My Gentle Barn

My Gentle Barn

Bob Kasarda

I read lots of books, mostly non-fiction.

Biographies and autobiographies are among my favorites.

I picked one up recently that grabbed me right away, in large part because I can relate to the writer's perspective and some of her experiences.

The book is "My Gentle Barn" with the subtitle: "Creating a Sanctuary Where Animals Heal and Children Learn to Hope."

Author Ellie Laks describes how she overcame a very difficult childhood and later addiction to found The Gentle Barn animal sanctuary in 1999.

The sanctuary, which has locations in California and Tennessee, rescues and rehabilitates severely abused and neglected farm animals. (Not sure how she narrows down her choices, considering all farm animals are abused and neglected.)

Once the animals are nursed back to health, they help Laks heal at-risk, inner-city and special-needs children.

Laks describes in the book an unusually close connection with animals at a very young age and a world surrounding her that just does not get it. This is one part of her story that was like a punch in the gut for me.

I was the kid who made friends with the neighborhood dog that was feared by others. I have great memories of climbing into that guy's dirty old doghouse on the hottest of summer days only to have him follow me in to spend time together.

I wasn't allowed to have dogs or cats, but I was able to convince my parents to let me have birds and hamsters. My bird Willie would perch on my shoulder and stay there nibbling my ear on occasion while I watched television with the family.

I also had a very spoiled hamster named Hamlet, who would hang out on my shoulder, run throughout the house in his exercise ball and occasionally escape his home in the middle of the night.

When he became sick in the end, I insisted on taking him to the vet and have the sad memory of him turning away from the doctor while on the large metal table and pulling himself toward me when he heard my voice.

An older cousin, who also loves animals, played a big role in getting Hamlet to the vet. She was one of the few people I knew growing up who validated the way I felt about animals.

I am still early on in the book, but I am already very clear on how animals — and I mean all animals, not just dogs, cats and others we choose to call companions — can help to heal wounds both seen and unseen.

I am hoping to visit The Gentle Barn and other animal sanctuaries this year for some much-needed healing of my own.

The opinions are the author's.

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Bob is a 22-year veteran of The Times. He covers county government and courts in Porter County, federal courts, police news and regional issues. He also created the Vegan in the Region blog, is an Indiana University grad and lifelong region resident.