Sharing unconditional love. That’s the singular mission for SOUL Harbor Ranch, an idea that’s lived out in every visit, every therapy animal and every volunteer.
Since its beginnings in 2010, founder Jodie Diegel and her dedicated team of volunteers have traveled throughout the Chicago area, bringing four-legged comfort animals to hospitals, nursing homes, retirement communities, schools, homes for the disabled and more. With specially trained miniature horses and donkeys, as well as a number of much-loved dogs, SOUL Harbour’s animals lighten the day of all fortunate enough to encounter them.
“At every visit, our special animals spread joy, laughter and smiles,” Joy explains. Just watching the group’s miniature horses, clomp down the hall clad in custom-made tennis shoes is sure to bring a few giggles of delight to often somber hospital rooms. For a moment, she says, people forget their pain, and experience the healing powers of the human-animal bond.
Volunteer Anne Arroyo recalls one such encounter at a local medical center with a young girl, who was in isolation. Over the course of several months, Anne would stop outside the girl’s room with some of SOUL Harbour’s miniature horses, but she could only wave from her bed. Then finally, there came a visit when the child could pet the horses. “She had the biggest grin as she loved on two of our horses,” Anne says. “Her mom confided she hadn’t seen that smile in a long time, making the moment all the more special.”
For Jodie, it’s just one example among hundreds that illustrate the value of SOUL Harbour’s programs. “People connect with animals and our animals connect with people in a way that we can’t,” she says. “They are so healing for so many people, and we need more of that in the world today.”