A local ranch is opening its doors to those on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dreamcatcher Nature-Assisted Therapy in Ardrossan has been operating at their location on Range Road 213 since 2003.
"We are a team of psychologists and social workers who work with lots of different mediums to help people who typically have trouble getting help in traditional methods," explained psychologist Eileen Bona, who is also the owner and founder of the ranch. "One of the mediums that we use to help people is working with animals in a natural setting."
The 40-acre property houses around 40 animals which have been either rescued or donated; this includes chickens, one bunny, one cat, five horses, two donkeys, seven goats and three sheep. Bona added that these animals are "co-counselors" in the work that they do at the ranch.
At the start of the pandemic, in March of 2020, Bona decided to open her property to the public so people could get out of the house safely and see her animals over the fence.
In August, Dreamcatcher received a $20,000 grant from the government to be able to continue this volunteer service. However, with tougher restrictions being implemented in December, Bona realized there was an even greater need – especially for front-line workers, such as first responders and caregivers.
"I can see the toll that it's taking on their mental health and on their physical health, their health in general," she explained. "So, I decided to open on Fridays for them to come, again, at no charge."
Through this, the Rejuvenation Program was born. Front-line workers are not only allowed on the land but are also able to go in and interact with the animals for a more healing experience.
"The response is completely overwhelming and heartwarming and sad," said Bona. "They are desperate. They're telling us their personal stories and they're telling us how important this is for them... They're feeling appreciated and valued and recognized."
Bona added that all they want is to provide a safe space for these workers to connect to and let their grief go, even if just for one hour.
"There's a neurochemical shift that happens for people when they are with animals and/or in nature: it really helps with their ability to focus and concentrate; it decreases their cortisol, which is a stress hormone; it increases their endorphins, which are the 'happy pill' in the brain, and helps them to feel better and to decompress naturally."
More details on the ranch and the Rejuvenation Program, which runs every Friday, can be found here.
COVID-19 precautions, such as sanitizing and capacity limits, are in place.