Animals Heal at Midlothian’s Paws For Reflection Ranch
Sep 20, 2016 03:10PM
By Melanie Heisinger
A Good Paws
By Kerry Pipes
Some people have a vision for what they want to do in life. Others, like Melode Seremet, have a literal vision that came to her in a dream and ultimately led her to create the Paws For Reflection Ranch in Midlothian. In a dream she had in 2004, she says she saw not only what the ranch would look like, but even the very name itself was revealed to her.
Today, the 15-acre ranch provides comprehensive counseling services for individuals, families, children, youth-at-risk, veterans and their dependents and individuals with special needs. They also provide a home and care for the therapy animals that reside there. The ranch has been in operation since 2007.
Melode is the founder and president and manages the daily operations while also representing the ranch in the community. She writes grants and works with donors, clients and volunteers. And she is a Licensed Veterinary Technician who can take care of animal illnesses and injuries. Her husband Stan manages the ranch, oversees maintenance and construction, ensures a community presence, maintains the website and works with volunteers.
“My husband was raised alongside a sister with Down’s syndrome, giving him a huge heart for those with special needs. I have always felt an affinity for animals and returned to school to become a Licensed Veterinary Technician,” she explains of their motivation behind starting the ranch.
They love helping people and marvel at the integral role animals play in the healing of those who visit the ranch. We asked Melode to tell us more about Paws For Reflection.
Q: Tell us just exactly what Paws For Reflection is?
A: Paws for Reflection Ranch is an animal assisted activity and therapy facility. We partner our professional, licensed therapists with ranch animals to help heal the mind, body and spirit. The ranch mission is to provide a healing, educational, motivational and recreational environment utilizing equine and other animal assisted therapies and experiences to enhance the quality of life for all individuals, and to provide a loving home, whether temporary or permanent, for animals that meet a specific criteria to participate in therapeutic programs.
Q: How did this all come to be?
A: The ranch came to me in a dream in 2004, which included a vision of the ranch facility and the name “Paws for Reflection Ranch.” I was so moved that I took a blank paper and roughly drew what I saw. It made such an impact on me that we immediately began research and training to pursue the dream. For three years Stan and I learned all we could on animal assisted therapies, attending trainings and volunteering at facilities that utilized these therapies. We continued to look for property and managed the development of the non-profit. In 2007, we found the property where the ranch now resides.
Q: Who is involved in operating the ranch?
A: Our clinical director, Brooke Knox, is a licensed professional counselor and board approved Supervisor (LPC-S) trained to address post-traumatic stress including combat stress. She supervises and directs the other counselors. One LPC specializes in Play Therapy, incorporating the small animals and miniature horses into the play. We have one counselor who is trained as a Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor, in addition to being an LPC-Intern. Our fourth counselor is an LPC-I as well, now earning her professional hours to complete her license. Our Director of Equine Services, Kylie Heath, manages all of the programs where horses are included. Degreed in Recreational Therapy, she is certified as a therapeutic riding instructor by PATH (Professional Assoc. of Therapeutic Horsemanship), International. She serves as a Horse Specialist in our Equine Assisted Counseling program, provides training for other Horse Specialists, as well as, other riding instructors.
In addition, she coordinates the use of the horses and manages their feeding and care. Kylie oversees the ranch therapeutic riding instructors and Horse Specialists. Our Director of Educational Programs, Tannis Lambert, coordinates and leads the field trips for special needs classes, an after school program and a summer day camp for children. We also participate in youth activities at other facilities, bringing and teaching about the ranch animals. She also takes animals to local assisted living facilities to interact with and teach the residents. We now partner with the Girl Scouts of NE Texas and participate in badge workshops for all levels. We have two contractors that have the primary responsibility of animal feed and care. In addition, they are responsible for barn chores and other jobs around the ranch.
Q: What is your client base like?
A: We serve a wide range of clients and find that everyone that comes through the ranch gate benefits in some way. Our counseling programs are able to serve nearly everyone that seeks counseling, especially if conventional talk-therapy methods have been ineffective. We serve individuals, families, children (counseling: ages 3 and up), youth-at-risk, veterans and their dependents, and individuals with special needs. Clients in the ranch therapeutic riding program benefit from physical, emotional and cognitive improvements. Diagnoses may include but are not limited to autism, emotional/behavioral disorders and physical disabilities. Riders in the ranch therapeutic riding program may realistically stay in the program for multiple years. For most riders this becomes their “sport” and the way our program is structured, riders grow in their confidence and skill level as they progress.
Our educational and outreach programs serve a wide variety of individuals as well. Senior citizens, their families and facility staff enjoy and learn during our visits to assisted living facilities. Our after school program and summer day camp is inclusive, serving typically developing children as well as those with special needs. In partnership with 9 school districts, we host field trips for their special needs classes, exposing these children to the animal world and nature. At the ranch, these children are free “to be kids” and learn at their own level. We work with the Boy and Girl Scouts to offer badge and award opportunities.
Q: How many people are being treated there?
A: In 2015, we served more than 1,500 people, primarily from Ellis, Tarrant, Dallas and Johnson counties. We have served nearly 150 veterans and their dependents over the past year.
Q: Can you tell us more about some of the Paws For Reflection programs?
A: In our counseling program, we offer animal/equine assisted Play Therapy (ages 3-8), animal/equine assisted counseling and traditional counseling. We also offer couples and family counseling. Group therapeutic horsemanship sessions are also available, led by a professional counselor and experienced horse specialist. The ranch is now able to offer substance abuse counseling, as well as family support counseling. Weekly 60-minute sessions are provided at a scheduled appointment time, providing a consistency as needed and desired by our clients. We offer Therapeutic Horseback Riding year round. Our riders benefit from riding on the Sensory Trail, where activities have been designed and built to help with sensory integration. Our professional riding instructors incorporate educational games and focus on socialization and communication skills, in addition to riding skills.
Annually, we host our Ranch Riders Horse Show where our riders compete against others with comparable riding skills, earning ribbons for their efforts. This is a wonderful opportunity for them to demonstrate their riding and horsemanship skills for family and friends. The Ranch Boots of Honor program is the umbrella for services we offer to both active duty military and veterans, along with their dependents. All of our services are available to this population free or at a reduced rate dependent upon grants received. Harmony in the Herd is our team building program designed to aid businesses and organizations in setting goals and identifying obstacles.
Through a process tailored to the needs of the organization, we are able to coordinate activities to clear the obstacles, providing a fun and memorable way to achieve their personal and professional goals.
Q: How many trainers, counselors, employees are there?
A: All of our “staff” works as independent contractors. Our contractors include administrators, counselors ranch hands and animal caregivers. The ranch also utilizes volunteers to assist in the riding program, with animal care, and with upkeep and maintenance. Volunteers also assist with record keeping and daily office tasks. We utilize volunteers during special events and with fundraising efforts.
Q: What kinds of animals are used?
A: We currently have 10 full-size horses, miniature horses, goats, rabbits, chinchillas, hedgehogs, miniature pot-bellied pigs, dogs, cats and a tortoise.
Q: How do you train and take care of the animals?
A: When we bring a new animal to the ranch, we begin on a probationary period so that we can assess if the animal is suited for our work. We feel strongly that the ranch animals enjoy their interaction with our clients. All animals are monitored daily to ensure they feel well and receive the appropriate level of care, always keeping in mind the safety of the animal and client. We work with all animals on a continual basis to expose them to new sights and sounds. We handle the small animals daily and introduce them to new people regularly. The horses are also worked with on a daily basis and receive extensive training before beginning anything new. Horses are evaluated each time they are utilized to make sure they are sound and enjoying their work.
Q: What goals and objectives are there for Paws For Reflection?
A: The primary goal of the ranch is to provide and tailor services based on the demonstrated needs of the community. One of our objectives is to reach not only our immediate community but those surrounding us in the D/FW metroplex. We continually seek funding to provide scholarships for those that desperately need but cannot afford services. We strive to customize our services to directly match each client's needs in order for them to experience the maximum benefit from ranch services. Another goal is to limit the number of therapy sessions that are cancelled or rescheduled due to inclement weather and muddy conditions. The construction of the new covered arena will be a giant step in that direction, however, we do not currently have funds to enable us to properly finish out the arena with electrical, plumbing, build-out and furnishings.
As time and space allows, we will expand our services with other complimentary therapies, such as hypnotherapy, music therapy, speech therapy, etc.
Q: What resources are required for Paws For Reflection to operate?
A: Financial resources are, of course, vitally important to our ability to provide services. Many of our clients are unable to pay for services needed. To cover these fees and provide sustainability for the ranch, we continuously write grants, seek donations and host fundraisers.
Q: How are you raising awareness of Paws For Reflection and those it serves?
A: We constantly strive to widen the circle of those aware of Paws for Reflection Ranch, the unique services we offer, and what is required to provide these services for the north Texas community. We take every opportunity to meet with civic organizations, seek media coverage and have people tour the ranch. We hold at least two fundraisers each year, the Horsepower Poker Run (first annual in 2016) and the Annual Round Up (2016 will be the 4th year). Annually, we host two community events for families with special needs, Santa at the Ranch and Easter at the ranch. We invite groups to tour the ranch and hold private events so they can learn more about what we do. We participate in community awareness events, in surrounding communities, as well as veteran-focused events.
Q: What’s a typical day or week like at Paws For Reflection?
A: We have a very strategic client scheduling system. To ensure that each client or group is able to have the ranch experience, we plan our schedule so that overlapping activities take place at different parts of the ranch. For example, we may have a counseling session in a horse round pen while therapeutic riding is going on in the arena. Group visits and educational programs are not scheduled the same time as counseling sessions. We strive for our guests to experience the ranch as best benefits them without compromising their confidentiality or privacy.
A typical day may include therapeutic riding lessons and volunteer groups in the morning, counseling sessions in the afternoon and educational programs in the evening. We designate certain times of different days to host services that are compatible to one another.