Watch CBS News

How a California rescue farm is helping animals and humans heal from trauma

Inside The Gentle Barn
The Gentle Barn: Where animal rescue meets human therapy 07:25

The Gentle Barn, a rescue facility located about 40 miles north of Los Angeles, offers unique treatments and therapies to help animals overcome trauma. These animals, in turn, provide unexpected healing to humans.

Deep in the mountains, The Gentle Barn is a place of profound healing. Founder Ellie Laks, who calls herself an "animal communicator," said animals saved her from depression. In turn, she has dedicated her life to returning the favor.

Most animals that arrive at The Gentle Barn fearing for their lives. They have never experienced human kindness. But music and sound therapists help the animals relax and heal.

Acupuncture is one of the therapies used at The Gentle Barn. Laks has seen animals with torn ACLs, bad hips, and severe arthritis improve significantly with this treatment. Along with standard veterinary care, the animals also receive holding and massage therapies.

"Every single week, they blossom. They heal. We can see it in front of our eyes," says Laks.

Each animal at The Gentle Barn has a story of survival and resilience. For example, turkeys that were supposed to end up on dinner plates now cuddle with people and show affection.

Visitors of all ages come to The Gentle Barn seeking comfort from emotional scars. The animals help inspire people to push on.

One notable resident is John Lewis Thunderbolt, a cow born in a slaughterhouse and saved by Laks, who even created a comfy space in her living room to care for him when he was sick with pneumonia.

"I moved downstairs to the living room and I ate with him, slept with him," Laks said. "I literally became his mom."

Laks said that many of the animals are genetically engineered to grow to large sizes and are killed when they are young, but they are given a new lease on life at The Gentle Barn. Here, they are rehabilitated and even help humans through what Laks calls "cow hug therapy." 

"I think that when we put our faces against the cows it mimics being an infant with a caregiver. We feel vulnerable and small. We feel protected and loved, it's magical," said Laks.

Hailey Bonus is one visitor hoping cow hugs can help her navigate unimaginable grief. Last year, her 4-month-old son, Wyatt, passed away during a nap. Traditional therapy has provided some relief, but she finds the warmth of cow hugs incredibly powerful. Just last week, Bonus gave birth to a baby girl.

"This experience goes a long way, so powerful," said Bonus.

Research indicates that hugs can lower blood pressure and soften feelings of anger and loneliness. Bonus said that healing occurred during her cow hug — without her even consciously considering it.

Laks has witnessed countless lives changed at The Gentle Barn. She understands some people might be skeptical about cow hug therapy but invites them to visit and experience the connection with the animals for themselves.

"When you feel that connection with those cows, it does something," said Laks. 

Bird flu has been detected in some dairy farms across nine states, but it has not been found in California. The Department of Agriculture and the FDA continue to monitor the situation. The cows at The Gentle Barn are all healthy, according to Laks. 

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.