Actress Alicia Silverstone and her son Bear enjoy a tender moment with a turkey during The Gentle Barn's 20th anniversary. Matt Fernandez/The Signal

The Gentle Barn celebrates 20 years of animal love

The Gentle Barn kicked off the celebration of its 20-year anniversary Sunday with music and an appearance by actress Alicia Silverstone.

Live bluegrass music filled the air as patrons, including Silverstone and her son Bear, came to enjoy a day with the 100 animals at the Santa Clarita branch of The Gentle Barn. Silverstone, a vocal vegan and active animal rights champion, best known for her roles in “The Crush,” “Clueless” and as Batgirl in “Batman and Robin,” has been an avid supporter of The Gentle Barn since their first year of operation, when founder Ellie Laks operated out of her backyard in Tarzana.

“I’ve been an animal lover since I was little and I had my 25th birthday at The Gentle Barn,” Silverstone said. “People don’t grow up seeing cows and pigs, so The Gentle Barn does a really good job of having people interact with these animals so maybe they’ll think about how they eat differently. Fifty-one percent of climate change is caused because of animal agriculture and what’s happening in the Amazon right now is due to cattle ranching.”

Since Laks started The Gentle Barn by rescuing neglected petting zoo animals, it has grown into a national organization with about 200 animals across its Tennessee and Missouri branches and plans for a new location in New York. 

“Ever since I was 7, I would tell everyone my dream was to have a huge place full of animals and I would show the world how beautiful they are,” Laks said. 

Outside of rescuing animals and inviting the public to meet the animals at their facilities, The Gentle Barn also operates as a therapy organization for troubled youth who have not responded well to other forms of therapy.

“In a lot of people who struggle with physical ailments or emotional trauma, we tend to think we’re the only ones and carry that like a secret, but when those people hear the stories of the animals they realize that they’re not alone,” Laks said. “Seeing the recovery in the animals helps people be inspired for their own recovery. People are partnered with animals that love them unconditionally and bring out the love inside themselves.”

Catie Wiggy, vice president of product innovation and marketing for MyChelle Dermaceuticals and Crystal Deodorant, the anniversary’s sponsors, said that the companies chose to sponsor The Gentle Barn due to its commitment to sustainability and positive action.

“With The Gentle Barn we see action every day,” Wiggy said, “When we heard about how they help both animals and humans we knew we had to get involved, and we are happy to help celebrate their anniversary and sponsor their programs.”

Dennis Carlos visited The Gentle Barn for the first time Sunday and said he was inspired by the work that the organization does and was impressed by the 20-year milestone.

“The Gentle Barn isn’t only good for animals, it’s good for people,” Carlos said. “It’s an awesome combination of humans and animals that leads to the two healing each other. I hope I can see more places like this open up and I’d love to come back and bring other people.”

Looking to the next 20 years, Laks said she wants to expand internationally and to also create movies, television and other media that will promote a healthy vegan lifestyle and ecological responsibility.

“Sometimes I have to pinch myself as a reminder that this isn’t a dream and I never would have imagined that the things I started out of my backyard would be this big and I’m just getting started,” Laks said. “Helping the animals and the children is like watching a miracle every single day. I want the legacy of The Gentle Barn to be love.”

The Gentle Barn will hold an official 20th anniversary celebration on Sept. 28 featuring actress and comedian Whitney Cummings. For more information visit gentlebarncelebrate.org.

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