has rescued over 500 animals and served over 1,600 people, and the group isn’t stopping any time soon. We sat down with Landon Dickeson, Director of Clinical Services at RHR, to discuss the organization’s special form of counseling, where they’re going in the future, and how Spruce helps their team stay connected.


How did RHR come to be? 

RHR Founder Bob

Back in 2007, Bob, our founder, had recently quit his corporate job and was driving along the road when he noticed a little goat in a cage that was far too small for it. He asked the owner why he wasn’t letting the goat roam around in a larger pen, and the man said, “If you want to do that, feel free to buy it.” So Bob did. He bought the goat, put it in the backseat of his car, and that’s where it started. As Bob started to rehabilitate this goat and rescue other animals, he noticed that he himself started feeling better, both physically and mentally. Each time he went to the doctor, his health kept getting better, and the only thing he could attribute it to was the animals. He then started to put together the counseling component of RHR. The counselors quickly realized that this form of therapy was incredible and helped them to get to the root of their clients’ trauma faster. From there, RHR developed the equine and assisted animal counseling program that we now use, which is a combination of your traditional talk therapy with time spent caring for animals. And it’s incredibly powerful.


Do you find there’s a specific group for whom this treatment works best?

Anyone can seek our services, but we really focus on those who need an alternative, more experimental therapy. Usually these folks don’t respond well to traditional office therapy settings and have lost hope because the system hasn’t been working for them. We tend to see a lot of individuals with complex trauma, complex PTSD, those who have suffered from sexual abuse, and veterans. Most of them are what other programs call “treatment-resistant,” but many find enormous success at RHR.


What about the animals? Where do they come from?

Child hugging a rescue animal

The animals that we help are, similarly, a rare population. They are farm animals, which are often overlooked in terms of the need for rescue. There are plenty of dogs and cats being rescued, but not many farm animals. The animals that we take typically have high medical needs and are on the brink of euthanasia. I’ve trained and rehabilitated a one-legged dog with three prosthetics to walk and run. Where else do you get the chance to do that as a counselor?  

The majority of our animals come to us from police seizures due to criminal abuse or criminal neglect, or from killing pens where the animals are going for euthanasia. We do occasionally foster animals out, but we don’t adopt out any more, because most of our animals have such severe ongoing medical needs that people aren’t able to care for them and end up bringing them back. We want these animals to have a forever home where they know they can be safe and loved and cared for. 


What makes the therapeutic relationship between the human and the animal so special?

You first provide safety, which builds trust. Once you have that trust, that’s where the connection happens. It’s the same with animals, it’s the same with people. It really does become this back and forth magical dance between the clients and the animals, where the animals are getting healed from their trauma and they’re also healing the people from their trauma. Within that connection and relationship is where all the healing happens.

The difference with the animals is that they don’t know English. But they do speak a different language, if you’re willing to listen.

Humans are verbal beings, and we do a large portion of our communication and thinking through language. That narrative is part of how we process reality. The difference with the animals is that they don’t know English. But they do speak a different language, if you’re willing to listen. So what ends up happening in these sessions is you have to get really good at listening to yourself, and asking yourself, “What am I bringing to the table? What am I bringing to this relationship?” Oftentimes what we find is that there is a whole host of things that we didn’t even realize were part of the way we interact with others.

Clients typically gravitate towards the animal that they need to work with for one reason or another, and what a session looks like really depends on the client and what they’re struggling with. For example, I can often tell if a client is struggling with addiction even if they haven’t told me that, because they want to feed the animals. The only way they know how to connect with someone is through a substance. It’s little things like that that you don’t think twice about before you’re with the animal. It’s a process of listening to what your body is saying, what the animal’s body is saying, and processing that verbally, which is where I come in as a therapist.


You’re opening Bob’s House of Hope soon. Tell us more about that.

RHR Pig

We often forget to include men in our discussions about sex trafficking. They’re the unseen survivors, the forgotten ones.They are an entire population that’s been sexually abused and trafficked, and nobody’s talking about it or doing anything about it. Bob’s House of Hope, which will open in early 2021, will be the first safe house in the country for sex-trafficked young men between the ages of 18 and 24. It will be a long-term residential program where they’ll receive medical care, work with the animals, and get guidance as they transition to a world outside of sex trafficking. For many of these young men, their sexual abuse began in childhood, so they really only know survival in that world. You really have to work back through the developmental milestones that were missed and work back through those traumas that halted their development. Along the way, you have to teach them the healthy ways to be in the world.


How has Spruce changed the way RHR works?

We had never done any kind of teletherapy before, but we needed a telehealth platform immediately. Spruce helped make that a really seamless transition.

Spruce brought us into the 21st century, which was great. Even before the pandemic, I saw the need for Spruce, so our team started talking about it then. But when the pandemic and shelter-in-place order hit, we saw the urgency. 

We had never done any kind of teletherapy before, but we needed a telehealth platform immediately. Spruce helped make that a really seamless transition. We didn’t have to take even a week off to adjust. Instead, we just transitioned right into telehealth from home. Even now, with the shelter-in-place order lifted, we’re continuing with the telehealth option for those who want it. 

Beyond just video, Spruce has been really helpful with team collaboration. The phone system, specifically the phone tree, has been great. We no longer have an old-school office handset, and we can use our cell phones, which makes communication much easier. Spruce also makes sending team messages easy. We’re always paging each other in conversations and getting things done virtually. We have found that we’re much more capable of working remotely than we thought, and Spruce has been a big part of making that possible.

How can people help support RHR?

You can donate directly from our website, and any amount is greatly appreciated and welcome. We also frequently post information about RHR and our fundraisers on our Facebook page. You’ll also see lots of cute animal pictures there as well, which is an added bonus.

We have a waitlist for clients right now, but we encourage anyone to sign up for the waitlist on our website. You can learn more about our services and sign up for the waitlist here.


RHR’s Spruce Recipe

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