A Rescued Calf and His Human Mom: A Heartwarming Check-In With The Gentle Barn

First day of the baby's arrival

We originally spoke to Ellie Laks, founder of The Gentle Barn, in February and we thought it was time to check in again to see how The Gentle Barn, a refuge and sanctuary for animals who have been rescued from lives of suffering, severe abuse and neglect, has been coping during the pandemic.

And, we wanted to get an update on the adorable orphaned calf, one of their latest rescues, John Lewis Thunderheart.

At the end of July, The Gentle Barn received a call about a mother cow who had given birth on the slaughterhouse floor. The mother didn't survive, but thankfully, they were able to bring the baby to The Gentle Barn.

The baby had a host of health concerns including pneumonia. A short time after his arrival, struggling with a fever in the heat of the summer, Ellie, and her partner Jay Weiner, brought him to their house. There, he was able to rest at a more comfortable temperature. And they never left his side, sleeping near him and feeding him bottles all day along with his antibiotics. 

Ellie founded The Gentle Barn twenty years ago and since that time, at the now three locations, thousands of animals have been saved. 

Best friends John Lewis and Sky having a snuggle

Q: First off, and most importantly, how is John Lewis Thunderheart doing? 

Ellie: John Lewis is doing great. This is his first day off of medications and so far, so good. He is actually breathing better today than he has in a while, has a great appetite, and of course, he is still racing around with his pal Sky! (Check out The Gentle Barn’s Instagram account for videos of John Lewis and Sky that will make your heart sing). UPDATE: On August 27 The Gentle Barn posted that John Lewis have been granted a perfect bill of health!)

Q: What current treatments, both medical and social, are you guys giving him?

Ellie: Up until today, he was on antibiotics and anti-inflammatory meds for three weeks and we are hoping for progress and no backslides. We are with him 24/7 so he knows he is loved and has something to live for.

Q: Do you think he knows he is safe? And is he happy?

Ellie: He is very happy and very affectionate, and the minute he wakes up, he comes and gets me up by licking my face. He is constantly seeking me out for scratches, rubs and cuddles, and when I get a really good itch-spot he even nibbles back at me. During the heat of the day he rests in the air conditioning in our house, but early in the morning and at sunset, I take him out to play when it is cooler and he races around and around with our dog Sky and us, picking up his heels, jumping in the air, making happy baby play sounds, and we literally see the smile on his face. He is a very happy boy!

Q: Tell me about the bond that a calf or cow and a human can form.

Ellie: So, I have been with him for 3 solid weeks, day and night, I haven't left his side and we have the same bond any mom and baby would have. When there is a sound outside that frightens him, he runs to me for protection, he prefers to lay next to me than away from me, his ears perk up the minute he hears my voice, and there is nothing I wouldn't do for him.

Q: You mentioned in a recent post that you’ve been busier than ever during the pandemic, why is that? 

Ellie: Because more animals are going to slaughter pregnant and we are being called to rescue babies being born in the slaughterhouse more than ever before, and because of COVID, we have less volunteers than ever before; so the work, caring for 200 animals, in 3 locations and making sure the animals get all the nurturing they are accustomed to falls on our shoulders and now with an orphaned baby there is even more to do.

Q: Is there another recent rescue you would like to tell us about?

Ellie: Yes, Fern! While I am in the living room with John Lewis, the background music that plays throughout our day is the gentle cooing of our rescued pigeon in the kitchen. Apparently, someone shot him when he was younger and he cannot fly like normal pigeons, so when we saw him trying to walk across a 4-lane highway, we brought him home to The Gentle Barn to live in the safety of our house. Fern is quite the character, always yelling at our appliances, knocking things off the counters, but we love him and he keeps us all laughing.

Q: Has the pandemic made fundraising more difficult?

Ellie: Well, yes, only because normally we have thousands of visitors a month that come to see us and bring with them donations, but because we are closed for in-person visits, we haven't been able to rely on those donations. Also, there are people who have lost their jobs and can no longer support us, but thankfully there are still people that can support us. We have developed a whole list of online events, so that people can still visit us virtually along with our Gentle Drive-Thru, a COVID-safe experience happening in all three locations and our staff are working very, very hard to raise money to keep the funds coming in and to keep our doors open during this pandemic.

Q: What kind of donation would help The Gentle Barn right now?

Ellie: We are grateful for anything and everything, whether it is to sponsor an animal or a nominal donation each month, donating for hay each month or coming to our Gentle Drive-Thru, booking a Virtual Field Trip or Gentle Hack, or just making a large donation through our website. We are grateful for the support especially in these times.