Posted on Oct 09, 2014
By Ellie Laks, Founder of The Gentle Barn
Aretha knew that they were raising her to be eaten. When we loaded her up into the trailer to take her home, the man said, “She is going to be delicious!” Her whole life she had been seen as a slab of meat and not the beautiful being that she is. When she arrived at The Gentle Barn, she was terrified: wild eyed, snorting heavily through her nose, and running as far away from us as she could.
We spent months telling Aretha that she is now part of our family and that we would never harm her, that one day we would scratch her back, brush her and hug her, and show her all our love. She started calming down but was always on guard, not really believing us.
After being here for about six months, Aretha started letting visitors pet her, but only on Sundays and only one adult at a time. That was a start and we felt hopeful. During the week, she still evaded anyone’s touch and would not allow us to put her fly mask on. We kept talking to her, however, visualizing our petting her and loving her one day.
After about ten months of being here, Aretha decided that she wanted to be pet and walked into the middle of my tour one day and asking to be pet. I was so relieved that I cried, so thankful that she finally decided to trust us and chose to be with us. We brushed and scratched her as she stood relaxed and unafraid. From then on, Aretha chose to be with people, on Sundays and during the week, with children and adults.
Before coming to The Gentle Barn, Aretha had no name and was referred to as number 5, the number on her ear tag. When we save animals from slaughter, it is always our goal to remove their ear tags as soon as possible so there is no trace of their past abuse. The animals need to stand perfectly still while we remove the tag. If we remove the tag too early, the animal does not trust us yet, and we have to force them to stand still, we will lose all the trust we earned. If we wait long enough for them to organically stand still, then we can take the tag out and keep their trust. So, even though seeing her tag and being reminded of her past was uncomfortable for all of us and we were so anxious to remove it, we chose to wait until she was ready.
Last Sunday, after Aretha had been here for a year, I watched as Aretha stood still, with a smile on her face, as three adults and two children surrounded her giving her kisses, hugs, and brushing her. She seemed to not have a care in the world and was not worried about what might happen to her - she trusted! I walked up to her slowly and pet her and pet her head and ears and she did not move or mind. Tears welled up in my eyes as I looked at my husband Jay and said, “She is ready!” We both smiled, teary eyed.
I spent a week telling Aretha what would happen, preparing her, and then on the following Sunday with our beloved volunteers and staff around her, we gently, easily, and quietly took her number 5 tag out of her ear. Aretha was free: free of her past, free of pain, free of fear, and now knows once and for all that she will only be family to us for the rest of her life. There is no evidence of Aretha’s life before she came to us, it is not on her body and it no longer lives in her heart.
This is the very moment that we live for, that we work for, that fills our hearts with hope and elation - the transformation from fear to trust, from pain to joy, from being alone to being a part of a family and a home. We wish this moment for all animals! We work tirelessly for the day where all animals will be respected, loved, and the world will be free of slavery, of violence, and of suffering for all beings everywhere!
Written by Ellie Laks
Founder, The Gentle Barn