‘Kelly's Kids' Founder Plans to Keep Providing Animal Therapy After Barn Fire

The 60 animals killed in the fire were used for animal therapy for seniors and Connecticut kids, including children whose families have open DCF cases and kids with disabilities.

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The woman behind the nonprofit Kelly’s Kids is considering next steps after a barn fire in Prospect killed dozens of animals Friday.

Beyond that tragic loss, this also impacts hundreds of Connecticut kids who have spent time with those animals doing therapy, including children whose families have open child welfare cases with the state.

It has been three days since Kelly Cronin put most of her farm animals into a barn, on one of the coldest nights of the year. She is still coming to terms with the fire that killed 60 animals inside that barn.

“Sheep, goats, mini horses, mini donkeys, calves, alpacas, turkeys, rabbits,” Cronin said. “We lost everybody.”

Photos of the fire show flames shooting into the sky Friday.

“One of my sons, I’m devastated for him, he, you know, had to dig up all the animals yesterday and bury them. My kids pleaded with me, don't go and look, and I didn't,” Cronin said.

The animals at Kelly’s Kids provide therapy for children in crisis, take part in a Pets After School program, and offer animal therapy to seniors.

“Horsey, come back please!” Lexi Charbonneau said during a visit to the farm Monday. She was one of Kelly’s Kids, joining the after-school program twice a week when she was in middle school.

“She does it for kids with disabilities. So you don't feel like outnumbered or anything, like we all work together, take care of the animals and stuff,” Charbonneau, from Plainville, said.

The 21-year-old now volunteers with the program, and knows firsthand the impact it has on kids and what this loss will mean to them.

“A lot of the kids struggle with change. So it is going to be hard,” Charbonneau said. “It's really sad, like, it's a lot to take in, especially losing that many animals in a matter of seconds."

Since Kelly’s Kids opened back in 2014, Cronin estimates that 700 to 800 kids have benefited from animal therapy through the program.

Many of those children are referred by the Department of Children and Families (DCF), which has a two-decade partnership with Cronin.

DCF said more than 70 kids with cases have received therapy through Kelly’s Kids in the past two years. Right now, six kids with open cases are currently in the program.

“We are definitely in mourning and grieving with her for the loss of not only the animals, but for what that's going to mean for the children who are were serviced in this particular program,” DCF Commissioner Vanessa Dorantes said.

Cronin hosted a group of those kids referred by DCF Monday afternoon, and was prepared to talk to them about the tragedy.

“The conversation will be, you know, straightforward,” she said. “If they ask me how I feel, I'm going to tell them sad, you know, I'm not going to say I'm okay. Because I'm not. And I hope they feel the same that they can tell me that.”

It’s a tough conversation for kids that may have already experienced trauma. Cronin remembers working with one 9-year-old boy in particular.

“We had a goat that had a baby... and the mother was young. So she abandoned the baby,” Cronin said. “I said, ‘You know, the goat’s mom loves them, but just doesn't know how to take care of them right now. And he'll be okay.’”

Cronin used that moment with an animal to help a kid she saw struggling.

“I said to him, ‘You okay?’ And he said, ‘I know exactly how this goat feels, Kelly,’” she recalled. “I said, ‘I know you do.’ And I said, ‘And you will be okay.’”

Moments like that inspire her to rebuild. Cronin said she is not scaling down her programs, and will work with the 20 animals she has left to continue making an impact in kids’ lives.

“DCF called this morning and said, ‘Anything we can do?’ And I said ‘Yes. Give me more kids,’” Cronin said. “That's what we're here for.”

The cause of the fire is still being investigated. Donations have been pouring into the program. More than $112,000 has been donated since Saturday.

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