GROVE CITY, Ohio (WCMH) – Over the past year, the Buckeye Ranch has helped more than 4,700 children and teens experiencing anxiety, depression, suicide ideation, and other behavioral health issues.

One of the ways the Ranch provides care comes through a unique animal therapy program designed to help residents on their journey toward graduation.

Nali, a therapy dog, and Evie, a therapy puppy in training, both provide comfort to at-risk teens and youth living at the Buckeye Ranch in Grove City.

“Whether it’s something like them experiencing anxiety or frustration, they can take breaks and they can go and hang out with the dogs,” said Jessy Cordle, a team member with the Ranch’s Adventure Therapy program.

Nali and Evie are just two of the more than 15 mammals and reptiles who are part of the program.

“We’re able to teach them through social interactions and what our animals need in helping them to learn to take care of animals that they might have when they leave this program, too, and being able to find coping through animals like Monty,” said Buckeye Ranch Group Therapy Supervisor Heather Syrus.

Monty the python takes part in the group animal therapy sessions available to residents between the ages of 9 and 17. The children get to take part in the hands-on care of feeding the animals and cleaning their cages.

“I would say that this is probably one of the most, you know, beneficial programs that we have here,” Syrus said.

Whether it’s snuggling with a lizard named Dr. Zeus, talking with the resident cockatiel, or holding a Flemish giant rabbit, organizers said the animals help teach the residents about empathy, trust, and boundaries in a safe environment.

“More often than not, they’ll volunteer to help out in their free time because they just love to be over here,” said Buckeye Ranch Group Therapist Melody White. “They love the animals.”

Last August, Nali was diagnosed with a mast cell tumor on her leg, so her owner Cordel saw a unique opportunity to teach the children and teens about her treatment plan where doctors eventually needed to amputate her leg.

“So, kids can talk about, you know, when their animals were sick,” Cordel said. “They can talk about when they’ve been sick, you know? They can talk about when their family members were sick.”

Staff members said they are amazed by the therapeutic power of animals they see have an impact on the graduates of the Buckeye Ranch to the point where many residents want one of the animals with them when they ring the bell on campus at graduation.

“They do active care for them, and they really form bonds with them,” Cordel said.