BEACH - Mel Rose, the new executive director for Home on the Range, said she experienced the power of animal therapy while working at the Boston Children’s Hospital as a doctoral student.

During her time there, she said a young girl diagnosed with terminal cancer made a request through the Make-A-Wish Foundation for a yellow labrador puppy to be brought to her bedside.

“It was absolutely amazing to watch this 14-week-old puppy lay on the pillow with her. It knew,” Rose said. “There really is this powerful connection that is made between kids and animals that is healing in and of itself.”

Since that time, Rose has lived in Colorado, Wyoming and most recently Alaska, working at other residential treatment facilities for at-risk youth, integrating her passion for equine therapy and outdoor-based activities as treatment methods.

Her belief in animal therapy, in combination with a doctorate in psychology, made her new position a fitting career move.

“I discovered that they had an opening, watched the video and thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this is a gift from God,’” Rose said. “It is such a perfect fit for me in terms of what I love to do and my prior experience.”

And the feeling was mutual, administrative services director Michelle Swanson said.

Swanson was on the hiring board and said there was a large, competitive pool of applicants who applied for the job. The applications were later narrowed down to two candidates, who came to the ranch for an in-person interview.

Rose was hired, and not long after, moved her possessions and giant Newfoundland dog Mulligan to southwest North Dakota.

“We just knew,” Swanson said. “The interview was really refreshing. She has a lot of energy and ideas. We feel fortunate to have found her.”

Rose assumed the position three weeks ago, her duties thus far consisting of meeting staff and becoming acquainted with folks in the community. In addition, she said she has facilitated conversations with her co-workers about adopting a more trauma-informed approach to care, which acknowledges trauma and the role it plays in a person’s life, and looking for ways to further enhance the animal assistance program at the ranch.

On Tuesday, staff organized a meet-and-greet as a way to formally congratulate and welcome Rose to the position.

Home on the Range currently provides full-time residential accommodations to approximately 40 youth who have previously had difficulty in school, at home or have been involved in the legal system.

“These are kids who have really struggled and need additional support and structure,” Rose said.

To provide care, Rose said administrators use K-9 and equine therapy, which both work to improve youth relationships.

Rose said animals can provide valuable lessons about human relationships.

“Often times the kids can recognize, ‘Oh wow, this relationship that I have with the horse is similar to the relationship I have with my mother or father,’” she said.

She said youth respond similarly with dogs, and partners closely with Oreo’s Animal Rescue to provide care for stray animals until a home is found.

“There are days when the dogs aren’t being being cooperative or are off task, so it teaches them (youth) patience, responsibility, how to care for an animal,” Rose said.

Based off of these approaches, Rose said Home on the Range is “light years ahead” of programs with similar missions.

“It is one thing to look anecdotally and say, ‘Wow, this kid is really making an improvement,’" Rose said. "It’s another to gather data that supports the fact that this treatment intervention is effective."

Rose said Home on the Range is collecting information to prove the effectiveness of animal therapy; it’s one of the things that made the position enticing to her.

And now that she has settled into her new life, she said she is looking forward to forging deep connections with staff, the community and the kids.

“I want to make a positive contribution,” Rose said. “I want to be of service.”

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