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Animal Therapy Volunteer Requirements

SHR Volunteers Feb 2023

Have you always wanted to do animal assisted therapy? Do you have a wonderful pet that you think would be a great therapy animal? We would LOVE to mentor you on your journey to becoming a registered animal therapy team with your pet and sharing SOUL: Sharing Of Unconditional Love! 

NEW FOR 2024: INTERESTED IN JOINING OUR SOUL FAMILY? Future miniature therapy horse volunteers must first join our organization as part of the "Feed and Clean" crew (or Equine Sanitation Engineers!) We will teach you how to feed our herd, clean our barn and care for our animals. Morning and evening shifts are available, plan for 1.5-2 hrs . The feed and clean commitment is a minimum once per week on a regularly scheduled morning approx 8am or evening approx 5pm for approx 1.5 hours. It's a great way to meet our herd and our volunteers! Must be able-bodied and not mind hard work. Also need to be able to lift (w/help) muck buckets to dumpster. Enjoy time in the barn and get your best thinking done! You may continue at F/C or/and you will then transition to training to become a registered Pet Partners handler (or both!) We want to make sure you know how to take care of our barn and our animals to keep them healthy and happy before we mentor you to become a registered Pet Partners handler. QUESTIONS? CONTACT US!


If you have your own pet who has passed the Pet Partners evaluation, see below, you can join us at any time.

The SOUL Harbour Ranch Animal Therapy Program is a recognized 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with an all-volunteer staff.  Volunteers train, handle and transport our miniature therapy horses, therapy dogs and therapy cat to visits at outside facilities such as nursing homes and retirement communities, schools, homes for abled and disabled children, veteran facilities, libraries, and community events.  We provide an opportunity for the participants that we visit to see, pet, brush, hug, read to and love our special therapy animals.  


We are blessed to have such amazing handlers and we are confident that your participation will add to the success of our Animal Therapy Program! We are very lucky to have registered miniature therapy horses, registered therapy dogs, a registered therapy cat, plus miniature donkeys, 2 miniature pigs and a large Flemish Giant rabbit that are in training to become involved in our program.   With the help of our volunteers, our special therapy animals will bring smiles, joy and love to the people that we visit.

What is required of you to volunteer for SOUL Harbour Ranch?

There is a required minimum volunteer commitment of 2 sessions per month. (Of course if you would like to volunteer more that is perfectly fine!). Sessions include working with our therapy animals at SOUL Harbour Ranch (in Barrington), doing training sessions (walking, petting, grooming, showering, loving!) as well as attending on-site and off-site visits such as at schools, outings, libraries, hospitals, nursing homes, etc.  On-site training sessions require at least 2 hours of training commitment 2x/month. Off-site visits will vary for time depending upon the off-site location and type of activity or therapy visit. Handlers should be willing to spend time prepping, visiting and returning to the barn after the visits are complete when visiting with our miniature therapy horses. For those that have their own animals, you may still come to the barn prior to the visit of you can meet us at the visit.

Pet Partners Requirements

All SOUL Harbour Ranch Animal Therapy Program volunteer handlers are required to enroll in the Pet Partners Handler course. Pet Partners’ Therapy Animal Program is the national gold standard for animal-assisted therapy. Pet Partners trains volunteers and screens volunteers and their pets for visiting animal programs in hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, schools and other facilities. The program was established in 1990 to ensure that “both ends of the leash,” people as well as animals, are well-prepared to participate in animal-assisted activity and animal-assisted therapy programs. Pet Partners’ Therapy Animal Program is the only national registry that requires volunteer training and screening of animal-handler teams. Aligning with Pet Partners and ensuring we only allow registered/tested therapy animal teams at outside visits is what sets the SOUL Harbour Ranch Animal Therapy Program apart from others. Standards of Excellence ensure competency AND safety!

The Pet Partners Handler course provides information and training that will prepare the students and their animal to work effectively as a Pet Partners team in a variety of environments. There are both in-person or online classes for you to choose from, depending upon what type of class best meets your needs.  Our volunteer handlers must complete the program through Pet Partners within 3 months from their start date and must completed for our volunteers prior to off-site visits. An in-class hands-on course, for the handler only, is available at periodic times through the year (check Pet Partners for dates and locations). The course cost is $80, to be paid for by each volunteer.  See for more information.

Handling evaluations/testing will be conducted by Pet Partners after the handler has worked with our miniature horses, dogs, miniature donkeys or your own animals for a minimum 6 months. Testing and passing both the written and hands-on evaluation is required before volunteers can handle at visits. The testing cost is $20 per animal, to be paid by each volunteer. This testing will be required every 2 years with each horse/team to ensure continued Pet Partners registration.  Testing is arranged through SOUL Harbour Ranch for miniature horse testing but please check the website for testing for dogs, cats and other potential therapy animals.  There is also a Pet Partners membership fee for individual handlers, which is good for 2 years. These fees are paid for by each volunteer. This fee also includes liability insurance through Pet Partners for visits for $2 million.

Volunteer handlers who will be working with our animals will be required to demonstrate training competence as deemed by SOUL Harbour Ranch Animal Therapy Program Directors in a variety of settings for the safety of all involved. Once we feel you and our animals are comfortable with one another, you may work with the animals and train independently (walks, ground behavior, horses feeling comfortable with hugs, tying, etc…all FUN training!). SOUL Harbour Ranch Directors and those volunteers who have completed this competence evaluation are the only volunteers who may work with the horses with the permission of SOUL Harbour Ranch.


For those of you that would like to join SOUL Harbour Ranch with your amazing pet, you will need to take and pass the Pet Partners Handler course BEFORE your animals can start visiting with us (the sooner the better since the course provides ALL of the information, such as aptitude and skills tests, that you will need to pass).  Human handlers are welcome to volunteer with us while waiting for your animal to become a proficient therapy animals and pass the Pet Parnters evaluation. Once you and our animal have mastered the skills in the course, then you can schedule a Pet Partners Evaluation online at Once you pass, you and your animal can join the SOUL Harbour Ranch Animal Therapy Program and start visiting with us!  #SOULfamily

Activity and therapy visits will be coordinated through SOUL Harbour Ranch.  Events will be posted through our Volunteer App and through email communication. Volunteers will sign-up for visits and training as their schedule permits. The number of volunteers that are available for each visit as well as the number of people we will visit will determine the number of therapy animals that may attend. It is required that there is at least one registered Pet Partners handler for each registered therapy animal. The miniature therapy horses will be transported in our minivan or trailer. For those of you with your own animals, you will provide your own transportation for your animals.

Prior to activity and therapy visits all therapy animals must be cleaned and well-groomed.  At visits, volunteers will ensure that all visitors are offered and use a hand sanitizer prior to and after each contact with our therapy animals.  This will ensure the safety of both people and horses.

As a handler for SOUL Harbour Ranch Animal Therapy Program visits, you will be a representative of our very professional program. We expect that you will act in a professional manner and be dressed in SOUL Harbour Ranch attire at every visit.  SOUL Harbour Ranch name badges will be provided to volunteers. Once you become a registered therapy team, Pet Partners will provide a name badge.  Also, make sure you wear closed toe and comfortable shoes (getting stepped on by a horse is never fun, even if they are minis!).

A signed release of liability will be required of all volunteers. This requires an explicit understanding of the Equine Activity Liability Act.  This release of liability discusses the inherent risks associated with equine activities and will release SOUL Harbour Ranch of all liability involving training and visits.  Volunteers must be a minimum age of 14, no exceptions.  If a volunteer is under the age of 16, a parent must be present at all times, for both training and visits. For volunteers under the age of 18, a parental consent must also be signed. Each volunteer handler will be required to obtain signed release of liability waivers from all participants of the therapy or activity visits.

Finally, we’d like to thank you once again for your interest in the SOUL Harbour Ranch Animal Therapy Program.  We are proud to be the Barrington area's premier animal therapy program and Chicagoland's only comprehensive animal therapy program with different breeds of animals! We welcome your passion, time and dedication which will make our organization a success. Please watch our social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter) for upcoming volunteer meetings, visits and events, or feel free to CONTACT US!

Phone: 855-408-7685

Jodie Diegel, RN, MBA, Founder/President SHR ATP

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