There’s a video on youtube that shows midnite, a miniature black horse with a white diamond on his forehead, timidly walking with a prosthetic leg. After a few seconds, Midnite breaks into a full gallop. In the background, you hear a man named Bob Williams exclaim, “Look at him! Oh, Midnite! Look at him go!” Midnite slows as he comes to a shed, takes a look around, and is joined by two other miniature horses. Somewhere, just out of the shot, are two sheep, two quarter horses, two alpacas, and two llamas.
The video, taken after Midnite’s second fitting of his prosthesis, in February, quickly went viral. The story was picked up by the Associated Press, BBC, Huffington Post, Time for Kids, and Entertainment Tonight. Animal Planet called Williams to ask about sending its cameras to film Midnite in action. The Today Show called with the biggest request of all. A producer asked Williams if Midnite could be flown from the small town of Argyle, 40 miles northwest of Dallas, to its studios in New York City (he politely declined).
Williams is CEO of Ranch Hand Rescue, a farm animal sanctuary. He and his business partner,
Marty Polasko, take in malnourished and mistreated farm animals and give them food, water, and a second chance. The path leading to the ranch cuts through a field of knee-high grass. Wildflowers and rabbits abound. As I step out of the car, I’m greeted by the crunch of gravel under my feet and a neigh from the barn. Polasko shakes my hand and tells me to watch my step. “We’re in the country now,” he says. I look around at the freshly cut grass, the new barn with bright trim, and the perfectly plotted landscaping. It’s nothing like the dusty, overgrown Oklahoma farm where I grew up. Before leading me on a proper tour, Polasko launches into Midnite’s full story.
After law enforcement seized the horse from neglectful owners, he was given to the Humane Society of North Texas, which couldn’t address his needs and asked Ranch Hand Rescue to take him. Four-year-old Midnite, missing the hoof and coffin bone in his left rear leg, had trouble just walking when he first came to the ranch. Polasko worried that as Midnite returned to health, the added weight might break his hip. Ranch Hand Rescue’s board considered amputating the leg, but, as Williams says, “You can never unamputate.” So they wondered why a horse couldn’t have a prosthetic leg. Prostheticare in Fort Worth heard their story and got to work. Soon, they were testing a new $14,000 leg made of carbon graphite and Nyglass stockinette, but everyone’s expectations were modest. That’s why Williams cried when he saw Midnite take off for the first time. “We never in our wildest dreams thought he could run,” he says. “We just thought we’d be happy if he could walk.”
Polasko says that if you’d known Williams a decade ago, you would have been surprised by his reaction. Neither man looks like he belongs on a farm. Polasko has straight, chin-length brown hair; Williams wears wrinkle-free button-ups. They look like they should be in the corporate world, which is where they both came from. But Polasko tired of his electrical engineering job at Nortel Networks and found himself in Argyle, where he opened American Pet Spa and Resort, which now shares its 5 acres with the ranch and helps support it financially. Williams spent his time hanging out with his friend Doris Roberts (whom you may know as the mother from Everybody Loves Raymond) and working as the manager of global diversity in human resources at Motorola. That’s when he had a stroke. He wanted to go home and lie down. But Roberts insisted on taking him to her doctor, which saved his life. After months of rehab, he realized he wanted to do something different. That’s when he began working with Polasko.
The original idea was to have a small farm animal sanctuary. Nothing big. Definitely no quarter horses. The 3 acres dedicated to Ranch Hand Rescue wouldn’t be able to handle large animals. But then Williams discovered there were no farm animal rescue groups around, and priorities shifted. Williams and Polasko started working with local law enforcement, rescuing only animals whose owners were prosecuted. They took in the worst of the worst.
Williams often fields late-night calls from authorities asking for help. He recently took a case in Brownwood, Texas. He posted photos of the newest Ranch Hand Rescue quarter horse on Facebook around midnight, declaring that it was going to be a long night. From the photos, one can easily count the horse’s ribs. He is blind in one eye and missing all his teeth. The caption underneath the photo reads, “Never again. You are safe now, at last!” That’s how most of the rescues are greeted at the ranch. That’s how Midnite got here. And Chance, a quarter horse who was 750 pounds underweight. Lips was beaten in the face with a feeding bucket. Angel was so underweight that Polasko cried when she arrived. Then there’s Wooly the goat, and Christmas and Thanksgiving the temperamental turkeys. “Every one of the animals here has a story,” Polasko says. “We have created this sanctuary so this is their last stop. Some will live here forever.”
Ranch Hand Rescue is not a bad place to live. Polasko, who dabbled in landscaping, designed the grounds. Surrounding the green pastures are wooden fences with clusters of flowers and plants. Wood trim frames the tin pavilion built for educational classes. A gaggle of geese (and those pesky turkeys) protect the critical-care barn. Koi swim in Lucy’s Pond. And there’s the barn housing all the rehabbing animals. Everything is manicured. Every blade of grass is in place. And the oddest element of all: it doesn’t smell like a farm.
Williams, Polasko, and the animals’ caretaker, Vance Eversole, keep the place pristine because the animals get a lot of visitors, from special needs kids to elderly groups to kids just curious about farm life. “Our animals have a gift of healing people because of the way they bond with people,” Williams says. “Animals that have gone through this abuse and neglect, they know when somebody’s different. They sense compassion.”
But maintaining the ranch and looking after Midnite and his friends don’t come cheap. It costs about $6,500 a month to keep the organization running, not counting medical bills for critical cases. Williams is always searching for operating capital. “It has to be a collaboration with other rescue groups, because, in the end, we’re all doing the same work,” Williams says. “The people who work at the Humane Society in Dallas, they’re not doing it for the money. They’re doing it for the love of the animals.”
While Williams tries to educate visitors on the importance of changing current legislation (it’s a felony to beat an animal but just a misdemeanor to starve one), he realizes that he can’t win every case. Sometimes, the animals get returned to their owners. And, once, the organization had to euthanize a horse. But animals like Midnite keep Williams going.
“I don’t get a salary, and it’s the greatest job I’ve ever had,” he says. “It’s the first time in my life that my blood pressure’s perfect and my cholesterol’s perfect. These animals know they’ve been saved.”
Tours to visit Midnite and friends take place every Saturday from 11 am to 4 pm. It costs $3 for adults and $2 for children under 12; children 2 and under are free. Call 940-464-0985 to let them know you are coming.
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