When I first became vegan, I felt an strong urge to be with farm animals. After doing a month of research about factory farms, the dairy industry, the egg industry, and learning other horrible truths about petting zoos, pony rides, and circuses, I was overwhelmed by the feeling that I needed to connect with some of these animals. I needed to see animals who had been rescued from these horrific situations and given a new chance at life. I needed to, in some way, apologize for ever contributing to those industries.
I began to research farm animal rescues and learned that there were actual sanctuaries dedicated to rehabilitating rescued farm animals and as it turned out, there was one just an hour away from where I lived. It was called The Gentle Barn and they allowed visitors on Sundays. It was November or December 2011 and the first free weekend we had, we made the drive up.
Upon entering the farm, the first pasture that you come to is one with several cows in it. Next to it is a barn with 2 or 3 cows laying and resting. There were volunteers that handed us brushes so we could brush the cows and told us we should try hugging one of the cows. I wanted to hug the cow so badly but I was nervous so I just began to brush her and pet her. It was then I learned that cows are truly the most peaceful and zen-like animals. I could've stared into that cow's eyes for days. After I felt comfortable enough, I did give the cow a hug and I actually choked back tears because I didn't want my family to see my crying over just hugging a cow. I had been harboring a lot of guilt over having been a fromagier in the past and actually working in the industry that causes cows so much pain. After that hug, I felt, in a way, forgiven. I could've spent the rest of the day just hanging out with the cows, but my family wanted to move on so we headed to the horse corrals.
There was one horse there, Bonsai, that had been rescued from an alcoholic woman who would punch him in the face and he learned to be afraid of humans. At the Gentle Barn, he learned to trust humans again. I was amazed at how friendly he was and how much he seemed to love me rubbing that space just of his nose.
After the horses, we made our way up to a larger open area where pigs, goats, sheep, chickens, and turkeys all lived together. There were tons of volunteers there to tell us the animals' stories and show us how to know if the animals were okay with our petting them. If they walked away, that meant they weren't interested and we had to listen to them. I got down in the hay and rubbed pigs' bellies. Turkeys came up to me for attention and allowed me to pet their feathers. Sheep rubbed up against our legs. There was a goat that jumped and pranced. We spent about an hour in this pure bliss.
The animal that touched me the most was actually an emu named Yoda. I had never seen an emu in person before and was shocked by how huge it was. We were the same height (or maybe he was a couple of inches taller). He had been rescued from a hoarder and we were told he used to be very frightened of humans. I was shocked because Yoda had no problem getting right in my face which made me laugh to no end. The sweetest thing about Yoda, though, was that when you rubbed his neck or petted his head, he would lower his head and fall asleep right on your shoulder. It was so terribly sweet that this animal trusted me, a total stranger, enough to fall asleep on my shoulder. I wondered why we all couldn't be this trusting.
After our time with the animals, the farm was getting ready to shut down for the day. It was the founder, Ellie Lak's birthday, and they had vegan cupcakes for sale. We took the last two they had and as we ate them, I saw Ellie walking past with a huge smile on her face. I thought to myself, "I would be smiling too if I had created a place this amazing." I couldn't even wrap my brain around how one might make something like The Gentle Barn happen.
After that day, I began to follow The Gentle Barn on facebook and I would get excited whenever they showed pictures of their newest rescues or asked for help in naming them. I called my husband in tears the day they announced that Yoda had passed away. I read Ellie's touching post about her relationship with Yoda and my heart broke for her. I felt so blessed that I had been able to meet him.
cover by Zach Cordner
When I was asked to review Ellie Laks' new memoir, My Gentle Barn, there was absolutely no question. I couldn't wait to hear the story of how The Gentle Barn came to be. As soon as I opened the book, I couldn't put it down. My heart felt for Ellie as I read about her troubled childhood and the rough path she traveled into adulthood. I was proud of her as she turned her life around and was inspired all through her story of how The Gentle Barn began. I couldn't believe some of the obstacles they had overcome and the miracles that occurred in order for them to continue to rescue animals and grow as a sanctuary.
I cried many times throughout the book, sometimes out of heartbreak, but usually because I was so touched by the stories of the animals that Ellie rescued. It was especially neat to hear the stories of some of the animals I had met just a few years earlier. I love hearing stories of animals being rescued from horrifying situations and how they heal and learn to trust again. Reading about each of these animals and how their healing process helped to heal Ellie just turned me into a big bag of emotions and I loved every moment.
One thing I had not been aware of (or perhaps I had forgotten) was that The Gentle Barn invites at-risk and special-needs children to the barn to visit the animals. I was amazed and touched (and I probably cried again) over how these animals who had an awful start at life gave these children hope and helped them move past their own terrible pasts.
Once I finished the last chapter, I was so disappointed that the book was done. I wanted to hear more. I wanted the story to keep going. I wanted to get in my car and drive to The Gentle Barn so I could hug a cow again.
I can't recommend My Gentle Barn enough. The story is so great, it's hard to put the book down and I don't think you can read it without feeling touched and inspired. I loved the book so much and I think everyone should read it. Since I can't give a copy to everyone, I'm going to give my copy to one of you. You can use the box below to enter but in order to qualify, you must leave a comment telling me how an animal has inspired or taught you. The giveaway will run until 11:59 pm on 4/19/14.
Thank you so much to Harmony Books for letting me review this incredible book. Thank you, Ellie Laks, for all of your work. You are amazing.
How has an animal taught or inspired you?
Unless otherwise mentioned, photography by Chris Miller
Aw this book sounds amazing! That's such a beautiful idea to give farm animals a chance to have a happy life, I wish ALL farms were like the gentle farm.
I used to have a dog called Beanie Baby, she was such a timid, scared little thing when we got her from a rescue centre. But she just kept getting stronger and happier as the years went on, she made us all so happy. She was only little but she was completely fearless, always trying to protect us. I always thought it was remarkable that even though she had been mistreated she could still find the courage to love us back and trust us and want to be part of our family. x
My dogs inspire me to be more loving and affectionate!
I’d have to say the cows that lived in the field behind my house when I was a toddler inspired me the most. I used to sit and watch them for hours, and I believe that fostered my unconditional love of animals. The fact that they were so huge yet so gentle always used to amaze me!
Do you know they annual vegan bake sale for Gentle Barn is May 4th. My friend Angie is in charge and last year raised about 1500.00 for them. Companies and people donate goodies to sell. Its a great day to get people and come and learn about the animals. My son Logan fell in love with the turkeys and hugged them forever. Marsha especially who recently passed away at the barn. We will be there then to hug some more =)
I loved reading your story about my gental barn! I was smiling from ear to ear the whole time. I had a similar experience when I became a vegetarian about 5 years ago. I was living in Louisiana at the time and started reading the book "Quantum Wellness" by Kathy Freston and had no idea it was about to make me become a vegetarian. After I read the chapter on factory farming and was done balling my eyes out, I never ate meat again. Since then I have read so many books and have become so passionate about animal ethics. One book I read was "Farm Sanctuary" and I enjoyed this book SO much. It was about a couple that stuggled to get a farm sactuary up and running and they eventually did get a few accross the country over time. Unfortunately I wasn't near any of them at that time. But a couple years later, my husband and I moved to Syracuse NY and I was so excited because only an hour and a half away was the original farm sanctuary in Watkins Glen! I was just like you when I went there. We had a guide showing us around and I took a lot of pics and absolutely loved how gentle and sweet the cows were! I loved hearing about the stories and I felt so emotional and connected to them. I am so thankful for people that dedicate their lives to this and for people like you that have so much love, compassion and respect for animals. I hope to have a small barn of my own some day with a few animals. I will follow My Gentle Barn on FB. Is Keepin' it kind on FB as well? Thanks for sharing!!
LOVE Gentle Barn and have been a long-time supporter. I want to get my hands on a copy of that book!
My kitty, Maleah, was born quite sick, but despite it all was the most joyous, happy kitty I have ever had or known. In her short fifteen months of life she taught me that no matter your situation or life circumstances you can always have a joyous heart. A true angel!
While sub-consciously i have always known how selflessly loving animals are since we've always had dogs at home, it could not have been more profound than when I lost my grandmother. It amazed me how a silent companion could provide solace and comfort in a way that no human could. Since then I have given up meat and now am in the process of giving up dairy and this book seems god-sent!
On a different note, thank you for your blog. It has been a huge inspiration in my journey.
My rescue dog Joe inspires me every day. He was brought to the shelter as a puppy and is somewhat of a sensitive dog prone to thinking he is in trouble (when he isn't!). He reminds me that we need to treat all beings with love and respect.
It is amazing that after what those animals went trhough, they still trust and learn to love us back. Also, I think that the job the people at many Sanctuary Farms do is incredibly inspiring and admirable.
If I had to choose one (there are so many), an animal that inspired me was a Bull. Used and abused for the entertaining of the public, when he was no longer "of good use", was saved by a man from being slaughtered, and actually began the sweetest relationship with the animal.
Bulls are, like many other animals, a lot more friendly than we are taught to believe.
Wow, what an amazing experience! I wish I had places like that nearby! My dog makes me happy even in the worst of times. He's a big 90 lb labradoodle and he just lights up when I walk in the room, uncontrollable tail wagging and jumping haha. He's litterally been my big fluffy shoulder to cry on many times.
Thanks for sharing this story, I have always wanted to visit a farm sanctuary or even start one locally here in Southern Illinois. If I ever own a home like I intend to, I am totally going to have a kind (vegetarian/vegan) farm. My life was changed when I began volunteering at a wildlife rehabilitation center (I'm omitting the name to be nice). I spent a lot of time working in the "rat den," a literal room dedicated only to breeding rats that were fed to the birds of prey. Although I understood why we were raising rats for the sole purpose of being someone else's food, it broke my heart that we were expected to treat them with no compassion or kindness whatsoever. We were expected to work quickly rather than to take good care of the rats and mice, which were kept in fish tanks and plastic containers that had no air flow, very little food, and no toys or activities. Another volunteer once told me "don't worry if you accidentally throw the babies in the trash when you dump the bedding." It was this experience that led me to the belief that all animals deserve to be treated with love and respect, and I am still a vegetarian and animal rights activist today thanks to those rats and mice who taught me how to love even the tiniest (and misperceived!) animals.
just have a dog. its the greatest
They are as compassionate as us! <3
I had a cat, Samantha, for most of my growing up years. She was a stray we rescued off the street. She was very skittish at first, but soon became a member of our family. She taught me a lot about how to love and care for others. She was very sweet and entertaining. When she passed on she taught me about grief and loss, but also how to move on, and keep those we love in our memories.
Similar to many people above, I had a rescue dog named Tilly. She was very scared when we got her, but over the years she warmed up enough to be a constant couch companion! After having her for about 5 years she got quite sick. After taking her to the vet, we brought her home for a day (she wasn't in any pain) to say goodbye to her properly. My two kids and I took her out to a sunny spot in our yard and let her soak up the warmth. We were all crying our eyes out, but at one point I looked down at her and realized she was ready to go. She had such a look of grace, of acceptance and of courage. She taught me that dying is a natural process. We all still miss her every day, but when I start to stress out about the inevitability of death, I think of her and know if she could be so brave, then so can I!
What an amazing story. I too and still do harbor a lot of guilt for my previous life. I connect with life more ever!!
I visited Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary last year and had many moments similar to what you write about. Each and every animal - from the gentle goats to the pigs to the turkeys to the spunky chickens - taught me about forgiveness and compassion. Thank you for the great review of this book... I can't wait to read it!
Would love to read this book it sounds so inspiring.
When my children were young we started raising pigs. These animals are amazing. What we all learned from them and how my children lived them so. When we were having babies our whole family had to be there to watch and share. It is so great for kids to grow up with animals. We had some spoiled animals.
Wow! I haven't read the book yet, and I am so touched and inspired. I just recently became vegan, and am so happy about my decision. Although my husband and daughter are not vegan, we all share a great love for animals, and an immense respect for nature.
Our PeeWee Herman is a Chihuahua/Yorkie mix, and we rescued him from a friends neighbor. She was an elderly lady that was experiencing financial hardships as well as health problems. One day, as we visited our friend, we heard a loud female voice and a loud yelp and cursing and more screaming, and more yelps. We all ran to the fence and peaked over it, to witness the elderly lady beating on the cutest little puppy with a cane.
Well we all started yelling to the lady, and my husband jumped the fence and confronted her about the abuse. He came out point blank and asked her, " are you ready to give this puppy away? because it looks like you are qualified to care for a sweet, defenseless puppy or any animals for that matter." Guess what? She admitted to it, and asked my husband if he wanted the "darn thing" (her words exactly). We all said a big loud "YES!" and it's been the most wonderful, beautiful 8 years of becoming PeeWee Herman's family. He was 7 months when we rescued him. I have to admit we have spoiled our sweet baby, but he deserves to be spoiled because he is the most loving, caring and loyal little guy. This has been a match made in heaven!
Oh my gosh, just reading your review put a tear in my eye! Stories like this touch me all the time. Recently I went out to a very small animal sanctuary in central MA to volunteer and I absolutely fell in love with the goats they had there. They were just so friendly and sweet, not to mention absolutely hilarious! It's amazing to me how easily and quickly I can bond with an animal, when getting to know/trust a human can feel so much harder.
I cannot wait to read this book. I have heard of The Gentle Barn, but I live in Oklahoma and have never had a chance to visit. I would love to spend time with the animals and be surrounded by like-minded people. Since I was a little girl I had a natural draw towards animals. They seemed to like me and I absolutley loved them, all types. One time when I was young, I walked right up to a fence that had cows enclosed and the came over to me and licked my arms. I just stood there letting them lick my arms and talking to them. I was only six at the time, but it showed me how gentle cows could be and how genuinely sweet and gentle animals can be if you show them the same in return.
I love to read about people's experiences at animal sanctuaries. The stories always tug at my heart strings, and yours is no exception. I can't wait to read this book, too.
I've cared for many rescued rats, and I've learned so much from them. Once, two brothers came to me who were so frightened from neglect and abuse that I couldn't go near them. One would bite viciously and the other would shake uncontrollably. I only had the fortune of being in their lives for about 8 months before they passed away (not at the same time), but I witnessed remarkable transformations from both of them. They were the sweetest, most loving creatures and they were even welcoming to strangers eventually. I was in awe of their ability to heal and trust again despite what humans had put them through in the past.
I just finished the book Animal Sanctuary. I have been dreaming of the day to say I am sorry to each and every animal in a sanctuary or farm. As a new vegan (just over two weeks) I just told my husband's Italian family that I have chosen not to ever contribute to the suffering or pain of any animal. This Easter I am bringing my own vegan recipes to an all meat and dairy feast. I am making my stand for animals!
As for an animal that has touched my life, I have four rescue animals. Two cats and two dogs. Each different personalities, interests, and attitudes. Our adopted dog Mae ran away from her previous owner. We found Mae in a hay field, dehydrated and lost. She still had stitches from being spayed (the owner later told us he tied her up and duct taped the cone onto her so he had no idea how she could have escaped). The first night she slept over, I awoke to find her spooning my husband. When he awoke and saw it was a puppy paw, he snuggled in more. We located her owner, who was a young man that lived on a farm miles away. He did not respond for over a week citing he was busy and his stories didn't quite add up. When he did come Mae completely ignored him and played with us. We asked if we could keep Mae. The Owner agreed. Mae ran away from a terrible situation and found herself her adopted parents against all odds. Mae entrusted us to be her family.
My dog (Lacey) and cat (Patches, who is no longer with me) have inspired me for many years. I had my cat first who was a pretty wild and very independent outdoor/indoor cat. When I got my dog, Patches really would have nothing to do with Lacey. After we got Lacey fixed, however, Patches could clearly see Lacey was not her usual barky self and came over to sooth Lacey. Lacey was just laying on the couch sleeping, and Patches layed directly on top of Lacey which showed me so much care and compassion! I will always remember that moment.
My dog Rupert was a laboratory research beagle before we rescued him. He was a bundle of nerves the day he came to live with us - afraid of everything. He had never been outside the laboratory before - had never seen the sky, walked on grass, or done any of the normal things dogs do. It was an amazing journey working with him to turn him into the dog he was meant to be, but his amazing attitude has made me a better person.
My dog has such a happy spirit. He's curious and friendly, and truly shows how dogs are known as man's best friend. His balanced nature inspires me to be more like him and is a source of peace in my crazy life.
My rescues have inspired me by reminding me that the most important things in life are those that one can not buy. I have been blessed to have so many amazing animal friends through my lifetime!
All of the animals that are rescued and brought to all of the sanctuaries all over the world always inspire me. They were neglected or abused and they somehow always learn to trust and forgive people. That is so inspiring to me!
That emu looks so adorable! I must say I have a growing soft spot for cows and pigs - your post has inspired me to go gallivanting to go find a similar farm near us so I can also go petting and get it out of my system. 🙂
My little kitty Gatsby inspires me every day. Living alone with him from when I was an undergraduate student taught me, among other things, that I wasn't just living with a pet - I was sharing a life with a companion who deserved respect, love, and space to also go on his own mission when he got annoyed with my cuddles! <3 I'm going to go try out a cat volunteer thing at a vet next week - I hope he doesn't get affronted by the masses of different cat smells on me :p
Rescuing our cat, Stanley, has had the biggest impact on me because it was one tangible event that pushed my husband and I to consider veganism. My sister casually mentioned to me one day about how there was a cat at the back door of her apartment who was meowing incessantly, begging for food and water. Apparently he was so thirsty that he would try to drink from the watering can as she watered her plants. I kept asking about him, and hearing how thirsty he was broke my heart. The next time he was there, I drove over and picked him up. The main thing I wanted to avoid was for him to be taken to animal control where he would be euthanized. We weren't planning on keeping him since we already had two other rescue cats, so we kept him in the garage until we could take him to the vet the next day. The vet told us that he was an old guy who had arthritis and the start of kidney failure. He was such a sweet cat, and knowing that he was old and in imperfect health, I knew he wouldn't be adopted if we surrendered him to the no-kill shelter as was my plan. After a month of failed attempts to find his owner, he became ours. The first few months he was sweet, but stand-off-ish. He didn't like to be held or cuddled, and just generally kept to himself. He gradually started coming out of his shell, and one day, I was sitting on the couch with him laying on the table behind me, and I felt him give me a deliberate head bump. It's so funny how a simple act that our other cats do all the time would be so profound coming from him. Seeing his transformation from a scared, unsuccessful, outdoor cat to one who was loving and trusting was amazing. Only two months later, my husband and I went from being meat-eaters to vegans overnight. I have no doubt that Stanley helped us make this journey.
My rescue bunny Alex surprises me and everyone who meets him with his depth of affection and intelligence. Hard to imagine someone would dump him on the side of the highway.
all of my animals have taught me tolerance and compassion
my cat teaches me every day how to be independent and strong, my dog teaches me every day how to be loving, compassionated and loyal.
Dogs inspire me to be happy everyday.
I used to volunteer at a no-kill cat shelter in my city and they would go out of their way to rescue as many of our feline friends as possible. There was one cat in particular whose leg and tail had become caught in a trap and, unfortunately, vets had to amputate his left front leg because it was so badly mangled. After some serious digestive issues that confined him to the space not far from his litter box for a couple weeks, he was the happiest, bounciest and scrappy cat in the whole place. I so admired his spirit for going through all that he did without losing any of his personality. Oh, and we decided to name him Lego.
The Vegan Cookie Fairy
This looks like a really fantastic book, I'll have to see if it's available in the UK. Thanks for sharing this with us xoxo
What an amazing book and experience, thank you for sharing Kristy- the pictures of your day are great, that has always been one of my favorites - you with the cow 🙂