Photos by Lindsey Sullivan
Big Heart Ranch, a Malibu local community wellness center and animal rescue sanctuary, is still recovering from this past November’s Woolsey Fire.
The ranch, like many members of the Malibu community, experienced significant damages because of the fire. Pepperdine student volunteers joined with Big Heart’s Community Relations Volunteer Denise Degarmo to restore the losses.
“The propane exploded, and everything was set in flames [during Woolsey],” Degarmo said. “Not only did we lose structures, but we lost electricity, drainage… Now we are in the process of rebuilding.”
During the evacuation, members of the ranch had approximately 15 minutes to secure themselves and all of the animals from the fire, Degarmo said.
“We had no transport and one neighbor came with a four-horse trailer,” Degarmo said. “We managed to get the big animals in there, put chickens and ducks in trucks, pigs in someone’s car, and we got them all down to Zuma Beach.”
The ranch hosted residents of Pepperdine’s Lovernich Apartments and other members of the community for Step Forward Day to assist with the repairing process.
Junior Aracelli Chang said those who attended helped build and stain furniture for the ranch, cared for the animals and cleaned the ranch grounds.
“Throughout our time there, we were surrounded by wonderful staff that clearly love their job,” junior Taylor Mathews said. “They were excited to share it with others which made it all the more enjoyable and instigated an enthusiastic willingness to get hands on, and even a little dirty.”
Local businesses offered donations for volunteers at Step Forward Day, with meals provided by Lily’s Malibu and Whole Foods, water from Ralph’s and coffee from Starbucks.
“As someone who has grown up in Malibu, I can definitely attest that Big Heart Ranch has its place in the community,” Mathews said. “It was amazing to see other volunteers from the area show up. Even Lily Castro herself, of Lily’s Malibu, came to the ranch to donate food and help out. If a stamp of approval from Lily doesn’t solidify your place in the Malibu community, I don’t know what would.”
With the generosity of various organizations like the Malibu Foundation, Lifesavers Wild Horse Rescue, Sustainable Solutions and others, Big Heart Ranch has made strides to recovery, Degarmo said.
“When disaster hits, these corporations open their doors,” Degarmo said. “This community opened their hearts.”
The horse stable at Big Heart, where rescue horses are free to roam and play.
Big Heart Ranch has been home to hundreds of farm animals since 2006, and now cares for 77 animals including horses, donkeys, chickens, bunnies, goats, pigs, alpacas and deer.
The intention behind Big Heart is “to provide a safe, supportive, and empowering space for people to disconnect from the unnatural world and reconnect to their natural wisdom,” so that people may “learn to live in harmony with nature and each another,” according to their website.
Goats welcome new guests into their home.
By providing love and care for the animals they rescue, Big Heart is able to offer animal therapy sessions for underserved families alongside other members of the Malibu community.
“Every animal is a rescue that is here,” Degarmo said. “Every one of them has overcome incredible hardship, in their own right. That is why I think that they provide so much healing for people. I think there is inherent in the animals, an ability to feel where the person is.”
Kevin the rooster posing inside the ranch’s chicken coop.
The ranch offers many different types of trauma healing and wellness sessions for both individuals and groups. Among the many different community members that have benefited from the programs offered, Big Heart has most recently provided sessions for victims of domestic abuse, children from foster homes, those rehabilitating from drug and alcohol abuse and parents who have lost children.
Degarmo extends a kiss to Tenny, a blind horse who provides therapy for war veterans.
“Animals create a safe space, the earth creates a safe space,” Degarmo said. “I think Big Heart Ranch is such a magical gift to the community. I want everyone to know about it.”
The ranch also offers nature-based therapy, including an herbal healing garden and meditation sessions.
Big Heart’s herbal healing garden provides a therapeutic space for exploring the five senses.
“That’s where the healing starts,” Degarmo said. “You can’t think yourself into not being sad, into forgiveness, into wellness. So working with soil, plants, horses, goats, chickens, it is all an experience. I think the inherent part of this work and why it is so powerful is that it is experiential.”
To get connected with Big Heart Ranch, visit their website at bigheartranch.com.
Email Lindsey Sullivan: Lindsey.email@example.com