“The Gentle Barn has been my dream since I was seven years old,” says Ellie Laks when talking to anyone about how she realized her beautiful childhood fantasy.
“I wanted to lend my voice to the animals.” There’s no doubt that Laks is an animal lover, but her big vision goes beyond that, and into the realm of a global movement toward kindness. Yes, this is a (non-profit) business – and a now-expanding one at that – based on modeling connection and responsibility between all living things.
The original Gentle Barn California in Santa Clarita is home to Laks, her husband and business partner Jay Weiner, their children, and more than 170 animals. Abused, neglected, injured, and/or rejected furry and feathered beings have been rescued by or brought to the Barn since 2003. There, they are provided everything necessary for healing and health, be it surgery, rehab, or simply security. The transformations have been remarkable.
Once the animals are comfortable and well, they become part of the public Barn programs. During the week, at-risk, disabled, and challenged kids and adults are able to spend time one-on-one with the animals, learning about their backgrounds and their journeys, sharing the opportunity to feel acceptance, empathy, and unconditional love. For a few hours each Sunday, the general public may visit for a nominal donation. The animals can be groomed, fed, and mostly, hugged. Volunteers are available to inform visitors about each of the rescue stories, and educate about the animals in general. Vegan food is available in a picnic area.
The Gentle Barn CA has hosted more than 400,000 visitors. Celebrities such as Ellen Degeneres and Portia de Rossi, Channing Tatum, Mark Walhberg, and Pam Anderson have supported and endorsed. With memberships, sponsorships, naming contests, branded merch, and various levels of donations, The Gentle
Barn is has incorporated many traditional fundraising efforts. The increasing awareness is largely driven by a large and incredibly active online community.
The importance of that community was never more evident than when Dudley appeared this year. Explains Laks, “Ten years ago, I had a vision of a Gentle Barn in every state. We were becoming ready to expand, when Dudley’s needs provided us a wonderful opportunity.” Dudley is a boy cow who had lost a leg and could no longer be cared for by his owner. The Gentle Barn stepped in, started telling his story online “and the world really got involved, fell in love, and financially supported him.”
At the University of Tennesse-Knoxville Animal Hospital, Laks and Weiner spent months overseeing Dudley’s care which included a specially-made prosthetic leg and aqua therapy. He was soon getting more active and healthy, but really couldn’t be moved to California. “Going national is a big responsibility. It’s easy on my property, where I am.” With Dudley needing to stay local, The Gentle Barn Tennessee was developed. In less than seven months, it became home to about
twenty animals to keep Dudley (who is thriving) company. It is also open to the public once each week, benefiting from volunteerism, and will soon be serving the area’s at-risk populations with animal therapy.
It’s an incredible thing, to know your reason for being (especially as a child) and be able to live it. What lessons did Laks learn along the way, and what tips does she have to live your dream?
1. Have a dream
“If money was not an issue, what would you do? That’s the song you’re meant to sing. Reach for something that sets you on fire, makes you feel alive. Write it down to make it tangible. And don’t judge it.”
2. Don’t get caught up in the ‘how’
“The how can be a stumbling block. Your brain can talk you out of things. My belief is that we secure the what and the universe takes care of the how. Laks had her what early on. It was years until she met a goat at a local petting zoo that she knew she had to bring home. Bringing home that goat on that day formed the basis for The Gentle Barn. “If the universe nudges you, follow it.”
3. Don’t take no for an answer
Keep looking for the yes.
4. Accept that it won’t be easy
“I had to learn a lot of lessons. Now I’m living my dream every single day.”
5. Know who you are
“Sometimes it’s easier to know what you want than who you are. You need the solid foundation of self, otherwise you’re susceptible to critics, challenges, strong winds. Cherish, foster, and educate yourself.”
Additionally, Laks practices daily visualization and meditation. “I see a lot of darkness in the animals’ stories, and need to find a light to keep my sanity and be productive.” She does a five-minute visualization of happy animals, healthy people, gardens, clear skies and clean water. “Then I go into silence and the breath, remember who I am and why I’m here. The stillness and centeredness helps me to connect to something greater than myself.”
You can read more about Laks’ inspired and inspiring story in her autobiography My Gentle Barn: Creating a Sanctuary Where Animals Heal and Children Learn to Hope.
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