Posted on Nov 26, 2014
By Ellie Laks, Founder of The Gentle Barn
Julia was born to sing. She sang and twirled like a ballerina from the time she could walk, even though she was blind. She had a joy about her that lit up the world. When she was six years old, the big earthquake that shook Los Angeles rocked her world. I guess being blind and helpless traumatized her more than we could imagine. She has not spoken a word since. She also had huge temper tantrums at home and at school, scratching, biting, and kicking anyone nearby.
I met Julia when she was 17 years old when she came to the Gentle Barn with her Special Needs class. The kids were holding the chickens and petting the animals. When I approached Julia with a red hen named Bonnie, the teachers yelled at me to stop. They explained that Julia was not safe for the hen because she was prone to violence. I looked over at Julia and her sweet face. She did not seem like a threat to me and I wanted to give her a chance. The teachers kept advising against it but I insisted on taking the risk in my own hands and they relented.
When I placed Bonnie in Julia’s arms, a smile spread across her dark face like a sunrise. She stroked the chicken for hours, not wanting to put her down. She was gentle and kind the whole time; she treated the hen like a precious china doll. Julia started looking forward to coming to The Gentle Barn and would smile the minute the bus doors opened and she heard the roosters’ crow. In the two years that Julia came to our place, she was never, ever violent or angry at The Gentle Barn. Her teachers were amazed because The Gentle Barn was the only place she was never angry.
We had a turkey named Chloe who we rescued from thanksgiving. Her toes and beak had been cut off with a hot blade and she was filthy dirty. When she came in, she was very angry. We thought that she would hate people her whole life. However, to our surprise after four weeks of being at The Gentle Barn, she climbed into our laps and fell asleep. She was our hero and a role model of forgiveness to the kids we worked with.
One day we had a booth at a fair and we took Chloe with us. Throughout the years we had Chloe, she had done many fairs with us. Chloe sat quietly on the grass as we set up our tables and tents. When the kids arrived, she did her job of allowing them to pet her and hold her. We were situated about 50 yards from the stage which was also being set up this whole time. The music started playing and all of a sudden Chloe sprang to her feet and started running towards the musicians. She stood right in front of the band and started swaying back and forth to the music. We had people at our booth, she was supposed to be working with the children, so I ushered her back to our area. But the minute I turned my back on her, she ran back to the stage. This continued a couple more times until I finally gave up. I sat in the front row and watched my turkey dance and sway, with her eyes closed, almost in a trance. There were lots of people dancing around her and she just joined in. We stayed there like that for three hours until lunch when the band took a break. The minute the music stopped, Chloe opened her eyes, and walked back to work at the booth. After that day seeing how important music was to Chloe, we had a radio set up in the barn. From then on, where the radio was, was where you could find Chloe, eyes half closed, swaying to the rhythm.
With their shared love of music and past traumas, I thought that Chloe and Julia would be perfect for each other and that the interaction might help Julia talk again. So, I started sitting with Julia while holding Chloe. I told Julia that Chloe loved music so it was important that we sing to her. I would sing softly while Julia pet Chloe. Every time Julia came to the barn we repeated this process until one day Julia hummed along. It was under her breath, almost inaudible, but there just the same.
Over the next several months, Julia hummed louder and louder until one day she was fully singing by my side while we both stroked Chloe. Eventually singing turned into talking. Julia seemed like a different child from the silent, sad, closed off and shut down, angry teen I had met two years earlier. She had a permanent smile on her face now. She was warm and open, said hello and goodbye, and hugged the cows and walked the horses with confidence and pride. By the time she graduated high school, she was fully vocal, talking like anyone else. A turkey who loved music helped a girl find her voice.
The “real” world sees animals as things we can eat, wear, use, and throw away when we don’t want them anymore. But at The Gentle Barn, we see animals as healers, teachers, and ambassadors who are here to love us. We work so hard every day to create a gentler world where more animals can find their song, dance their dance, shine their light and be the ambassadors they have come to be. Thank you for making kinder choices so we can have that kinder world soon!