How a little girl’s dream to help animals developed into one of the largest rescue organizations for farm animals known as The Gentle Barn.
Young Ellie Laks had a dream that she would one day have a place full of animals to look after. “I was always running after a dog, or playing in the lakes with the frogs, or in the woods with the bunnies,” says Ellie. “I realized that animals sometimes need help and when I found them injured or lost I would bring them home. My parents were not amused and would get rid of them. I would be terribly upset and they would say, ‘Ellie, when you grow up you can have as many animals as you like.’ I would respond that when I grew up I would have a place full of animals and I’d show the world how beautiful they were.”
With no land, funds, nor real experience with farm animals, it took Ellie awhile to get her dream off the ground. But in 1999, The Gentle Barn opened its doors, and just as Ellie envisioned in her dream, it’s filled with animals.
A place for everyone
The Gentle Barn is home to a wide variety of animals. Over 170 animals, including horses, donkeys, cows, pigs, sheep, goats, chickens, turkeys, llamas, peacocks, dogs, cats, and even a parrot, are currently under the care of Ellie and her helpers. With so many charges, The Gentle Barn relies on a system of foster homes to help care for and rehabilitate the animals.
Some people might be surprised at the range of animals The Gentle Barn provides a home for. “As humans, we like to put animals into categories: dogs are loyal, cats are independent, cows are dumb, pigs are dirty, and so on,” says Ellie. “What the animals at The Gentle Barn have taught me is that no matter what they look like, they are all the same. Each animal has the same intelligence, affection, and love to give — the only difference between the species is our perception of them. Each life on this planet is as valuable as the next. It is our job to protect and cherish all living beings. Our mission is to teach people to be kind to animals, each other and our planet. We want to help animals recover from abuse, help people fall in love with them, and help our world be more peaceful.”
With so many animals to look after, every day is busy and adventurous. “Running The Gentle Barn requires a lot,” explains Ellie. “We have a handful of staff members, each of us wearing many hats, and we rely on volunteers to help us as well. The day starts at sunrise, feeding 170 animals, filling water buckets, and cleaning up. We spend the rest of the day grooming and walking horses, brushing and hugging cows, rehabilitating and treating newly-rescued animals in quarantine, watering trees, raising funds, adopting out healthy animals, and making everyone comfortable. In the afternoons, we host groups of kids, and do private tours. Each day we have practitioners come in to treat the animals with acupuncture, acupressure, chiropractic, massage therapy, ultrasound, ice therapy, water therapy, energetic healing, nutritional supplements, and lots and lots of love. The evenings are spent feeding the animals again, refilling water buckets and cleaning up all over again. Before bed we check on the animals one last time, making sure they are all healthy, happy and tucked into bed with treats and kisses. We have many volunteers who come to help us each day and we could not do this work without them!”
Helping at-risk youth
Many of the animals at The Gentle Barn are given a special job to help with once they are settled in at the farm. “We work with at risk, inner city, and special needs kids who won’t talk to therapists and do not respond to traditional therapy because they are too angry and shut down,” says Ellie. “Through interacting with and hearing about the stories of the animals, the kids learn kindness, compassion and confidence. They are inspired by the animals — if the animals can heal, trust, forgive, and learn to love again, then they can too.”
Creating a better tomorrow
Now that Ellie’s dream of having a place full of animals has come true, she would like to see it happen on an even bigger scale. “We want to create Gentle Barns in every state and around the world so everyone can hug a cow, feed a horse a carrot, give a pig a tummy rub, cuddle a turkey and realize that even though we all look different, we are really all the same!”
Each animal has the same intelligence, affection, and love to give — the only difference between the species is our perception of them.
The Gentle Barn’s mission is to teach people to be kind to animals, each other and our planet.
Saving Sir Lancelot
The Los Angeles police Department confiscated Sir Lancelot from his abuser after he was nearly ridden to death. He was grossly underweight, suffered from a pronounced limp, and had skin fungus, bad teeth and overgrown hooves. He was absolutely terrified of everything and everyone.
Sir Lancelot was put up for adoption but was later deemed unadoptable and scheduled for euthanasia. When the police officer who pulled him out of his abusive situation found out, she called The Gentle Barn and begged them to save him. He was brought home and Ellie and her volunteers set to work to heal him, heart and body.
It took almost a year, but with acupuncture, massage therapy, patience and lots of love Lance softened, gained weight, recovered and found joy. He is now 29 years old, gorgeous and healthy. He has made friends with the other horses and even has a girlfriend! He is groomed every day and taken for walks, and will be a part of The Gentle Barn family for the rest of his life.
How you can help
“There are so many ways people can help,” says Ellie. “They can sponsor an animal at The Gentle Barn and stay connected to him for the rest of his life; the funds can go towards his care. They can get a Gentle Barn membership and support our work with animals and kids. They can come for a visit on Sundays from ten till two, or get a private tour and see how wonderful animals really are when they are loved – and then they can tell their friends about us!”
To find out more about The Gentle Barn and Ellie’s new book, My Gentle Barn, visit gentlebarn.org.