Posted on Feb 04, 2016
By Ellie Laks, Founder of The Gentle Barn
My first visit to The Gentle Barn was about a year ago after a move to California from Minneapolis, Minnesota. I had been vegan for a number of years and like many others, was a huge fan of The Gentle Barn on Facebook. It wasn’t until I was able to visit, however, that I saw the true impact The Gentle Barn would have on me. Throughout that entire first visit, my eyes were constantly filled with tears….whether it was the first time I was able to experience a cow letting me throw my arms around her and press my face against her soft fur, or when a sweet little chicken named Norma Jean fell fast asleep in my arms, it was an absolutely unforgettable day and one of the best of my life. Seeing the animals all so safe and full of joy made me happier than I ever could have imagined. I knew I needed to spend as much time as possible in my newly discovered happy place, so I filled out a volunteer application right on the spot. After hearing Ellie’s presentation, I stumbled through my tears to go up and thank her and tell her my story. As I handed in my application, she gave me the most incredible hug and told me to never change. I will always be grateful to Ellie for that day and her amazing ability to make people feel loved and special - she truly is an amazing woman.
Almost a year later I am happy to report that I have my own special cow, Athena, and have gained multiple unbelievable experiences, a barnyard full of friends (both human and animals alike), and an embarrassing amount of cow selfies on my phone. As all volunteers start out, I tried a few different spots throughout the barn before finding my absolute love and place of happiness and calm with the cows. I can’t explain it, but something about being with those gentle giants each Sunday heals my heart in a way that I never thought possible -- each of the cow’s unique, charming personalities make me fall in love with them over and over again every Sunday. In general, I have to also say that all of the different animals throughout the barn have impressed me with their intelligence, compassion and their capacity for forgiveness. In most cases, the animals at The Gentle Barn have been rescued from absolute unimaginable situations….yet they always come running to greet each visitor with love. We truly have so much to learn from animals.
I leave The Gentle Barn each week feeling inspired as at least one or two volunteers always share a story from their experience with the animals or visitors that day that leaves me speechless – a constant reminder that The Gentle Barn is making a difference in not just the lives of the animals, but also the lives of the guests and volunteers. Most recently my inspiration has come from Athena, my new found love of the cows at the main property. I was so honored when Ellie asked me to be her person and I feel so blessed to be able to spend time with her and see the amazing progress she makes with each new week. Her bravery inspires me and seeing her literally jump for joy while playing with her new friend Aretha is just about the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. Recently she let me kiss her adorable nose and I just about melted right then and there into the ground –my heart is full thanks to beautiful Athena.
There is no better way in my opinion to spread the message of love and compassion towards all beings than by what The Gentle Barn is doing. Every Sunday, Ellie, Jay and Michelle give me the opportunity to spread their message and I am so thankful to be given that power. As a vegan engineer with a passion for animals, I have struggled over the years to find a way to align my career with my passions, so volunteering with The Gentle Barn has been an amazing way to fill that void and use my free time to make a difference. In the short time I have been at The Gentle Barn, I have seen on numerous occasions people break into tears as they lay on Buttercup’s soft fur and she gives them kisses on their hands and warms their hearts. I’ve also seen many people laugh as Aretha persistently begs for back scratches as they make the connection that the cows are just like the pets they have at home and just like us, they want to be happy and free.
It can be so easy to feel helpless sometimes when you think about the vast number of animals that are suffering and killed each day for food…but for the first time in a long time, I have hope and I hope that after reading this and learning about The Gentle Barn, you do too. The Gentle Barn has given me hope that by showing people how amazing these animals are in a gentle, compassionate way, we can truly change the world. There is no doubt in my mind that the work that is done at The Gentle Barn has not only touched the lives of the animals that they have rescued, but has also saved the lives of 1000’s, if not more, other animals that were not eaten by people who chose to switch to a plant-based diet after their experience at The Gentle Barn. The other volunteers and the staff have already become like a family to me and I look forward to seeing them, along with the animals, every single week. For me, and many others, The Gentle Barn is a place of hope, happiness, relief, kindness, and unbelievable healing that I never imagined possible. Please come out and see us on Sundays - I 100% stand by Ellie & Jay when they say you can’t have a bad day after you hug a cow!
Thanks so much for reading!