Who We Are



Second Chance Ranch (SCR), a 501c3 nonprofit organization, has served the community since 1999.  We offer a safe sanctuary and permanent residence for a special collection of retired sport horses who are part of our Equine Assisted Psychotherapy platform. 

Leading With Horses (LWH) is a platform for mental health professionals to apply Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) in their existing treatment program as an alternative to conventional talk therapy.  This is a non-riding program with our distinctively trained horses who partner with us to demonstrate their exceptional capacity of teaching and healing abilities. 


Our program serves any person who is being treated by a licensed mental health professional. We  specialize in youth development and family counseling with a strong focus on underserved populations.


We are funding by grants and public donations, so there is no cost for our services to clients of Excelsior or qualifying low-income families and underserved populations. This is made possible by the generosity of grants and donations from organizations such as Excelsior Wellness.


No prior horse experience is necessary - our equine coaches and human horsemanship instructors have worked as a team for more than a decade.  However, most of the therapists who use our services are certified in at some level of Equine Therapy.  Our learning philosophy used to instruct the horsemanship part of the program is based on the concepts of fundamental psychology; the developmental processes that include emotional behavior, self-control, sequential learning, perceptual, and cognitive development.  We provide a work-space and collaboration opportunity for both for-profit and nonprofits who could not otherwise offer animal assisted therapy to their clients while maintaining full control of the counseling or treatment aspect.

Some of the critical issues our community faces today are substance abuse, suicide prevention and anti-bullying. These are issues exasperated by the pandemic.  Leading With Horses provides an environment that fosters growth and healing to those seeking a life changing journey, and who are moving forward from physical or mental trauma.   

It is our belief that creative learning environments lead to outcomes of increased confidence and resilience; enhanced motivation and engagement; and development of social, emotional and critical thinking skills.


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The History of Second Chance Ranch

Second Chance Ranch was founded in 1985 and received it’s nonprofit 501c3 status in 1999. SCR Founder, Katie Merwick, has devoted her adult life to professional animal welfare, as a behaviorist, trainer (including animal actor training), caretaker, specializing in physical and behavioral rehabilitation.


As the Pacific Northwest’s first cage and kennel free, no-kill animal rescue for dogs, SCR pioneered the now popular trend of rehabilitation in a home environment for dogs and use of a foster home network. SCR holds the record for the largest and longest standing canine and equine (thoroughbred) rehabilitation and adoptive program in the Pacific Northwest before transitioning into an equine assisted psychotherapy program in 2012.


SCR was the first to implement many of the adoption policies and shelter guidelines that are standard today. Using her unique insight and training from The Pacific Institute, she  incorporates and applies animal psychology into her training and rehabilitation of both domestic animals and wildlife. Katie has pioneered many innovative solutions for helping homeless animals and providing education to the community.


Methods implemented to train or instruct animals are based on the concepts of fundamental psychology; the cognitive developmental processes that include emotional behavior, self-control, perceptual, and sequential learning.  Katie was one of the first to utilize positive reinforcement with associative and cognitive learning along with sequential learning in animal training. 

In 2004, SCR concentrated its focus on a Thoroughbred horse program and became the Northwest’s first 501c3 rehabilitation and transitional facility exclusive to Thoroughbreds. Since that time, SCR has made an impact on the lives of horses and their owners in our community through direct intervention, education, and community outreach. Our specialization was the rehabilitation, transition training and adoption services of Thoroughbred race horses from the racetrack into second careers. 

In 2012 SCR announced a shift in the mission to further develop an Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) program, “Leading with Horses."  This change came in part to keep up with the current needs of our community.  The necessity for mental health programs cannot be overstated.  Katie wanted to demonstrate the value of horses beyond the show ring or as a backyard pet.  She felt that SCR could be more productive in helping both the equine population and the community by giving them a job!  This program was also intended to supplement the budget. 

As a nonprofit organization, Second Chance Ranch's primary funding comes from grants, private donations, and fundraisers. Our progress and contribution to the community is ongoing, and always flexible to meet the current mental health needs in our community.  We depend on the support and generosity of the community to deliver an outstanding mental health solution and opportunity. 

A few of our accomplishments; 

  • More than 2,500 dogs and 1,500 horses have been rehabilitated, trained and adopted into forever homes

  • Over 500 additional animals have been rehomed through our virtual placement program. 


  • SCR pioneered many of today's standard practices in the animal welfare industry;

  • The first (at least in Washington and Oregon) to use legally written contracts for animal adoption and fostering, and to provide/share generic documents for others in the industry to use;

  • The first to use and promote a cage and kennel-free environment at home for the rehabilitation and re-homing of shelter animals (beginning in 1982);

  • A nonprofit that provided professional training and behavior work to rehabilitate in a home environment;

  • The first to create a safe network of foster homes with guidelines;

  • Katie Merwick was one of the first (at least in the PNW) to introduce the same cognitive science and positive reward theories as with teaching humans to training dogs and horses. 

  • 2000 -  A recipient of the National American Red Cross “Hero of the Year” award for [Katie's] work in animal nonprofit welfare

  • 2008 - The first and only Special Achievement Award from the Washington Thoroughbred Breeders Association for her [Katie's] work with off the track Thoroughbreds

  • 2011 - The first Charlynn Taketa award from the Thoroughbred Exhibitor’s Association for SCR's contribution to thoroughbred rehabilitation

  • 2019, 2020, 2021 - Awarded the "Guardian" status by the EQUUS Foundation for transparency and work in equine therapy. 

  • 2019 Thoroughbred of the Year award - won by equine coach, Bruce, for his work in equine therapy.  This award was from the Jockey Club Thoroughbred Incentive Program (TIP).

  • 2020  Equine Coach and Artiste, Bruce, inducted to The Horse Stars Hall of Fame by the EQUUS Foundation and the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF)

  • 2020,  2021 Awarded the GuideStar Platinum Seal