Ellie Laks has rescued animals for as long as she remembers—ducks trapped in ice, turtles with broken shells, birds fallen out of their nests. When she was 7 years old, she told her parents that when she grew up she would have “a huge place full of animals, and I will show the world how beautiful they are.”
Santa Clarita, California-based The Gentle Barn is the last resort for unwanted farm animals (there are 170 now), which it nurtures for the rest of their lives. This “healing property” of 15 acres is where animals are socialized. A smaller, 5.5- acre farm is where at-risk, sick or recovering kids come to help take care of animals, healing themselves in the process.
“If an animal is too old, too sick, too lame or too scared to be adoptable, the other rescues don’t take them in and the animal shelter puts them down. The Gentle Barn brings them here to let them walk again, run again, trust again, love again,” Ellie says.
The Gentle Barn also hosts children who have experienced trauma, prison, drug addiction or illness—or are simply too “shut down” to communicate. They do simple chores like brushing a horse, feeding the chickens or taking a dog for a hike in the woods.
“Watching these animals come in more dead than alive.…All of a sudden there is hope in their eyes and they are running around in joy again,” Ellie says. “I live for it. And it’s the same for the kids. They come in thinking there’s something wrong with them and, little by little, the animals fill them up and they realize they have value, and maybe they can live their dreams. I get to watch miracles every single day.”
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