Posted on Jun 13, 2023
By Ellie Laks, Founder of The Gentle Barn
In the animal world, fathers are rarely in the picture. Male animals are used to breed, but once the female is pregnant, the father is usually removed. Out in the “real” world, animals are not allowed to fall in love or stay together. Over the last twenty-four years, we have saved the lives of thousands of animals but have encountered father animals only a mere handful of times.
In the natural world, male animals play a vital role in the family. Though horses and cows are a matriarchal society, the male assists in protecting the herd, enforcing the matriarch’s rules, and settling disputes. The lead male stands watch while others sleep, graze, and give birth to their babies. Male horses and cows do not just serve as perpetuators of the species, they are involved in raising their babies and delight in that relationship as doting human fathers.
Birds are typically a patriarchal society where the male is the alpha, leader, provider, and protector. Roosters and Tom turkeys protect their flock from predators, find food, and lead the family to shelter. In our barnyard the rooster finds delicious grain or flowers throughout the day and loudly summons everyone to come eat it while he watches with great pride.
Thumper was rescued from a cruelty case after a four-year investigation. Over one hundred animals were brought to us who were way more dead than alive upon arrival. We worked tirelessly with our veterinarians, energy healers, staff, and volunteers to resuscitate them. One tiny, malnourished, weak, and sickly lamb was struggling to overcome pneumonia. When our veterinarian came to perform the first round of neuters we asked about Thumper. The veterinarian told us not to neuter him at that time as he was way too sick, and not to separate him from the females as he didn’t believe he was strong enough to impregnate anyone. Thumper had six babies!
We do not breed at The Gentle Barn and when we have room, we rescue animals instead of making them. Thumper brought us a tremendous opportunity to experience a father with his wives and babies. He was not aloof or detached as our society likes to say. Thumper was doting, affectionate, protective, and forever by their sides, making time each day to sit individually with his offspring. He was playful when they were young, head-butting them playfully and racing with them around the barnyard to explore. As they matured, they rested in the shade, laying side by side, closing their eyes, chewing their cud, and meditating together, having wordless conversations known only to a bonded father and child.
Thumper grew to old age, living way past his life expectancy, and passed away surrounded by his large, loving family. His six beautiful children and his wives are still with us today, and it is impossible to celebrate Father’s Day without thinking about Thumper and wishing all daddy animals had a chance to experience the bliss of fatherhood like Thumper did. Maybe one day?!
When we saved our goat, Lolli and her mom Minnie Mae in Tennessee, we had no idea that there was a father. A year later, once they were rehabilitated and Lolli was thriving in her prosthetic legs, we discovered Lolli had a dad. We negotiated his rescue right away and brought him home to The Gentle Barn. Goats take a long time to integrate and need to meet through a fence for quite a while. We had no idea if Lolli and Mae would remember Merlin or even welcome him into their new life. Within moments of his arrival, we realized that not only were they alright with his presence, but they remembered each other and rejoiced his arrival, leaving me feeling foolish for doubting their familiar bond.
Merlin plays with Lolli, but gently, understanding her limitations being now in a wheelchair. When he hears a foreign sound out by the street or in the woods, he stands in front of Mae and Lolli, in a protective pose, ears alert, eyes wide, until he knows they are safe and resume playing. Mae, Lolli, and Merlin are never apart and cherish every moment of the day together as a family, a deeply connected unit, moving throughout their lives, as any close human family would.
We have no biological fathers in Missouri, but we cannot think about Father’s Day without also thinking about our cow, Chico. He realized what was about to happen to them in the slaughterhouse and crashed through three fences to not only save his own life but the lives of the other cows, too. He did not simply lead the others, but he was seen on video chasing authorities behind a tree and held them there while the others ran out of the area. Once they were free, he joined them. He might not be a father by blood, but he assumed the role of leader ever since they met at the slaughterhouse. He still acts as their dad to this day.
We are not the only species that falls in love and mates for life. We are not the only ones who love our babies and want to raise, nurture, and protect them. We are not the only ones who care for one another and worry about each other’s wellbeing. We are not the only ones who grieve. We all want a good life, we all have dreams of having a family one day, and we are all vital to those families.
We strive every day at The Gentle Barn for a world where all mommies and daddies of any species can celebrate Father’s Day alongside their children, safe, respected, and sacred.