For the past few years, my sister Heidi and I have made a regular practice of sending each other cute pictures and videos of animals: dogs and cats snuggling, foxes jumping on trampolines, rats sleeping with teddy bears, pigs wearing sweaters. Who knew that owls like to cuddle? Or that hippos enjoy massages? Heidi and I joke about the increasingly large piece of property we’ll need to accommodate all the animals we want. Whenever I come across a video of a cow playing with a ball or a baby elephant taking a bath, I’ll think, “We’re gonna need more land.”
Long before my nephew brought home a baby goat named Orbit to look after for a friend, Heidi and I were swooning over all things hircine. Based on the number of goat videos I come across online, we’re not alone. From baby goats in pajamas and miniature stampedes to Buttermilk Sky and fainting breeds, goats are having a moment. A couple of weeks ago, I said to my sister, “I need to pet some goats!” So she drove me a short distance from her house to visit The Gentle Barn. Located 40 miles north of Los Angeles in Santa Clarita, California, The Gentle Barn is an animal sanctuary housing horses, cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, dogs, sheep and, yes, goats. While there, we also saw a llama, a donkey, and a peacock named Jewel who likes to bed down with the pigs.
We were able to pet several goats, in addition to Addison the donkey, a massive pig named Zeus, and three different breeds of cow, but many of these animals have come from situations of extreme abuse and neglect and can be wary of people. Volunteers on the premises advised us as to which animals were shy about being approached or having their heads touched. Some animals need to be cordoned off from the crowds on visiting days, because they are in the process of being rehabilitated and are still fearful of humans. When you look into the eyes of the animals or pet their soft fur, it’s difficult to imagine that anyone could bear to harm them.
Fortunately, the caring and dedicated staff at The Gentle Barn are there to give them a second chance at a happy life. The well-being of the animals is their top priority, and this extends to the community at large. One of the missions of The Gentle Barn is to teach children empathy through interaction with animals. Their At-Risk Youth program offers young people the opportunity to identify with these animals and benefit from their unconditional love and acceptance in an effort to break the cycle of abuse.
By the time Heidi and I made the rounds of all the animal enclosures (and she nearly had her skirt eaten by a baby cow named Sage), we’d worked up an appetite, so we stopped by The Frankenstand for some veggie dogs. Afterwards, having satisfied both our hunger and our goat quota, we headed home to our own beasts, grateful that we were raised to love and respect animals and fortunate to have had them as cherished family members throughout our lives.
If you want to get your fix of wet noses, wagging tails, soft feathers, and playful grunts, make a “gentle note” to visit this wonderful sanctuary.
The Gentle Barn has locations in California and Tennessee. To assist in its efforts to care for these rescued animals, The Gentle Barn has set up a sponsorship program. You can visit the Virtual Barn on their website to see pictures of the animals and read their stories, then sponsor one for as little as $5 a month. If you live in the area, you can also help by becoming a member or a volunteer.