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OBHC’s animal programs are deeper than the surface

Many children who come to live at Oklahoma Baptist Homes for Children (OBHC) struggle with trauma that affects their mental health, confidence, aggression, disassociation and more. One of the ways OBHC addresses these issues is through the implementation of animal programs on each campus. These programs play a significant role in the care for children.

Boys in the horse program
Boys Ranch Town Horse Program Director Jennifer Kloeppel (right) teaches boys every day how to properly care for horses.

Boys Ranch Town’s Horse Program Director Jennifer Kloeppel said, “Kids who have gone through trauma naturally have a low self-esteem. By giving the opportunity to care for an animal, they see they not only can take care of themselves but something else. This does wonders for them internally. One of our main focuses to helping them is to raise their level of care of themselves and show them what it looks like to be selfless.” 

Children at OBHC learn responsibility by simply caring for animals. They are taught proper care of feeding and work hard to nurture them.

Girl holding a bunny

“I’m a part of the Bunny Wranglers program. We work with the Havana bunnies. I like taking care of bunnies. It’s really easy. We give them food, water and clean their trays. I learned how to do showmanship; that’s where you show a rabbit to a judge.” – Amelia

Young boy with a bunny in his hood

“I have been in the bunny program for three months now. My favorite bunny is James. I like James because he is playful and calm like me. I take care of him by feeding him, holding him and cleaning his tray.” – Kamaree

As they are learning to care for these animals, a bond begins to form. As this bond grows over time, the animals are helping them grow and heal on a deeper level.

Many scientific studies have shown that bonding with a pet reduces stress and anxiety, provides social support and companionship while improving children’s communication skills. The release of oxytocin while petting an animal helps children experience long-term benefits by improving the “body’s ability to be in a state of readiness to heal, and also grow new cells, so it predisposes us to an environment in our own bodies where we can be healthier,” states Rebecca Johnson, a nurse who leads the Research Center for Human/Animal Interaction at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine.

Here are just a few children at OBHC who share how their bond with their favorite animal helps them:

Girl spending time with her pig

“One of the most special things I have experienced here is the bond I have with my pig, Sarah. I never knew how much Sarah would impact my life. Sarah has gotten me through a lot of tough times and has made my life more enjoyable. She definitely has a personality and it certainly shows. She means so much to me and I would say that our bond is unbreakable. Sarah’s favorite things are baths and Sour Patch Kids. She also loves to be brushed. I take care of her and love her as if she was my baby, although she weighs more than me. She is by far one of the most important things in my life.” – Halle

Teenage girl kissing a cow

“The bond with my heifer started when we got her, and I knew that she was scared. I comforted her with food and hay. Every day I started sitting on a bucket in her pen. Once she started warming up to me, I asked if I could be the one to show her. I take care of her by brushing and combing her, petting her and loving her. For some reason she only likes me! I wonder why! She is like my best friend. Having Vikki affected my life by showing me that living beings other than humans have an emotional connection, whether it is to a specific thing or person.” – Dara

Teenage boy with a dog

“Brinley was a stray, so I don’t know what kind of dog she is. She wouldn’t go anywhere close to anyone when she first came around. Animal control caught her and took her to one of the barns here on the ranch [Boys Ranch Town] for us to foster. I got to watch her and make sure she didn’t escape. I was a little worried because I wasn’t sure how she would respond to me. I was in the barn with her for about 9 ½ hours! It took her about 30 minutes for her to come to me. I let her do it on her own. I think she came to me to beg for lunch. I reasoned that since stray dogs do have a hard time finding food, that I would give her some. It turns out that she likes burgers, baked beans, lettuce and apples. She DIDN’T like the celery, tomatoes, ranch or strawberries! So, I basically had barely any lunch that day, but I was fine giving her my food. I just set my plate on the floor and let her go to town. Then, I sat on the floor and she slowly came to me and laid down next to me.  I think she is probably the best dog ever. She gives me comfort and something to have as a friend. I feel really bad when I leave her, because she cries loud and it makes me feel like I need to stay longer. I think that’s the point. It makes me want to cry. I hope to give her a home like the ranch does for the boys here.”  -Eli

Girl feeding a pig

“I am in the AG program on campus where I have a pig and a sheep. My pig’s name is Cassie and my sheep’s name is Renesmee. I have a really close bond with my pig because I have had her since she was a baby. When Cassie was about two months old, she was small for her age and we didn’t think that she was going to make it. I didn’t let it stop me from bonding with her. I knew that she was going to be okay and that she would be a good show pig for me. Cassie loves to cuddle with me and lay in my lap. She also loves marshmallows. Cassie knows when it is feeding time. She will start yelling and climbing the gate letting me know she is hungry. I think Cassie and I have a strong bond because I was there for her when she was down, and when I was down, she laid in my lap to let me know she was there for me. Cassie has become one of the most important things in my life and is the one thing that I look forward to seeing and working with every day.” – Maranda

Each program at OBHC has a purpose for the overall healing and care for each child. For more information about OBHC’s animal programs or additional campus programs, visit obhc.org