The Gentle Barn: Have You Ever Hugged A Cow?


Nestled in the hills outside Santa Clarita is a highly unusual animal sanctuary. The six-acre Gentle Barn is dedicated to giving a home to animals too old, infirm, or abused for most other animal sanctuaries -- and to letting the public hug and pet the same animals. Jay Weiner, who runs the Gentle Barn along with Ellie Laks, says the sanctuary typically receives hundreds of visitors when it is open to the public every Sunday from 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. Located just a few minutes off I-5, it's a completely different world.

Anyone can make the drive up to Laks' sanctuary and meet the animals; as Laks told me, "You haven't lived until you have hugged a cow." Apart from cows, visitors to the Barn can interact with animals ranging from potbellied pigs to donkeys to goats to sheep to even a turkey that's gratified by human contact. It's an unusual place with an unusual mission.

During the rest of the week, the Gentle Barn primarily brings in children to visit. This usually includes children with special needs and children from low-income neighborhoods; younger visitors are encouraged to hug and cuddle the friendlier animals there. It's an unusual scene: most of the animals placed at the Barn come from environments where they were neglected or abused. Some of the animals, such as a cow and a pot-bellied pig, were atypical personal pets belonging to hoarders and people who were unaware of the responsibility required. Others, such as a blind cow and several older horses, came from farms where their ultimate fate wouldn't have been roaming around an animal sanctuary.

Laks told KCET that the animal sanctuary started in 1999, when she encountered several animals she claims were being mistreated at a local petting zoo and brought them home with her to a half-acre property in the San Fernando Valley. Since then, the Gentle Barn has grown considerably and has significant corporate sponsorship; Toyota and WME, among others, sponsor portions of the sanctuary.

Those sponsorships from companies and the general public help the sanctuary put on off-site events for the community and hold classes; next up is a Christmas giving event held in conjunction with the LAPD in South Los Angeles. At the event, held on December 23rd, the Gentle Barn will bring a bouncy castle, a visit by Santa Claus, and gifts to children.

As of press time, the Gentle Barn plays host to over 160 animals and hosts hundreds of visitors on a typical Sunday. Sponsorships for individual animals are available as well.

Image via Neal Ungerleider

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