Creating the Good: Animal Therapy for the “SOUL”

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Jodie Diegel of SOUL Harbour Ranch (left) with therapy animals and volunteers.

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Driving up to SOUL Harbour Ranch in Barrington, IL., you start to feel a calm energy wash over you.

“There’s just something about this place,” says owner Jodie Diegel. “You can feel the magic, and be free to leave all your worries at home.”

And the scenery is just the beginning. Inside the barn at SOUL Harbour Ranch, you’ll meet miniature therapy horses and donkeys, therapy dogs and cats, and the herd’s newest additions – therapy pig sisters, “Pickles” and “Peaches.”

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The “SOUL” in SOUL Harbour Ranch, stands for “sharing of unconditional love” and the ranch was founded with the mission of sharing the soul-to-soul connection between humans and animals. Diegel, who is a registered nurse and co-founder of the ranch with her husband, Jerry, started this work volunteering in an animal assisted therapy program with her own dogs first.

“Through that program, I really got to experience first-hand the healing power that animals can have in all types of settings,” says Diegel. “A few years later, I started the program with a trio of mini therapy horses, and from then on, there was no turning back.”

At the Ranch, registered volunteer handlers accompany animals to meet with nursing home residents and people in hospice, patients in hospitals, veterans, students, and more.

SOUL Harbour Ranch also provides a variety of programs for people of all ages who want to get involved, as well as special programs for school children, like “Say WHOA to Bullying” and “SOUL Scouts,” and for veterans, active military and their families through “SOUL Veterans Animal Therapy Troops.”

During the pandemic, SOUL Harbour Ranch began an ongoing partnership with AARP Illinois to bring virtual animal therapy programming to AARP members and volunteers.

And for anyone who wants to meet the animals virtually from home, SOUL Harbour Ranch hosts a week “Friday Live at 5” every week on https://www.facebook.com/soulharbourranch.

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To find volunteer opportunities in your community, visit www.createthegood.org.

To hear Diegel’s story and more stories like this, subscribe to the “Creating the Good with AARP Illinois” podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts or anywhere you listen to podcasts.

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