The Gentle Barn was Ellie Laks’ dream since she was 7 years old. That’s when she started bringing home animals that were injured, hungry or lost—only to have her parents send them away. “I vowed to have a huge place full of animals where we could show the world how beautiful the animals were and the animals could show the people how beautiful they were,” she says. “It took me a while to create The Gentle Barn, but my dream finally came true 14 years ago.
“The Gentle Barn is a place where animals and people alike can go to be reminded that they matter. Anyone who knows what it feels like to be uncomfortable in their own skin can get unconditional love at the barn and be inspired by the animals that we are all perfect exactly how we are. There is always hope, there is always strength and there is always someone out there who will love you!”
The nonprofit located in Santa Clarita rescues, rehabilitates and gives sanctuary to abused farm animals and is open to the public on Sundays. We spoke to one of its interns, Kyle DiFulvio, an out psychology student with an emphasis on animal-assisted therapy—who happens to come from a family of hunters.
What is The Gentle Barn's goal for the animals it rescues, and for those who visit?
To rescue, to rehabilitate, to facilitate connection between human and non-human, to celebrate life, to teach compassion and empathy and more. The Gentle Barn rescues animals that are the most neglected and abused, ones that nobody else would be interested in saving. The animals that come here are often on their last leg, so to speak. I bet most people would just euthanize them, they are that bad off. But with a little kindness, love, therapy, proper diet, supplements, treatments and medications, these animals can thrive and regain quality of life. They heal their bodies and their souls. For the first time in many of their lives, they are able to experience what life is supposed to be all about—being free, alive and content. And when you share their stories with the public and bring in groups of at-risk youth who have experienced essentially the same, these people see how resilient, beautiful and strong animals are and the two then create a commonality, a vulnerability—a bond is created—and empathy and understanding flourishes. The Gentle Barn helps you find that kind place that’s still left in all of our hearts and minds. It’s still there; we all have to just find it again. The Gentle Barn’s goal, outside of compassion and care for animals, is to help people find and reveal this.
What does your internship entail?
The owners have a larger property up the road from The Gentle Barn called the Sun Chlorella Healing Center. This is where I’ve always worked. It’s where some of the sickliest and most traumatized animals reside. They’re brought here for rehabilitation, extra love and special care. There’s nothing that’s out of reach for these animals. They receive some of the best treatment of any animal I’ve seen.
What are your responsibilities?
I often help maintain the pens and pastures by cleaning up the muck. I also brush the animals, feed them and give them treats and love. I socialize the animals as much as possible through constant, calm interaction with them. I have earned their trust—something they lost after being abused and traumatized by people—simply by being silent, still and respectful toward them. I also play with them, I talk to them, I even sing to them.
What is it about the organization that drew you in?
When you have a child interact with an animal, it can change his or her life. For any survivor of trauma who’s lost all trust in humans, when you have them interact with an animal that also has very little trust left for humans, it can and will be life-changing for both parties. Vulnerability creates strength and bonds us. A child may not be responding well to conventional therapy due to fear of vulnerability with an adult psychologist. Have that child interact with an animal who’s experiencing the same fear and something beautiful can happen.