Just over 20 years ago, Ellie Laks founded The Gentle Barn as a refuge and sanctuary for animals who have been rescued from lives of torment, suffering, severe abuse and neglect.
Today, Ellie and her partner Jay Weiner, run three Gentle Barn locations: a six-acre paradise in Santa Clarita, CA, a second location in Nashville, Tennessee, and a third in St Louis, Missouri. Over the years, The Gentle Barn has saved thousands of animals.
And, while their team of volunteers have healed sick and broken-hearted animals, those same animals in turn have helped heal the hearts of the humans who have visited and helped care for them.
Such as the severely abused horse named Whisper who The Gentle Barn helped recover from her PTSD, and then partnered with her to heal teens overcoming trauma. Or the many orphaned animals they have saved, given homes and family and then worked with them to heal the hearts of children in foster care.
Ellie and Jay's goal is to open Gentle Barns in every state so that we all have the opportunity to hug cows, cuddle turkeys, give pigs tummy rubs, and look into the eyes of these animals and see that we are all deserving of the same rights, respects, and freedoms.
We think Ellie is amazing and so we interviewed her! Find out what she has learned about the animals she has given refuge to and what it feels like to hug a cow!
Because Animals: What do you most want people to know about what you have learned about the interior lives of animals — their intellect, their ability to love, how they feel pain, fear and abandonment and then, later, kindness when they are finally safe and happy at The Gentle Barn.
Ellie Laks: I want the world to know that even though we may look different, we are all the same on the inside and whether we look at a human body, dog, cat or a chicken, we are all the same. We all have the same perception, we all have the same feelings of love and best friends, and we all feel scared for the same reasons. We all feel happy and sad sometimes and we all want a good life no matter what species we are. Healing from trauma is the same for a chicken, dog or human. We all need to learn how to forgive, to overcome, and we all strive to believe in ourselves and the world around us.
BA: Many of The Gentle Barn’s animals have been rescued from slaughter and horrific factory farming conditions, such as Forgiveness the cow. Can you tell us about how he found his way to The Gentle Barn? And then a bit about his recovery?
EL: Forgiveness was rescued from the dairy industry. His mom was impregnated so that after she gave birth, she could produce milk for their human consumption because they only wanted the milk and not the baby. Forgiveness was taken away at birth, put into a veal cage so he could not move, and his muscles remained soft. At 8 weeks old Forgiveness was sent to slaughter but by that time he was so sick and could not stand and was offered to The Gentle Barn to take off their hands. It took months and months to heal Forgiveness. He had pneumonia, a skin fungus, a hacking cough and an extremely high temperature. After months of good veterinarian care, energetic healing, love from volunteers and holding in the arms of our staff, he finally recovered and became a part of our family. Forgiveness is now 12 years old, 3000 pounds and 7 feet tall. To keep him mobile and comfortable, we give him regular acupuncture, massage therapy and Sun Chlorella Algae super food. We pray and hope we get to spend many more years with Forgiveness' wisdom and gentleness.
BA: Tell us about The Gentle Barn’s focus on children and having kids visit? Is this all about hope that future generations could possibly have more regard for all life?
EL: Yes. I believe that because we are covering our nature up in concrete, are removed from animals and living in a fast-paced high-tech world we have ultimately lost our connection to ourselves. I believe this epidemic is causing our planets demise, our bodies illness and the suffering of animals everywhere. By bringing future generations out to The Gentle Barn to hug cows, cuddle turkeys, give pigs tummy rubs, and cradle chickens in their arms, they will connect to animals, they will have reverence for Mother Earth, and they will re-connect with the love and empathy with inside each of us. Then, and only then, can we move forward to a gentle world.
BA: While the animal stories on The Gentle Barn’s website have happy endings, the beginnings for these animals are heartbreaking and overwhelming when you think of the change that would have to happen in the world to stop, for example, the horrors of factory farming, what is your advice when feeling overwhelmed by the magnitude of abuse on the animals of the world?
EL: I am cognizant of the problems, but I do not dwell on them, I keep my laser focus on the recovery in the animals, the hope in our children, and the promise for a better world. I surround myself with positive people. I surround myself with inspiration. I allow myself to celebrate victories, and there are many and I meditate for at least 5 minutes each day visualizing the world I want to live in. I see an overgrown forest. I see clean thriving oceans. I see gardens and orchids sustaining us all. I see animals living in harmony and I see people exuding empathy and love to all life. If we can see it and believe in it, we can create it.
BA: What does it mean for an animal if someone sponsors them?
EL: For a nominal donation each month they sponsor an animal and in turn that animal can rely on those funds for his or her care. The Gentle Barn can rely on resources to run our programs and we can count on those funds to allow us to save more animals.
BA: What does it feel like to have a chicken sit on your lap? And what’s a chicken’s favorite spot to be scratched (if they have one!)?
EL: Holding a chicken is like holding a cat in my lap, it is nirvana. Being able to extend a safe place where they feel secure and begin to gain their trust and spending a moment in gentle silence is the greatest thank you that they could ever give me for this work. Under their chins and the backs of their necks is their favorite spot to be scratched.
BA: What does it feel like to hug a cow? Hugging a cow must be VERY satisfying, is it as amazing as it looks?
EL: Hugging a cow is way better than it looks. Putting my face on their soft fur, closing my eyes, and feeling their powerful healing energy, feeling my affections reciprocated; it is the best mom hug ever.
BA: Which animal at The Gentle Barn has the best sense of humor?
EL: I think my goat Braveheart has the best sense of humor! He likes to bonk people and when he does, you can see him laughing. He notices that people are intimidated and that makes him feel powerful but at the same time, he will put his face in the crook of your neck and cuddle for hours, he is such a love.