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Rescue group defies odds daily

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Every school child lives by the 3 R’s, but Bob Williams the CEO of Ranch Hand Rescue (RHR) in Argyle said, “I live by the 3 N’s, Never give up, Never give in, and Never take No for an answer.”

His peculiar stubborn streak carried him through recovery from a stroke that gave him plenty of time to think.

“Who says any situation is hopeless?” Bob asked.

He answered the question by retiring from Motorola, and starting a sanctuary and foster/adoption service for neglected and abused animals.

“I got my start with a little goat that was being mistreated,” he said.  “60 percent of the animals RHR shelters suffer the effects of neglect, and 40 percent suffer from physical violence.”

RHR works with law enforcement to prosecute wrong-doing animal owners then rehabilitates the animals, and sends them to local foster and adoptive families.

“70 percent of our patients become pasture ornaments,” Bob said.

“We share the planet with other living creatures that have value to God,” he said, “At RHR we put God in everything we do.”

This year Bob’s personal combination of persistence and compassion catapulted RHR to the frontier of veterinary medicine on the back of a once-abandoned Quarter Horse Bob named Phoenix.  At two years old, Phoenix stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Bob, and weighs in at a healthy 900 pounds.  Phoenix has a smooth dark brown coat, a jet black tail and mane, white diamond marks between his eyes and on his velvet soft nose, and — a miraculous new hoof.  Move over earthworms…there’s a new kid on the biological block.

“He’s a horse of good flesh and a quiet disposition,” Bob said with paternal pride in his voice.

Phoenix’s original torn infected hoof rated 20 on a scale from 0 to 10.  Off the charts, as they say.

“We don’t know how the injury occurred.  When the Denton County Sheriff’s Department confiscated Phoenix, the horse was on the verge of losing the hoof,” Bob said. “I talked with Phoenix.  He said he wanted to live.”

That conversation was good enough for Bob.  He agreed to take the horse, and find out what could be done.

Most large animal veterinarians agree the condition of Phoenix’s hoof, an affliction called laminitis, made him a textbook candidate for euthanasia.

Non-equestrians tend to categorize a horse’s hoof as a gigantic toenail that needs a shoe to go clop-clop or clomp-clomp, but in fact, a hoof is a complex shock absorber that contains a bone suspended by up to 800 velcro-like live tissues called lamellae.  When the lamellae become diseased or die — when they get laminitis — the bone either rotates inside the hoof or sinks through the hoof sole.  Ouch!  In both cases the bone protrudes to cripple the horse, and cause enormous constant pain.  Left to run its course, laminitis deforms the hoof, and is a leading cause of equine death.

RHR’s veterinarian, Dr. John Bitter of Argyle Veterinary Clinic, spent a week giving newly-acquired Phoenix daily antibiotic injections.  He put the horse’s leg in a cast.  Depressing follow up x-rays showed ongoing infection.  As Phoenix’s chances of survival dimmed, RHR contacted a laminitis specialist in Kentucky known for developing groundbreaking veterinary interventions.  The specialist put RHR and Dr. Bitter in contact with a company called Nano-fibers Solutions.

A nano-fiber is a miniscule synthetic string a patient’s body does not recognize as a foreign object.

The veterinary team extracted some of Phoenix’s mesenchymal stem cells (MSC’s) which form connective tissue that can grow variously into bone, cartilage or fat, and they reduce swelling and painful inflammation.  How MSC’s accomplish this is still unknown.

Laminitis is thought to be caused, in part, by the animal’s immune system going berserk over injury or illness, and Bob called MSC’s extraordinary transformational capacities “the God thing.”

In theory, a tiny nano-fiber scaffolding impregnated with MSC’s could be inserted into living tissue to repair damage from disease or injury.

In reality, on May 24, 2012 in RHR’s equine facility Phoenix underwent a 6 hour tendon surgery in which nano-fibers transporting his MSC’s were placed in a gap between two cut ends of his deep digital flexor tendon which attaches to the lamellae-suspended bone then runs up the back of the hoof enabling the animal to flex as it walks.

The team applied a cast then hoped for the best over the next months.  To their astonishment the hoof not only healed, it began to regenerate itself, and the tendon healed correctly.  “The God thing,” Bob said as he shook his head and stared out of the room in amazed awe.

Seven months later Phoenix is out of his cast, wears a special shoe on the regenerating hoof, and walks with a slight limp.

“Our success has the capacity to change veterinary medicine forever,” Bob said.

A lesser known fact about RHR is its participation in a type of human psychological counseling called Equine Therapy in which selected clients help feed and groom the animals.

“Horses mimic humans.  They bond with their handlers, and good things happen,” Bob said, “We can save animals and help distressed people.”  What’s more gratifying than that?

RHR also hosts a program in which persons ordered by a court to give community service may help with the animals.

After three years in business, Bob and RHR have become the stuff of celebrity.  He gave 65 interviews in 12 months, and 3 documentaries are in the works.  Animal Planet featured a RHR horse named Midnite that received a prosthetic leg, another veterinary first most agreed was impossible.  Midnite travels the country with a positive message for others who face hopeless odds.

“We hope to visit the White House some day,” Bob said.

In the meantime, despite his growing fame in animal circles, Bob goes about his unassuming daily rounds clad in ordinary jeans, tee-shirts, a black hat of the 10-gallon variety, and a trusty pair of cowboy boots.

Enjoy RHR’s online slideshows at http://ranchhandrescue.wordpress.com

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