The Gentle Barn celebrated 20 years of rescuing, rehabilitating and providing sanctuary to animals and children under the stars on Saturday.
Gentle Barn founders, Ellie Laks and Jay Weiner, wanted to create an elegant evening, yet still be surrounded by the animals that made their dreams possible, reminding guests why an anniversary such as this one is so important, and that’s exactly what they accomplished.
Though Laks had always dreamed of starting the Gentle Barn since she was a little girl, it was a goat she named Mary that she had rescued from a petting zoo that kick-started her dream into reality.
“The veterinarian came out and helped me heal her, and a few months later, she was bouncing around the backyard as happy as can be,” Laks said. “It was the greatest feeling I’d ever had in my life … But it was Mary that finally enabled me to start my dream and let me be who I’m supposed to be.”
Laks returned to the petting zoo, bringing animals home with her until her little half-acre backyard was full — that was 20 years ago.
Since then, Laks moved the Gentle Barn to a five-acre property in the Santa Clarita Valley with the help of her now-husband Jay Weiner, who came in as a volunteer.
“The thing that drew me in was how she saw animals and how people see them so differently,” Weiner said. “She almost sees them like she’s one of them … Looking at things from the animals’ perspective isn’t something that Ellie does intentionally, it’s something that just happens to her … It just resonated with me.”
Laks’ goal was to show the world how beautiful animals are, and Weiner was able to help her do that on the business side of things. “He allowed the organization to start raising its own money and growing slowly,” Laks said.
Now, the Gentle Barn has grown to three locations across the country and hopes to continue expanding.
During the 20th anniversary celebration, the lower barnyard was transformed into a beautiful gala setting, adorned with twinkling lights on the hills and trees, where guests were not only able to enjoy a plant-based dinner, but also say hello to the pigs, goats, horses and donkey, and even feed the cows.
The evening’s program was hosted by comedian Whitney Cummings, complete with celebrity entertainment and a special awards ceremony.
During the ceremony, the Gentle Barn unveiled the Lucy Award, in memory of Lucy the cow, who not only touched the lives of countless children who visited her, but also of her fellow animals, including orphaned calf, Ferdinand the Bull.
The inaugural award was presented to Jan Tanner from Kirkland, Washington, who has been visiting the barn with her son Ian since 2015.
Tanner’s son was diagnosed with autism at a young age, and on his first visit to the Gentle Barn, he fell in love with Buttercup the cow. Tanner decided then that she would return every month so that Ian could visit the cow, and since then, has said that Buttercup changed her son’s life.
“We were truly blessed to have known and been loved by Buttercup,” Tanner said. “She was really magical and touched so many lives. I’m forever grateful for the impact she made with Ian. They had a beautiful bond and connection.”
The Gentle Barn is located at 15825 Sierra Highway, and is open to the public 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sundays. For more information, visit https://www.gentlebarn.org/california/ or call 661-252-2440.