Posted on Nov 14, 2023
By Ellie Laks, Founder of The Gentle Barn
I rescued my very first turkey 24 years ago in November after our grand opening in 1999. I was so excited! His family purchased him for Thanksgiving but could not go through with butchering him, so they brought him to me. Tommy was handsome and regal, with feathers that reflected a shimmering rainbow in the sun and deep soulful eyes. The man who brought him to me stressed two important things: Tommy is not smart, so I should assume he does not understand anything, and he is mean, so I should protect myself with a rake while in the barnyard. I had never had a turkey before, so I followed his advice.
The first night Tommy was at The Gentle Barn, I ushered him into the barn at dusk to show him
where he would eat and sleep for the night. The next night at dusk, I looked for Tommy all over the barnyard thinking he wouldn’t remember. I could not find him anywhere. After an exhaustive search, I finally spotted him in front of his door patiently waiting for me to open it up so he could have dinner and go to bed. Tommy was not unintelligent at all, he understood where his bedroom was and remembered the routine. For the rest of Tommy’s life, he would always be waiting for me at his bedroom door at dusk.
For two weeks, I carried a rake with me wherever I went in the barnyard. Tommy never gestured toward me aggressively. He never snapped at me. Finally, I put the rake down and began a close friendship with my very first turkey. Tommy was always gentle, polite, kind, and affectionate. He was a gentleman with me, my volunteers, and all my guests. Maybe Tommy understood our intentions and knew we would never do him harm?
Tommy was the love of my life for four magical years. He paraded around the barnyard demanding our attention. He came with me to schools and held still while children lined up to meet him. When he particularly liked someone, he would rest his head on their stomach, close his eyes, and purr.When Tommy could no longer walk because of the genetic engineering that made him abnormally huge, I helped him out of his body while thanking him for knowing him, for gracing my barnyard with his intelligence, and for opening my eyes to the fact that we are all the same, we just look different. He taught me so much about how majestic, intelligent and affectionate turkeys are, if only the rest of the world would realize.