Animals Inspire Healing

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Hope was not whispered on Saturday. Hope was shouted at a place where children and adults with challenges can experience the outdoors and bond with animals who also have special needs.

Whispering Hope Ranch was the dream of Diane T. Reid more than 10 years ago.

"I met Diane when it was still a dream," said Connie Edwards of the stranger who approached her and her 9-year-old daughter. "I think it was because Steffi was in a wheelchair," she said. Steffi has cerebral palsy.

"Diane asked me what I thought of a ranch where children could come and interact with animals who also needed special care," Edwards continued. "I thought she had a fantastic idea and that she had to be kidding. What a job she has done. It is still hard to believe we are here."

"I love it!" said Steffi. "I can relate to all the animals." She loves being able to see and touch them.

"Every time she comes up, she writes in her journal about her favorite animals," Edwards said.

"Tony the llama likes to kiss, and he has terrible breath," Steffi said. "If you ever see a little black bunny, he's a good friend of mine."

Steffi said the ranch is "a slice of heaven." It offers a boost to her self-esteem and healing.

She can now walk with a cane and some assistance.

Next to the cabin where the Edwards family spent a few summer nights over the years. Dormitory cabins like Cardinal Casa, Owl Aerie and Raven Roost can accommodate 126 people per week, including the children, therapists and counselors.

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Former Phoenix Suns player Connie Hawkins attended the Whispering Hope Ranch Foundation grand opening.

For volunteers and their charges, blue-feathered birds are a common sight flying across the widely paved paths.

P.J. Hidde brought a feral cat to the ranch. Rainbow was accepted and Hidde and her husband Jack became volunteers. She gave tours every Tuesday for six years.

Children and volunteers are placed together one-on-one, while parents get some time for themselves.

P.J. recalls a little boy who came to the ranch who had been sexually abused and wouldn't speak.

He was lost inside and didn't trust anybody, she said.

"I think the warmth and motion of the animals helped... maybe the fact that the animal did not speak back helped him," she said. "After three visits, he began to talk to the animals and then to us."

Being a tour guide was not P.J.'s first job -- mucking out the horse stalls was.

She was afraid of the horses, so she would pretend they were not there, looking over her shoulder. Then one friendly horse took off her hat and ran.

"You have to really get to know the animals," she laughed. "After Taurie came back with my hat, we played peek-a-boo around the corner of the barn."

Last September, Payson's Habitat for Humanity built horse and emu shelters.

With the year-long remodel of the facility complete, the animals have their own habitats and are not just running free on the ranch.

A few of the phase-one expansions are:

The Virginia G. Piper Wellness and Retreat center where medical personnel accompanying children to camp can attend to the children's medical needs;

A fully enclosed therapeutic riding arena made possible by the Geneva Fund and Dorrance Family Foundation;

The Wells Fargo sport court, field and volleyball court.

When Reid first saw the property she said she knew what it should be.

The name came from a song I remembered from my childhood about hope and all of the things that could happen if you just believed, she said.

"I am so filled with gratitude, I can't express it," said Reid, who is founder and vice president of operations on the executive committee for the Whispering Hope Ranch Foundation. Their website is www.whisperinghoperanch.org.

"To take a dream and make it happen like this is commendable," said visitor John Walsh. "It is the most amazing thing I've ever seen."

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