When a dream becomes a reality

Patty Hullett
The Daily Light
Paws for Reflection Ranch includes a sensory trail for children.

Stan Seremet grew up with an older sister who had Downs Syndrome: He knows firsthand the challenges and the joys a special needs child brings to the family. Understanding special needs children and the care that is required for these inspiring individuals is quite a challenge, even to the most motivated and/or financially equipped parents – then and now.

Stan and Melode Seremet, who have been married for 33 years, had their dream develop to help special needs children when Melode experienced an inspiration while sleeping one night in 2004.

According to Melode, “My idea for The Ranch came to me in a dream that year, which included a vision of the Ranch facility and the name of ‘Paws for Reflection Ranch’. I was so moved that I took a blank piece of paper out and roughly sketched what I pictured in my mind. It made such an impact on me, that my husband Stan and I immediately began research and training to pursue our dream.”

Melode continues, “For the next three years (2004-2007), Stan and I learned all we could on animal-assisted therapies, attending all sorts of training and volunteering at facilities that did portions of the therapies that we were planning to capture for our future vision. We continued to look for property and sought to further develop a non-profit organization of our own.

“In 2007, we found the property where the Ranch now resides. It was a direct match to the drawing of the facility that I drew in 2004. With tears and goose bumps, we knew that we had found the home of ‘Paws for Reflection Ranch’ .”

Melode (president) and Stan are both co-founders of the organization located in the northern part of Midlothian. Unlike many ranches that cater to special needs children, the Seremets’ main focus is divided among all of their different variety of services.

Asked about the most satisfying aspect of her job, Melode exclaims, “I enjoy speaking with potential clients who are ready for a new experience to help them reach their therapy goals! Many have tried other therapeutic models; however, those traditional methods are not for everyone. Experiential therapy where the therapist partners with a ranch animal creates a natural environment conducive to exploring emotions, breaking down barriers, trying out new behaviors and styles of communication, and learning how to build healthy relationships. It is moving to hear the sound of hope in their voice and to know they could possibly receive the help they desperately need for themselves or their child.”

Benefits of their programs

“Paws for Reflection Ranch is an animal assisted activity and therapy facility,” Stan says. “We partner our professional, licensed therapists with ranch animals to help heal the mind, body, and spirit.” Among services offered, Ranch programs include counseling (animal/equine assisted counseling, animal/equine assisted play therapy, eye movement desensitization & reprocessing and traditional counseling), therapeutic horseback riding and horsemanship, developmental therapy, educational programs, team building, and volunteer programs.

“The Ranch is home to about 35 animals,” Stan added. “Living at The Ranch are 13 full-size horses, two miniature horses, one miniature donkey, one miniature long horn, four rabbits, three chinchillas, two hedgehogs, one tortoise, one bird, two dogs, and four cats.”

Melode says, “Our Paws for Reflection Ranch serves a wide variety of clientele including children, teens, youth-at-risk, adults, couples, families, veterans and their dependents, as well as first responders and their families. In addition, we serve businesses, organizations, both the Dallas and Fort Worth VA’s, and substance abuse facilities. The Ranch proudly serves approximately 1,800 clients annually.”

Clients of all ages benefit from the Ranch programs, and children make up about 50% of their clients. Some of the benefits from the therapeutic riding program include improvement of balance, core strength and motor skills; improved ability to focus; improved communication and relationship skills; exposure to wide range of sensory experiences; and enhanced self-esteem and self-confidence.

Benefits of counseling include reaching therapy goals; improved communication skills, self-esteem and confidence; experiencing a healthy relationship; developing coping and problem-solving skills; empathy; and anger management.

Educational programs offer sensory experiences while teaching about animal care, exposing participants to nature, teaching empathy and regulation of emotions. Participants learn interactively about Ranch animals with hands-on activities, crafts, and other activities.

The hardest part of running The Ranch, COVID-19 changes

“I suppose the most challenging part of my position is finding, requesting, and securing funding for our programs,” Melode explains. “About 85% of our clients need partial or full scholarships in order to receive services. We continuously seek funding for their scholarships through grants, donations, and fundraising. The cost of operations, including the feed, care, and veterinary fees for the Ranch animals, is an ongoing expense which fluctuates very little with the ebb and flow of clients and funding.”

“Due to the COVID-19 restrictions, we needed to suspend our therapeutic riding and horsemanship programs, creating a hardship for the Ranch and the Independent Contractors who provide this service,” she added. “We do, however, plan to restart this program in June. Counseling services have continued to be available either on-site or through telehealth. The pandemic also made it necessary to cancel our spring fundraiser, which raises critical dollars for the Ranch. We sincerely hope it will be possible to host our annual Round Up fundraiser, typically held in October, as we will have a desperate need for these donations.”

Information from their website, www.PawsForReflectionRanch.org , is listed below:

1) Counseling Programs including Animal/Equine Assisted Play Therapy, Animal/Equine Assisted Counseling, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, and Traditional Counseling.

2) Therapeutic Horseback Riding, for ages 4 through adult. Riding begins in the covered arena and, if weather permits, continues on the Sensory Trail and other nature trails. Riding is beneficial both physically and emotionally, including easing stress, anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Riding is especially beneficial for clients with Autism, ADHD, and Down Syndrome.

3) Therapeutic Horsemanship Groups where participants learn about themselves, relationships, communication, and more in a group setting. Herd Strong is our group for youth-at-risk. Groups may also be provided at the Ranch as services to outside facilities.

4) Boots of Honor includes counseling, therapeutic riding, and therapeutic horsemanship groups for veterans at no charge, and their dependents receive services at a discounted rate.

5) Developmental Therapy utilizes play activities to help children overcome challenges and improve the quality of their growth and development.

6) Educational Programs including field trips for special needs classes/homes/organizations, after school programs, Paws for Fun summer day camp (not available 2020 due to COVID-19), outreach for camps at other facilities, Girl Scout badge workshops and award projects, and Boy Scout award projects.

7) Harmony in the Herd is an equine assisted team building opportunity for companies and organizations. This program is custom designed for their specific goals, assisting with challenges that may be blocking the goals they have established, plus creating lasting memories for the group to enjoy over and over again.

8) First Responders - As one of two service providers under the state funded First Responder Resiliency Grant, First Responders from 9 designated cities (Midlothian, Waxahachie, Red Oak, DeSoto, Mansfield, Grand Prairie, Cedar Hill, Duncanville, Lancaster) receive free counseling and therapeutic horsemanship at the Ranch. First Responders from other cities can also receive services provided by a different grant.

9) Special Community Events such as Santa at the Ranch and Easter at the Ranch, both for Families with Special Needs, are eagerly anticipated by our local community. Both events are free, however donations and sponsorships are welcomed. Both provide volunteer opportunities and a chance to check out Ranch services. The Ranch participates in community events away from the Ranch as well.

10) Volunteer Programs are a mainstay to the Ranch. Volunteers are critical members of the team for providing Therapeutic Horseback Riding. They also help with feed, care, and mental enrichment of all of the Ranch animals. Volunteers learn new skills and gain confidence, which can assist them in the job market. Volunteers make new friends with similar interests, as well as, participate in heart-warming events.

Stan and Melode Seremet, co-founders of Paws for Reflection Ranch.