To the very north of Sorenson Parkway, still in city limits but almost completely hidden in a tangle of back roads, sits 26 acres of heaven—or at least, as close as Joy Bartling will come in her lifetime.
Scatter Joy Acres, located at 4966 Newport Ave., is a lot of things: a petting zoo, an animal-assisted therapy office, a field trip destination, a birthday party venue, a woman’s ministry come to life—and a home to anyone who can make it through the dirt roads.
“Our slogan is ‘a place of rescue, a journey to peace,’” Bartling says. “And besides hearing the occasional fire engine, the peace of living in nature is very prominent.”
Along with an array of colorful hand-painted signs that say things like ‘let’s go on an adventure,’ and ‘adopted is my favorite breed,’ a sniff on the palm and a wag of the fluffy, albeit dusty, tail is how you know you’ve arrived.
“I’ve opened my home to so many people,” Bartling says. “I always say all of this isn’t mine; it’s God’s. Giving someone the opportunity to get a foot underneath them changes my life and theirs.”
Bartling rattles off the people she has helped through her organization as slow sips of morning coffee spark her memory: the drug-addicted woman who tended to a garden every day, the homeless couple who now has a baby, and the young girl whose dying wish was to ride a horse.
While her kitchen is sprinkled with tangible objects like tortoise feed, a collection of coffee mugs with corny sayings, and a large Husky chewing a pillow, the underlying interior design is in the creatures who have dwelled here—those who have tended to the flowers, petted the puppies, and shed their shortcomings. It is the lingering soul of its mission that gives Scatter Joy Acres the look and feel of a true home.
Moving further into the ranch, more animals come into the foreground. Although there are a few main attractions (such as the camels Zebediah and Nyles, Shaka Oscar the ostrich, and Willis the wallaby), all the animals represent the mission of Scatter Joy Acres: unconditional love.
Bartling knows a thing or two about the healing powers of her animal kin. Growing up on a dairy farm, she was the oldest of her siblings and felt most of her affection from animals.
“Animals are non-judgemental,” Bartling says. “If a dog has an accident on the floor, the minute after he’s scolded or after he gets out of timeout, he comes right back and loves you. Even when we have our hurts and pains, we deserve love, and animals are very smart in picking people who are like them—or people who need them.”
An archway of trees embellishes the main walkway as goats, alpacas, peacocks, and one lone turkey relax in their respective pastures. The animals munching on their breakfasts sounds reminiscent of feet on crunchy fall leaves. Other animal friends live in temperature-controlled barns: horses, chickens, pot-belly pigs, rabbits, tortoises, and more.
Reaching a hand into the personal bubbles of these animals will lead to two responses: one, a hope for more food, and two, the quick realization that it’s selfie time. They are keen on human interaction. In fact, Zebediah was a groomsman in a “hump day” wedding in fall 2017. He even wore a bow tie.
“My children are grown now,” Bartling says. “I have grandkids, too. When they come to visit, they run to hug the animals before me.”
The key to this ranch is its joy, but also its scattered, messy truth. Bartling says living on a farm is a 24/7 job, and that work shows. No one coming here expects it to be spotless—for throw pillows to be aligned at a 90-degree angle with the couch cushions, or for rabbit turds to be kept in a neat and orderly row.
It smells. The moisture in the air is half natural humidity, half camel spit. Your shoes will turn 50 shades of brown. A goat or sheep might try to eat your winter beanie right off your head. Yet people keep coming back.
“I love seeing a change in people,” Bartling says. “You can tell when the light bulb comes on, when someone keeps returning, or even beginning to volunteer. Even if I have a crappy day or start feeling lonely during the winter months, if someone says ‘thank you for sharing,’ that’s enough.”
Visit scatterjoyacres.org for more information.
This article was printed in the January/February 2019 edition of OmahaHome. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.