Posted on Aug 19, 2021
By Ellie Laks, Founder of The Gentle Barn
I believe heroes are people, or animals, who give us the motivation, support, strength, encouragement, and a role-model to discover our best selves, to make plans to achieve our dreams, to work through struggles and obstacles, and to reach out to be kind to and help others. And they do this without judgement. Today I want to tell you about one of my heroes. He is also a hero to many others!
I founded The Gentle Barn in my half-acre backyard after discovering an abusive petting zoo and bringing animals home to save them. Word quickly grew that I was taking in animals who no one else wanted, and I soon had a whole menagerie of displaced, homeless, and needy animals. I had big dreams of doing so much more, but I firmly believe I would still be in that little yard with a handful of animals if it weren’t for Jay.
Jay started working for The Gentle Barn as a volunteer and quickly became invaluable. He brought produce for the animals from six different markets, helped clean the barnyard, set up a proper website, launched our first fundraiser, took a seat on our board of directors, assisted me in walking the dogs and the horses, and helped run Sundays, all before we even fell in love!
In 2003, not only did Jay move The Gentle Barn from my half-acre property to its current, beautiful five-acre property in Santa Clarita, he also, a few years later, worked with Sun Chlorella to add a fifteen-acre Healing Center. Then, to work towards our dream to provide a safe and loving home for as many animals as possible, Jay helped The Gentle Barn become a national sanctuary by opening locations in Tennessee and Missouri.
The rescues of Dudley and The St. Louis Six resulted in our much-needed expansion, and neither would have been possible without Jay. While I held the fort in California, Jay spent four months in Tennessee with Dudley to acclimate him to his prosthetic and care for him in the hospital. When it was finally time for Dudley to go home to our first Tennessee location in Knoxville, Jay was there to open it. Then, when the St. Louis Six, who literally had been running for their lives, were caught and going to be slaughtered, it was Jay who without hesitation jumped on a red-eye flight and arrived in Missouri by morning to save them. He brought them to the hospital and then to their foster home to give us time to build their new Gentle Barn for them to call their forever home.
Jay has accomplished several remarkable rescues. He spent months in Ohio to turn a high-kill pound into a no-kill shelter, saving the lives of approximately 100 dogs. He saved 250 dogs and 50 cats from a hoarder situation, getting them stabilized, cleaned, fed, and then safely transported to a temporary boarding “home” near us until they could be adopted by their permanent families. It took us ten months, but we placed them all into loving, forever homes. Jay drove up to Northern California to save our horse Whisper from severe abuse and refused to leave without her. He returned with her at 2:00 A.M., yes, in the middle of the night, to begin the four years of healing and recovery that finally restored her to happiness. Whisper would have died by the torture of her abuser had it not been for Jay. Our hero to the animals also went all the way to Texas to drive twenty straight hours home with calves on the brink of death. He made it home just in time to get them the medical care and nurturing they needed to survive. Bob, Mercy, and Roy are still alive and well at The Gentle Barn today!
Jay has rescued animals from places unimaginable to most of us, at great personal risk. He has gone into stockyards, slaughterhouses, and auction houses, playing the part and keeping the peace in order to save lives. He even went undercover and befriended a backyard-butcher in order to bring home over 100 dying animals and close the place down. He has seen the worst of abuses, the darkest side of humanity, and suffers from PTSD, awake nights with images that will probably haunt him for the rest of his life.
Jay is a hero, afraid of nothing, and a soldier who will persevere to save a life, stand-up for justice, and be there for the invisible and the forgotten time and time again.
When not on the front lines, Jay raises funds to keep The Gentle Barn running, even during a pandemic, inventing new ways to run our programs and strengthen the organization. He oversees our development, marketing, social media, and PR teams. And as we speak, Jay has been gone from home for four months to drive back and forth between St. Louis and Nashville rebuilding our midwest locations after the pandemic, training new staff, and reestablishing our programs there. Jay even hosted Missouri’s first cow hug therapy session!
Millions of people from around the world have gone vegan because of The Gentle Barn and our animal ambassadors. Those hearts would never have opened, and those animals would never have had a voice, if not for Jay and his dedication and loyalty to The Gentle Barn, our mission, and our cause each and every day for the last twenty years. As Jay turns 50 this month, I feel so grateful that he was born, that he found The Gentle Barn, and that he chose to help me and my huge dream become a reality. I don’t know what any of us would have done without him! Happy birthday, Jay! I love you and appreciate you more than there are words to describe just how much!
In honor of Jay’s heroism and commitment to help rescue and heal animals and people, I ask that you join me in recognizing him by making a contribution today to the The Gentle Barn’s 50th Birthday Tribute, here on this page. Tribute Donations, whether they be to honor Jay or anyone else you want to recognize in a meaningful way, provide funds for the daily work we do to heal and care for the animals, so they eventually can heal and give love to our visitors. There is nothing Jay would appreciate more than to have your support to continue our mission of Teaching People Kindness and Compassion to Animals, Each Other, and Our Planet. A true hero!