I was reminiscing today about how the research program got started at Dream Catchers. Wade Johnson, MD, and member of the Board of Directors for Dream Catchers had come into my office- still down in the barn, in 2007 and talked about how touched he was that the first word a nonverbal child with autism had uttered was “Shea”, the name of her horse. I told him there were other anecdotal accounts of children saying their first word in connection with their experiences at Dream Catchers. His eyes lit up and we began finishing each other’s sentences as the idea of research at Dream Catchers came to life. During the subsequent years, Wade worked on the research- looking for any and every professional journal article in medicine that made any reference to “horse” and “autism”. My focus was on building the program and developing funding. Then Wade recruited Sandy Ward, Ph.D from the College of William and Mary Department of Education. The research ideas began to heat up. Sandy brought her husband Tom Ward, the assistant dean of the education department at William and Mary and Kelly Whalon, another professor. Nancy Hawfield, a volunteer and speech pathologist joined the team. The momentum built exponentially. We submitted complex grant applications…but did not receive funding. Like that radio commercial for the people who make quality brass beds…we didn’t care, we pressed on anyway. Kelly Whalon completed a qualitative study of four students with autism. That study is being presented at the National Association of School Psychologists in San Francisco later this month. Sandy created a study of 22 students with autism who are in self-contained classes in the Williamsburg James City County public schools. We found the funding for some tests—the Child Assessment of Behavior and a scale that assesses sensory issues. Kim Wendell, a NARHA certified instructor and our School Group Coordinator worked with the teachers to get the assessment tools completed. We thought we were finished gathering data in December. Karen Davis, the Director of Special Education for the WJCC school system had been listening to the teachers of the students who were riding and on whom we were gathering data. She gained approval for four more weeks of riding after hearing the anecdotal reports of how much the students were gaining. The ten weeks as opposed to the original six weeks is critical to evaluate a variety of factors and to compare our results with another study in Texas of which we recently learned. The students came back today….and today; a non-verbal student with autism told his horse to “walk on” as he led his horse.
On Friday, we hired a part-time research coordinator, Kat Rusnak, who has been assisting Sandy Ward and Kelly Whalon. An anonymous donor has been paying attention to the efforts of the research team, and the fact that the research needed more support. The position has funding for a limited time. Our hope is to win research grants that will subsidize this position. Today we learned that the current study will be presented to the Virginia Psychological Association at the Homestead in April. www.vapsych.org
Wade also decided to count and categorize every student served by Dream Catchers starting in 2007. This was a daunting task. Kim Wendell has worked alongside Wade helping him make sure there is no duplication. A quick funny story—last week I asked Kim for a recommendation for a local dentist because husband is a well-respected orthodontist here in town. She said, “Dennis, we don’t have a Dennis, we have never had a student named Dennis.” Need I say more?
The reality is that when I came to Dream Catchers I wanted to do more than be helpful to a few students in our region. My ego wanted to have a bigger impact. I had worked at the local state and national level on a variety of programs. I was thrilled at Wade’s idea of research. It took lots of effort to see the outcomes of those ideas. The research would not be happening if it were not for Wade Johnson, M.D., even though he hasn’t “done” the research…that has been handled other team members. Sandy & Tom Ward and Kelly Whalon…and Kim Wendell, Nancy and Ed Hawfield, and Kat Rusnak inspired and led by Wade Johnson, MD… We are the Research Team of Dream Catchers—with help from every volunteer, and the rest of the Dream Catchers Team…and the special education teachers…..
Please click on the NASP DC Research Handout PDF for the first results of our 1st Reasearch Project!
“It is amazing how much you can accomplish when it doesn’t matter who gets the credit…”unknown author
Veteran’s Day-a day for our nation, our community, our families, and each of us to be thankful for the service every military service member has given for our freedom. Here at Dream Catchers, surrounded by twenty-two military bases we are also thankful to the families of every military service member. We see the hardships of deployment on families and in particular families with members who have special needs. This includes children and adults. Some of our adults were injured while in service to our country. Some of our children have been born with or developed special needs. Some families are dealing with parents who are aging and developing health problems.
This morning I awoke thinking of one of our military families. Dad is often deployed, leaving Mom with not one, not two, but three children with special needs. Two of the children have autism. One child has bi-polar disorder. Every week she brings her children out to ride. Her children are not “easy.” While her husband is deployed, she must raise three children, advocate for them, and make sure they get the medical treatment they need, and the recreation they deserve. This mom and these children sacrifice greatly for our freedom and the freedom of oppressed people all over the world.
Today, Thursday, is the usual day our Horses for Heroes soldiers from the Warrior Transition Unit at For Eustis ride. They “got the day off” today. But they never get the “day off” from the wounds of war, the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), or their other injuries. Their loved ones never get “the day off” from trying to help them heal. For families who have members with special needs, there is never really a “day off.” Even if a child is at school, mom and dad, and often the grand parents are always “on call’ in case there is a problem at school. For parents whose children have aged out of the school system there is never a “day off.”
Today, Veterans Day, the Dream Catchers family says THANK YOU…to every active duty and retired military service member, to every family and friend who has lost someone who died in service to our country, and to every family member and loved one who is left at home.
Funding for Specific Programs and Horses for Heroes
I brag on the Dream Catchers team on a regular basis. Every staff person at Dream Catchers is also a volunteer and a donor. I have never worked with a group of more dedicated professionals. They believe in the mission and work hard each day to accomplish that mission. We need our volunteers- we could not do what we do without them, but the work we do also requires financial support.
Our Annual Budget
We are in the process of developing our budget for next year. Dream Catchers’ operating budget is just over $500,000 annually. We operate on a fiscal year from July 1 through June 30. 75% of our income comes though donations. This includes special event income (such as Bridles and Bow Ties, our annual dinner and auction). Our program fees generate 25% of the total income, approximately $131,000 annually. We receive no federal or state funding. Therapeutic riding is not reimbursed by insurance. Grants have been primarily used to provide therapeutic riding to classrooms of special education students in Williamsburg, James City, and York Counties. That funding, from the Williamsburg Community Health Foundation, will be exhausted at the end of June 2010. When we have funds available, we provide scholarships and partial scholarships based on the Free and Reduced Lunch Program income levels.
Self identified groups of five individuals or more, such as classes for students receiving special education, groups of soldiers, and groups of students in special education recreation programs system can participate as a group. Each group comes to Dream Catchers for two hours one time per week for between eight and twelve weeks. The cost for these groups averages $100 per person per week. I say “average” because some groups require more staff than do others. Each lesson is two hours in order to allow each participant sufficient time for the groundwork and riding.
Restricted vs. Unrestricted Funds
Unrestricted funds are those dollars that can be used to pay the operating expenses. If a donor designates money to support a specific thing, those funds are restricted to funding only that item or program. For example, the Dream Rider funds that were raised during Bridles and Bow Ties are only used for scholarships. The other funds, from the auction items, raffle, and ticket sales are used to cover general operating expenses. Without unrestricted funds, we cannot buy feed, bedding, pay for veterinary care or other operational expenses. The more unrestricted funds we raise, the more flexibility we have in how those funds are spent.
Horses for Heroes
We are proud to announce the addition of the nationally recognized Horses for Heroes program - LINK. This program serves groups of military service people with special needs. The service men and women in this program may currently be attached to a Warrior Transition Program and/or a Wounded Warrior Program, or may be a veteran.
Military personnel in the Warrior Transition Program are assigned to that program because they have significant health needs. The focus for the Warrior Transition Program is healing followed by transition back to regular service, reserve status, civilian life, or veteran status. The injuries to these soldiers have often occurred in combat, but not always. Military personnel who suffer from injuries or illness incurred in the line of duty after September 10, 2001, in support of Overseas Contingency Operations since 9/11 and receive or expect to receive a Physical Disability Evaluation System rating of 30% or greater in one or categories that are more specific are designated as Wounded Warriors.
Through a very generous private donation, our first group of soldiers began riding today. They will be with us for two hours each week for ten weeks. We could not have started this program without the funding to support it. We are planning a Sporting Clays Classic on October 23,2010 at Old Forge Sporting Clays in Providence Forge (between Williamsburg and Richmond) specifically to raise funds for this new program. Watch for sponsorship and entry details- they will be out in a few days!
When we met this group of soldiers last week they said as much as they were looking forward to riding, they were looking forward to “peace and quiet.” Thanks to the volunteers who understood that this group did not need the large number of volunteers most of our groups need. Respect is being shown for this group’s wishes for a peaceful and quiet experience.
Grant Writing Seminar
Dream Catchers is offering a free grant-writing seminar specifically for school personnel on July 23rd at Dream Catchers. This one-day course will help school personnel find and write grants. Our hope is that the attendees will use these new skills to get grants that will help fund their classes riding at Dream Catchers! I will teach this seminar. I teach grant writing through the Rappahannock Community College Non-Profit Certificate Program. There is no cost for this seminar. Participation is limited to 20 people.
We at Dream Catchers work to be excellent and trustworthy stewards of every dollar you donate or pay as a fee. We keep our expenses as low as possible without compromising on the services we provide or the care we give our horses. We have an independent audit conducted annually. If you have any questions about our budget or our funding needs I welcome your call.
Merlin, a Sudden Good-Bye
Monday ended with the sudden loss of Merlin to acute colic. We begin to expect some health problems in our more senior horses—and we have a number of then well past the age of 20 years but Merlin was only 16. He was very young in terms of our Dream Catchers horses. However, horses over the age of fifteen are more at risk of colic and other conditions.
Merlin had a good day on Monday, June 7th. He had been on a trail ride with his owner, instructor Carol Ivey. They had a nice romp around the farm. Monday afternoon Merlin developed acute colic. Dr. Gary Doxstader of Tidewater Equine came immediately and provided treatment. The treatment was not working and the back-up plan, made with Dr. Doxstader, was to take Merlin to Woodside Equine Clinic, in Ashland VA. Woodside is the closest surgery and emergency facility. They provide the routine care to our horses, but are not close enough to provide the fastest care in an emergency.
We knew the first treatment was not working because Merlin’s pain got worse very quickly. He kept trying to lie down and roll to relieve the pain in his belly. Dr. Doug Berry, Dr. Katherine Burke, Dr. Leighton, and Dr. Scott Anderson (a member of the Dream Catchers advisory board) were all waiting with the surgical team. Merlin was in tremendous pain. There was no time to do an extensive work-up that would typically include procedures such as ultra-sound and sampling the fluids around the intestines. Dr. Berry advised the only hope was to open Merlin’s belly up and see what was going on. He determined that Merlin had twisted his large colon into a knot. The knot had stopped the blood flow. Further surgery was not a reasonable solution.
Carol and her husband Ed made the decision to euthanize Merlin immediately. They respected and loved him too much to put him through the surgery. They made the right decision. As I wrote in a blog in September of last year “If the horse is sick, and not expected to recover, and in pain, then euthanasia is our humane responsibility. Shea is a good example. She got sick very suddenly with life-ending and excruciating condition- colic. Older horses do not have a great chance at surviving surgery—even with the best surgeon and the best follow-up care. Colic surgery is expensive- at least $5,000- more likely double that and it might double that sum again ($20,000). As the steward of each dollar donated to Dream Catchers, investing that amount of money in a single animal with poor chances of success is irresponsible. In cases where the animal cannot be maintained relatively free of pain, then, on the professional advice of veterinary staff, this is the decision.”
I stand by those words. The Dream Catcher horses receive outstanding care with every aspect of their well-being managed by a team of professionals. The barn crew, whom people tend to think of as doing only the labor in the barn, pay attention to little details—how much did each horse drink, did they eat all their feed, did they produce a normal amount of manure, do they seem listless? Skip Mollenhauer, the Horse Resource Manager, is a consummate horse professional. She oversees the care of each horse, and the horses look great! Even with the dedication and attention to detail of the barn crew (Dawn, Ben, Terry and Sylvia, managed by Lauren), horses get sick. Sometimes they get very sick very suddenly. Someone asked me, “What were the lessons learned, what could we –or should we-have done differently?” The answer, after much thought and discussion with Woodside, is nothing. From the day in and day out management, feed regimen, exercise program and work load to the response to this crisis, there is nothing we could or should have done differently. When I ran into the barn after learning Merlin was sick I found Lauren listening to his guts with a stethoscope and Ben taking his temperature. From that moment, through the first response of Dr. Doxstader to the time Merlin was unloaded at Woodside was 2 ½ hours. That was an extraordinarily fast response. It didn’t matter. The damage to Merlin’s colon occurred as soon as it was tied into a knot.
Again, we depended on the professional advice of Woodside. They know us well. They know we love and value our horses, and they know we honor them. They also know that we depend on them to be honest with us about what the right decision is in these situations. We are grateful for their advocacy for our horses and their honesty when it comes time to make difficult decisions.
We all loved Merlin, and we will miss him. He has a special place in my heart, as his scars were a brutal reminder of the cruelty of the old-school training methods for Tennessee Walking Horses that I have worked for twenty years to end. He overcame his abuse and trusted in us. We honored his trust by making the best decision we could on his behalf.
It’s COUNT DOWN time
It’s COUNT DOWN to Bridles & Bow Ties 2010! Dig out your cowboy boots and dust off your cowboy hat! MAY 22 at Dream Catchers is our annual gala fundraiser dinner and auction. The committee of Barb Cummings and Cheryl Warren as co-chairs; Patty Holt, Nan Strader, Sue Pearce, Angie Johnson, Barb Schuler, Terry Jacoby, and Pamela West have been working hard since LAST YEAR to put this event together.
You won’t want to miss the demonstration by some of our riders, open bar, and a chance to support Dream Catchers by winning a fabulous auction item (see below) or supporting the Dream Rider fund. Of course, dinner is always Wonderful- our own chef, Todd Schneider, who was just named the executive chef to the governor of VA, will be catering the event. I wonder if he can talk Bob into putt’n up a hitch’n post in front of the executive mansion?
Remember- COWBOY CHIC—boots, not heels, jeans and hats…no dancing on the table with your spurs on! Don’t Wait—buy your tickets today!!!!!!!!
If you can’t make it, please consider buying raffle tickets instead to support the cause. Check out the shopping cart.