One Of The Most Incredible Small Businesses In Missouri, The Gentle Barn Gives Farm Animals A New Lease On Life
Animal lovers will probably be the first to tell you that we, humans, have a lot in common with animals — from our individual personalities to the range of emotions we feel. However, animals count on us to speak for them and to protect them. While most people know about the plight of homeless dogs, cats, rabbits, and other domesticated pets, few realize that farm animals suffer from neglect and abuse, too. The Gentle Barn Foundation has worked hard to bring recognition to farm animals’ suffering and to help them – and community members – to recover from abuse and trauma and to live happy lives. Today, the sanctuary has three locations, including The Gentle Barn in Missouri.
Ellie Laks fulfilled a lifelong dream when, in 1999, she and Jay Weiner co-founded The Gentle Barn in California, a sanctuary designed to help and heal severely abused farm animals. In turn, when they’re ready, those animals provide comfort and healing to visitors recovering from abuse, addiction, grief, or any number of issues.
Survivors of childhood abuse, Laks and Weiner both credit the love of animals with their healing. “They know firsthand how life saving and life changing being with animals is,” says Courtney Eklund, the Executive Assistant to the Co-Founder & Event Coordinator at The Gentle Barn Foundation. “They wanted to pay the love they received as children forward to other animals and bring in more people to feel the recovery in the barnyard.”
What started on half an acre in California’s San Fernando Valley has grown into a six-acre sanctuary in Santa Clarita, that’s home to more than 170 animals. In addition, The Gentle Barn now has sanctuaries in Nashville, Tennessee, and Dittmer, Missouri. All three locations provide safe havens for severely neglected animals – from donkeys and cows to pigs and turkeys – who would otherwise have nowhere else to go.
“We rehabilitate them, give them sanctuary for the rest of their lives, and then [when they are ready] partner with them to connect people to their personalities, affection, and intelligence, and [ultimately] heal people [suffering] from the same stories of trauma,” says Eklund.
The Gentle Barn offers a variety of programs, including traditional field trips for school, scout, and other groups. However, it also works closely with those seeking healing. Its Peace Enhancement Program, for example, appeals to a variety of individuals, including those in drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs and inner-city youth.
The 10-month program provides participants with the opportunity to heal through such activities as planting vegetables, spending time with small animals, and working on projects. All of the program’s activities are designed to help participants gain confidence, connect with nature, and learn empathy.
The Literacy Program, on the other hand, helps students gain confidence and build their reading skills. Children “read to the animals who won’t judge or embarrass them, and while they are improving scholastically, they are also improving their self-esteem. As they read, they are helping animals feel better at the same time,” says Eklund.
Not every adult and child responds positively to traditional therapy. When they go to The Gentle Barn, however, they’re around other people and animals who share similar experiences, so they don’t feel so alone. They also hone a variety of important life skills.
“While at The Gentle Barn, they practice motor skills, vocal skills, confidence, compassion, leadership skills, and empathy and find themselves in the barnyard,” says Eklund. “Everyone in the community can find sanctuary at The Gentle Barn among the animals.”
Missouri’s Gentle Barn welcomes visitors on Sundays, where they can meet The St. Louis Six: six cows who escaped from slaughter in 2017 and fled through St. Louis. Once they were caught, they were brought home to The Gentle Barn.
Visitors will also meet such loving rescued animals as Petunia Pig and Baron Von Goat as well as some of the chickens, turkeys, sheep, and donkeys that call the sanctuary home.
Those seeking peace and quiet might also want to sign up for the popular Hug A Cow program. The one-hour session, which requires a $200 donation, includes meditation and plenty of cuddling with the friendly cows.
The sanctuary welcomes volunteers and also hosts an
online shop that sells a variety of merchandise – from vegan goodies and apparel to plush animals and tote bags.
Those with The Gentle Barn Foundation hope to eventually expand by opening a sanctuary in all 50 states. Even as The Gentle Barn continues to grow, it celebrates its many successes.
“To us, success is measured in the return of hope in an animal's eyes, the newfound confidence in a child's voice, or when someone falls in love with our animals and their stories enough to consider going vegan,” says Eklund.
Learn more about The Gentle Barn on its official
website and Facebook page.
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