Posted on Aug 01, 2019
By Ellie Laks, Founder of The Gentle Barn
Having a sanctuary is amazing; hearing the animals’ soft noises as they eat and rest, smelling the earthy grass and fur aroma from the barnyard, and of course, getting to spend time with all these mystical creatures is pure magic. Living unencumbered by close neighbors, being surrounded by trees, barns, and mountains, and just having so much space is enchanting. But with barn life comes little critters who want to move into the house too.
A few years ago I saw our first rat in the house. She was so adorable with her Mickey Mouse ears, little pink nose, and long whiskers. I went to the cupboard and got her something to eat and watched as she held the nuts in her little hands and nibbled it until it was gone. What harm could come from feeding just one mouse? Well, this one little mouse invited her friends and they invited their friends until months later our house was overrun with little rodents. The cuteness soon wore off when the house smelled of urine, the couches had holes in it, and they chewed the wires from the dishwasher and flooded the kitchen!
Being gentle and kind to animals is something I have committed to since I was very young, helping animals when they were lost or hurt, adopting a vegetarian diet when I was eleven, and going vegan 20 years ago. So there was no way I was going to harm these little guests, but how do I protect my home and family, while at the same time not harm them? We made some calls and did some research and all we came up with were companies wanting to poison the mice or trap them in cruel ways. Every time I came up empty-handed, I insisted that there had to be a loving alternative. I could not possibly be the first one to have this problem and cannot be the only one who feels this way about animals. So I kept searching, refusing to admit defeat. In the meantime, the rats had taken over my house and I was convinced that any day now we would wake up to find our bags packed, escorted out of the house, as they took it over completely and threw us out.
At long last, I found the solution I had been looking for, a company who removed wild animals and insects from houses humanely and environmentally safe, wow! They came to take a look and hashed out a plan to seal up the openings around the house that was letting the mice inside, trapping the rats and mice humanely, and then relocating them to a place in the wild far away from houses with a water source. It took several months, but we finally had our house back, the smell was gone, the destruction was repaired, and the mice and rats were safe. It was a great lesson for me to realize that even though I love animals, and have dedicated my whole life to them, I can still have boundaries, protect my own home, and be gentle at the same time.
Sometimes we learn lessons right away, and other times we need to learn things a few more times before we really get it. When we moved our Tennessee location to Nashville there were no rodents in the barn. But the former owners of the property didn’t have animals in the barn for years prior to us moving in. Once we moved in we worked very hard to put in insulation in the barn to make it warm for winter. That wonderful insulation raised the temperature of the barn by twenty degrees and allowed the animals to enjoy winter comfortably. But the insulation also allowed rats and mice to live between the insulation and the roof. By spring we realized that we had many visitors lodging in the barn who were now joining the animals for meals. At first it was adorable to watch them darting around, pocking their heads out of spaces in the wall, and sharing food with our chickens and goats. One time I sat quietly in the stall with the goats while they ate their evening grain and watched tiny mice poking their cartoon heads out of the walls hoping to be invited to dinner. I softly tossed a blueberry over to one, and he picked the blueberry up with both his little pink hands, and had a picnic with us. I fell in love with him! But soon the invasion became way too much. Our animals were competing with the mice to eat, and the barn started to smell bad. We had to keep our place sanitary for our animals, staff, volunteers and guests.
Our first solution was to pull out all of the insolation from the barn, thinking that without their accommodations they would leave. But they just moved into the walls. Then we started feeding the animals out in the pastures and yards so there would be no food in the barn, but they still wouldn’t vacate and instead only became more desperate. I was in agony! I had fallen in love with these tiny sweet faces and they seemed so happy in the barn. I wished so desperately that we could find a way to cohabitate. Couldn’t we just feed them and live happily ever after?! But there were so many, and they were destroying the barn. I couldn’t sleep at night. When I did dose off, I had nightmares, tossing and turning. I didn’t want to hurt them. I didn’t want to betray them. But I had to protect our Gentle Barn. After many weeks of anxiety, I found the answers with the help of my husband and spiritual friends who love animals as much as I do. They helped me see that rats and mice are wild animals, not domesticate. They are very smart and resourceful and in the wild do very well to find food, shelter, and can live their life free. As long as we relocate them gently and find a place in the woods with a water source, they will be quite happy. Knowing our little guests would be safe and content was all I needed to move forward.
We started calling around to find a company who would humanely remove the rats from the barn. We found many companies who wanted to exterminate them, but we refused to give up and finally found a company who was licensed to remove them humanely. The company set up a trapping system and were able to remove the rats without harm and set them free into a beautiful forest with a water source, far away from any dwellings or roads. The same company fumigated the barn with a natural fog that removed all the smell. The barn is now fresh, clean, and free of little guests. Our animals can eat peacefully with no competition. And our little friends are now climbing trees, digging holes, drinking from the pond, and living as wild animals should.
Being gentle in every situation is difficult and costly. It would have been much faster, easier, and cheaper to just kill the rats. But the price of laying down each night to sleep knowing no one was hurt or killed for me to live is priceless! Being vegan is not just about what foods I eat or don’t. Being vegan means being gentle and thoughtful in every single situation. It means being kind to people even if I don’t agree with them or understand them. It means eating gently even if I have to pay more or travel further. And it means doing the right thing even when it’s inconvenient. My identity does not come from the fact that I am female, or a mom, a wife, or the Founder Of The Gentle Barn. It doesn’t come from the past, or what I have accomplished. My identity, self-worth, and value come from these little but life affirming decisions that we all make every day. How we handle things, how we talk to people, how we handle conflict, how we treat all living beings defines who we are as individuals and as a society. I long for the day that gentleness is our core value, that ethics is our most prized possession, and empathy is what we pass on to our children. One day…