When Bob Williams walks into the barnyard, there’s a near stampede as miniature horses big and small, llamas and a donkey run to greet him. This is the man who’s given them a better life of love, safety and, most importantly, hope. At Ranch Hand Rescue in Argyle, Texas, it’s easy to believe that animals can have such complicated feelings and emotions. You can see it in their eyes, and in the case of Ozella the donkey, hear it in her enthusiastic brays.
For the former telecom executive, rescuing farm animals was never part of his long-term plan. But a stroke in October 2007 changed everything.
“I decided it wasn’t about money any more. The stroke was pretty devastating and scary. I decided to do something I loved, but I never pictured myself with farm animals,” Williams laughs.
But that’s where he ended up. After the stroke, Williams retired and began helping out more with his partner Marty Polasko’s business, the American Spa & Pet Resort.
“Marty’s whole philosophy for the pet resort was the best of everything, Disneyland for dogs. That’s why you’ll see swimming pools, play parks and suites. When people come here, they see that it’s all about animals. It’s designed for dogs and cats. Everything he’s done is just overwhelming,” he says.
Soon, rescuing horses and donkeys became part of the equation.
“We started off saving them one at a time,” he says. “Then about a year and a half ago, a guy walked into the lobby and said he wanted to make a $250 donation to us for our animals. I thought, ‘Wow, what are we going to do with that?’ We couldn’t take his money because we’re not a private charity.”
Williams soon realized that he and Polasko were all about the animals and giving back to the community. Thus Ranch Hand Rescue was created. What started out with donkeys and horses has grown to encompass everything from neglected and abused ducks, geese, turkeys, pigs, rabbits, goats, even turtles.
The goal is to rehabilitate the animals and bring them back to good health, then adopt them out into loving homes as companion animals. In a few instances, the animals remain with Ranch Hand Rescue and join the on-site sanctuary to live out their lives in comfort and safety. Goats in the sanctuary will never be milked again; horses will never be ridden; turkeys enjoy a permanent pardon from Thanksgiving dinner.
Since forming in April 2009, Ranch Hand Rescue has saved more than 85 farm animals. The efforts have required building a new barn, creating a quarantine area for the sickest of animals, hiring staff and leasing additional land, all of which is costly and ongoing.
“We get three to four calls per week from people reporting possible abuse or neglect,” Williams says. Cases are turned over to the sheriff’s department and investigated before Ranch Hand Rescue is tapped to make an assessment. In most cases, people are given the opportunity to take corrective action to bring their animals back to health, but that often never happens.
During a recent tour of the facility, a call came in to Williams from Deanne Murillo, an animal cruelty investigator making a site visit to a farm. Neighbors had complained that they’d noticed horses that were tied to a fence post with a rope, limiting their ability to run and roam. They appeared seriously malnourished with no access to food or water.
“There was not a blade of grass on their property,” Murillo says. “The [owners] were very nice to me, but things were all very iffy. There were 20 or more puppies there, too. Some were walking on three legs and had sores on their bodies.”
FARM TEAM | Bob Williams, right, tends to Lips, an abused horse; Ozella the donkey, facing page, enjoys a good life now. (Photos by Steven Lindsey)
The horses in particular were suffering though. “I’m going to go back and check in three weeks and if things haven’t improved, they could have their animals seized,” Murillo says. “I left copies of the law, I read the law to them, I told them where they were in violation and we don’t want to take their horses.”
Even though the family was cooperative and seemed concerned, it was doubtful things would improve. That’s when Ranch Hand Rescue would rescue the horses, adding the new horses to four others currently in the quarantine barn.
“This is Lips,” Williams says walking up to a stall. “He’s a stallion that needs to be gelded. He has severe nerve damage to the face. Lips was beaten, so he’s skittish.”
Indeed, Lips immediately cowers, moves to a far corner and begins to shake. He won’t even look up because there’s somebody else there besides Williams, whom he’s just barely beginning to trust.
“One of the ways we get them to get used to people, I take a lawn chair and I come in and sit down. The best way for them to rebuild their trust with humans is to spend time with them, so I’ll bring a newspaper or magazine or the Dallas Voice and just hang out. He’s getting a little better, but only time will tell if the nerve damage is permanent.”
It’s heartbreaking to hear these stories and see the fear in an animal’s behavior, but simply seeing Williams’ passion for the animals prevents the mood from being one of sadness. Instead, there’s a palpable energy of healing and compassion. Perhaps it’s because this former executive who never dreamed of this new life has clearly been won over by the beasts in his care. He calls each animal by name, softening his voice and cooing like a doting father to a newborn child.
“Hi there, Sweetie! Come to daddy,” he calls to the horse. “It just brings tears to your eyes. There’s no reason any person or animal should have to go through this,” he says as Lips finally raises his head and slowly makes his way to the front of the stall, stopping halfway. It’s progress, but just barely.
Rehabilitation can be a very slow process and patience is paramount, which Williams and his staff have in abundance. Spending time with the animals that have been brought back from the brink of starvation is all it takes, however, to understand that it’ll all be worth the wait. And in the end, Ranch Hand Rescue is the best place any of these animals could ever hope to be.
The cost to maintain one horse averages $3,000/ year. Donations can be made either to Ranch Hand Rescue, Inc., 8827 Hwy 377S Argyle, Texas 76226 or online at RanchHandRescue.org. Tours available Saturdays, 11 a.m.–4 p.m. Volunteers always needed.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 17, 2010.