Ellie Laks, The Gentle Barn
Ellie Laks founded The Gentle Barn in Tarzana in 1999; it was a dream of hers since she was seven years old. Animals were always very healing and nurturing to her as she faced the challenges of growing up, finding herself, fitting in, feeling understood, etc. She majored in special education and psychology, and with her special love of animals and children, The Gentle Barn was a perfect way of putting all her talents and passions into one.
Jay Weiner joined The Gentle Barn in 2002 as a volunteer, but fell in love with the place and the two joined forces to heal even more children and animals. Like Ellie, Jay also turned to animals for the support, love and nurturing he needed as a child.
The Gentle Barn started on a half-acre property in the middle of the San Fernando Valley, CA. In 2003 Ellie and Jay moved The Gentle Barn to a six-acre paradise in Santa Clarita, CA. The property is complete with large horse and cow pastures, a red and white barnyard for the smaller animals, an organic vegetable garden, lots of shade trees, and a panoramic view of gorgeous mountains. Our over 170 rescued animals are safe and happy at The Gentle Barn, and there is plenty of room to welcome our visitors and the children we host.
The ultimate goal is to open Gentle Barn’s across the country so that every animal and child can have a place of healing and safety and where they can be seen for the perfect beings that they are. Since its inception, The Gentle Barn has been home to hundreds of animals and host to over 400,000 people.
Hello Everybody, I am Caryn Hartglass, and you’re listening to It’s All About Foods for August 19, 2014, how are you today? Really looking forward to this program today, we have some wonderful guests. Shall we get started? Great, our first guest is Ellie Laks, and she founded The Gentle Barn in Tarzana in 1999; it was a dream of hers since she was seven years old. Animals were very healing and nurturing to her. She faced the challenges of growing up, finding herself fitting in, feeling understood, and so on and she has a brand new book out. We’re going to be talking about The Gentle Barn and the book My Gentle Barn!
Caryn Hartglass: Welcome to It’s All About Foods, Ellie!
Ellie Laks: Hi! Good to be here.
Caryn Hartglass: Hi! I am so glad we were able to make this work.
Ellie Laks: Oh yeah, me too.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, and you know I’ve begun reading your book and I can’t wait to finish it but it is so filled with some wonderful stories, some very touching stories, and you’ve been through a lot.
Ellie Laks: Ha ha. Yeah, this has been an incredible journey I have to say.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, but I think, well, you know, I don’t know – we all have different life experiences but it looks like there has been something within you that’s guided you through all the things that you have experienced to make you come up despite what you’ve experienced made you a beautiful person doing some really lovely things.
Ellie Laks: Thank you so much.
Caryn Hartglass: All right, so, let’s talk about My Gentle Barn, what is it about?
Ellie Laks: Well My Gentle Barn is my memoir, and it starts in my childhood kind of explaining the things that I’ve gone through and why animals meant so much to me. And why the Gentle Barn was my dream since I was seven years old. And all the things that I went through to kind of lead up to starting the Gentle Barn, and all the trial and tribulations, that we have gone through, just kind of keeping The Gentle Barn afloat. It’s been an incredible journey, and I’ve overcome a lot of obstacles, and all those obstacles, even during the moment, I thought were going to destroy me, it ended up making me a stronger person and ended up at the end making the Gentle Barn a very successful organization.
Caryn Hartglass: You know I always wonder, I don’t have the interest, but I always wonder is it something in our DNA that makes us overcome obstacles or is it something in the universe that some of us are attuned to where we get our strength, where we get our guidance because you, I mean you’ve experienced abuse, you’ve experienced the inconsistency in religion, things that people preach and things that they do, yet somehow you have this foundation, this truth about nature and animals and the good within them that drove you and helped you go on and overcome and do what you’ve done.
Ellie Laks: Well, you know, my view of things is I think about that’s true for all of us, I think that we’re all born with gifts inside of us that we are supposed to share with the world. And I think that part of being here is these struggles that we go through to help us find ourselves, help us stand strong in our dreams and our gifts and what we thought the world. And some of us get lost and never find ourselves in this lifetime, and some of us like me, I’m, I’ve considered myself very lucky because I was able to always hold on to that dream no matter how lost I was at times in my life. I was able to hold on to that dream, kind of as a beacon guiding me through those dark times, and I never got completely lost, I always got found again, back to my purpose and my dream and my vision, and so, I consider myself very very lucky because in the end I was able to hold on to my dreams and make it happen and I think that’s true for all of us, I really do, I think we’re all here to in the end find ourselves and live our dreams.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, well, definitely this book is definitely an inspirational testament to that. One little story in here I just want to mention. Sometimes I want to call myself a misanthrope because humanity just does so many crazy things that I don’t believe, but at the same time I want to say that I have hope that we can, as you say, discover our dreams and be who we are supposed to be. But, there’s one little story, this miniature cow that was being raised, you talk about how the guy advertised it where your kids can give it bubble baths and then they slaughter it. And then you ultimately heard this animal tell you when you were able to save him, you heard his name. And I love that story because it’s all about paying attention, it’s all about listening and many of us would just like not even pay attention or not even understand what that was, but you, I just love that whole story.
Ellie Laks: Thank you so much. That cow, her name is Buddha ..
Caryn Hartglass: I said him, but it’s her.
Ellie Laks: Yeah and she was our first cow, and my god, she taught me so much about life and love and living in the moment, and finding who I am, and in her course of being at The Gentle Barn, she’s given out 300,000 hugs. It was very, very common for people to kneel down beside her to hug her and then just burst into tears because her energy and her love was so so strong. It was really incredible.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, okay, so, and why did you want to write this book?
Ellie Laks: God, for so many reasons, I thought that my, I was hoping that my story would inspire people to live their dreams and to find themselves first of all and also it was an opportunity to tell the animals’ stories, you know, Gentle Barn is kind of like a giant story book where every single animal has these incredible stories of where they come from, what they’ve overcome, and the lessons about forgiveness, trust, and love that they teach me every day. And that they continue to teach the at-risk kids that we work with. And I wanted their stories to be told. The animals that help me found The Gentle Barn, the animals that taught me how to work with kids, the animals that taught me how to heal and to love and to lose, and to let go, they taught me everything that I know, and they continue to teach me and I really wanted their stories to be told as well, and I also wanted so desperately to tell in a very very gentle way the issues that animals are facing and the opportunities for us to help them and to make kinder choices.
Caryn Hartglass: So, you were really young when you had a dream and how did you connect the dots and decide not to eat animals?
Ellie Laks: You know, I, from the minute I could walk, I was always running around in the woods and the lakes and when I found animals in trouble I would bring them home, but it wasn’t until I was 11 years old that there was a chicken in my school, I don’t know why she was there, all the kids were running around making a lot of noise and chicken was in a little carrier, very very very scared. And so, I have always loved animals, and I have always been able to see them if they’re scared or in trouble. And so I went over to her, and I took her out of the carrier, and I held her, and I was stroking her and telling her that she’s going to be okay, and that she’s safe and that no one would hurt her. The principal ran in and said that “Don’t pet the chicken, we’ve got to get her to the slaughterhouse.” She pulled her out of my arms and whisked her away. And I was standing there with my mouth open feeling like I got hit by a two-by-four, and I realize in that moment that chicken and rice was not a coincidence and you know, I realize chicken and rice is the same thing as the chicken the animal. And I was very disturbed and very upset and being only 11 years old, I felt powerless to go and, you know, try to help that chicken from the principal, but I went home that night and I announced to my parents that I would never be eating animals again. And my parents said, “Oh, that’s nice dear, eat your chicken soup.” And I said, “Well, didn’t you just hear me, I am not eating animals.” They said, “Well that’s not an animal, it’s just soup.” And I said, “No, that was an animal, and I am not eating them again.” At which point, my parents freaked out and they thought oh my god, I am going to die, and I am going to be anemic, I am not going to grow, and I said “Well, if that’s true, so be it, but I am not going to eat animals again. It was very clear to me that animals were my friends, my witnesses, and my healers, and to eat them was just, didn’t make any sense to me at all.
Caryn Hartglass: You know, in some ways, I wonder about your parents because they challenged you all along the way, not supporting what you believed in and, you know even if a parent doesn’t want to agree with their child, there are different ways to approach any challenge, and there were so many unfortunate stories with the frozen rabbits and the frozen duck where your parents were not at all supportive of what you were trying to do, and I just wonder was that to make you even stronger and enable you to do what you went on to do.
Ellie Laks: Yeah, I mean, I have kind of a human perspective and I have a more spiritual perspective on that. My human perspective is, I believe that we can’t give what we didn’t get, and so, my parents and their childhood probably weren’t supported for who they were …
Caryn Hartglass: Absolutely …
Ellie Laks: …and so because they weren’t supported in childhood and they were groomed to be who their parents wanted them to be, that’s all they knew how to be with me. And then my more spiritual kind of take on it is, you know, I meet many many people from around the world that say that when they were young, they also brought animals home and they were always connected to animals and their parents supported them, and they grew up to become teachers and doctors and lawyers and business people, and maybe if I was supported in my childhood it would have run its course and I would have been a teacher right now, but because I was never able to save the animals and I was never seen for who I was that I just had to do it in adulthood. I mean, you know, you never know why things happened.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, I am agreeing and I never want anybody to experience difficulties or hardships or abuse, when something wonderful comes out of it, you question – do the ends justify the means, whatever. There’s a lot of pain and suffering in this world, and I wish it would all go away.
Ellie Laks: I agree.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, so then the Gentle Barn, how did you get the concept for that?
Ellie Laks: So, when I was little, I was, like I said, I kept bringing animals home, and my parents didn’t want them in the house, and they would get rid of them, and so at seven years old, my little temper tantrums to my parents was “You’ll see when I grow up, I’ll have a huge place full of animals and I’ll show the world how beautiful they are.” That was my temper tantrums; so really, The Gentle Barn is my temper tantrum, my “I told you so.” I always had this concept since I was seven that all the animals in the world that were lonely and hurt and have nowhere else to go, I’m going to bring them home and I’m going to heal them. And then, together with the animal, we’re going to invite all the lonely hurting people of the world into The Gentle Barn, and we’re going to heal them too. And that was this little seven-year-old fantasy I had. And I could never quite let it go, but I had no idea how to start a Gentle Barn, I didn’t have money or land or support, and I certainly didn’t know how to run a non-profit, so I procrastinated for many many years, 30 years to be exact, and then 15 years ago, I was driving down the street doing an errand, and I saw a petting zoo I had never seen before. And there was just so much, so many animals there and so much chaos going on in there, I just had to park my car and go in, and I’ll spare you the details, but there was a lot of suffering there.
Caryn Hartglass: Gentle little petting barn …
Ellie Laks: Yeah, and I just couldn’t stomach it, so I was running for the door, and blocking the door was this little old goat that looked like she was about to drop dead any second and the longer story is in my book, but to make a very long story short, I asked the owner if I could have the goat, and she said no, and I said well, I am going to stay here until you say yes, and I stayed there for 12 days. And on the 13th day, she said “Lady, take this goat and get out of here.” And so I lived in a little house on a half-acre backyard, and I thought well I could bring a goat home, and so I brought her home, and I healed her, and months later she was jumping around the backyard as happy as can be. Meanwhile, I have been calling the authorities about this petting zoo to see if they could make the conditions better, and they also did the same thing, they said yes, we’ve known about her for years, there’s nothing we can do, she’s connected politically. And it broke my heart that all these animals were suffering so terribly and nobody was listening, and so I said well, at the very least I have to do something, so I went back to the petting zoo, and I showed them a picture of Mary the goat and told them all the wonderful things I had done for her, and I said “Look, I know that you have other animals that are suffering, no questions asked, I’ll take them off your hands.” And she said, “Okay,” and so she started dragging??15:10 animals out of the back, broken bones, pneumonia, scared to death and dying, and I brought them all home. They were pigs and miniature horse, and goats and sheep and chickens, and I just brought them all home and I fixed them all, and I wasn’t thinking at the time that this was The Gentle Barn, I was just thinking I cannot sleep at night knowing these animals are suffering and nobody is doing anything about it. So I took them all home, I fixed them all, and then there was one particular morning where I look out my window to a backyard that is now full of animals and I said, “Oops.” I said, “I think I just started the Gentle Barn.”
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, wow!
Ellie Laks: That was 15 years ago, and we’re actually about to start, we’re about to celebrate our 15th anniversary next Sunday, we are very excited.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh, congratulations!
Ellie Laks: Thank you.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s a lovely story, you know, there’s so many misfortunes in the world and one person cannot solve them all, but we can all do our part and you’re definitely doing a great part.
Ellie Laks: Thank you.
Caryn Hartglass: And, you know, I was talking about with Patrice Jones last week about the unfortunate story about Green Mountain College, with Bill and Lou, the ox, and I don’t know she had known that story. There was an opportunity for the university to make the right choice, and they didn’t, people were offering to take these animals off their hand, and do all kind of wonderful things, and they didn’t make the right choice and they slaughtered one of them, and it was very very horrible sad story, at least in this instance, you gave this woman an opportunity and she made the right decision.
Ellie Laks: Yeah, and you know, here’s the bottom line, and this is what I tell people all the time, because that’s happened to us as well, we’ve discovered animals that were raised in a school, and were going to be slaughter, and we call and offer to take the animals, and they won’t let us. And here’s the bottom line, and this is a choice that every single solitary one of us has to make at one time in our lives, we have the choice where we’re going to plant our feet. Are we going to plant our feet in the side of greed and making money and destroying the planet, and slaughtering animals and destroying our bodies or are we going to plant our feet in the side of right? And a side of peace, and a side of kindness, and a side of nourishing our bodies and preserving this planet. It’s one or the other, and we have to make that decision, and so, at The Gentle Barn, we’re always trying to help people evolve, to making that decision to plant our feet in the side of right, and make kind decisions in what we are eating and in what we are wearing, and in what we do in our daily lives. And you know, some of us make huge strides in trying to give peace to the world like starting a non-profit and doing wonderful things, but there’s so many things that each of us can make in our little daily lives, we can smile at someone when we pass them by …
Caryn Hartglass: Oh what a difference that does!
Ellie Laks: Yes, give someone a smile, right?
Caryn Hartglass: I live in New York City, and nobody looks at anybody and when you smile at someone, makes you feel good too.
Ellie Laks: Yeah, yeah, people, you know, are so shut down in our own little lives, we don’t look at anybody, we don’t smile at anybody, we don’t talk to anybody. Just looking up, turning our eyes up, looking at them smiling at somebody that’s sitting on a sidewalk or passing us by, it can make such a difference. There are so many things that we can do in our daily little lives that we can stand on the right, and give someone else love and some encouragement and it goes a long way.
Caryn Hartglass: I think that’s the human struggle, really, that’s the choice that we’re supposed to be making, and most people are afraid.
Ellie Laks: Yeah.
Caryn Hartglass: They’re just afraid.
Ellie Laks: Yeah, I mean, not saying ignorance is bliss, it’s true.
Caryn Hartglass: Yup. Hee hee.
Ellie Laks: Being able to just shut out all the suffering and eat what we want and it’s bliss, but it’ll cost us in the end.
Caryn Hartglass: You know, you made comment before about your parents how they were only able to give what they got before; I am wondering where did you get what you got to learn to do what you did?
Ellie Laks: I got it from my dog, and I got it from my parakeet, and I got it from all the animals that surrounded me in the woods, those animals were my witnesses and they gave me the unconditional love that I can now give to the animals that we heal and they let me know that I was okay.
Caryn Hartglass: Yup, I, that’s what they’re here for, they teach us about unconditional love, aren’t they?
Ellie Laks: Yeah, they’re angels. My little fantasy that I have is, I imagine the angels surrounding us before we’re born, and they say now look, you got to go down there, and it’s going to be hard and you’re going to struggle, and it’s going to be difficult, and you’re going to see things that are horrible, but we’re going to surround you with angels and they’re going to keep you strong as you move along. And so, yeah, we l got to be on this planet, we got to go through our stories, but there’s always animals that will give us unconditional love, and inspire us to keep going. That was certainly true in my life.
Caryn Hartglass: All right, now, you’ve got a few things going on at The Gentle Barn, what’s the Adopting Plant-Based Diet Is Easy campaign? Now I know plant-based diet is easy; I talk about them pretty much 24/7. I am a broken record about plant foods, but tell us about Adopting Plant-Based Diet Is Easy.
Ellie Laks: Well, we’re trying to help people make kinder choices, and we’re trying to help the animals, we’re trying to help the planet environmentally, and we’re trying to encourage people to be healthier, because as a species, we don’t need to be this sick. We’ve launch, what we called, A Plant-Based Diet Is Easy, and on our website, GentleBarn.org, we’ve got a plant-based diet website that people can click on, and in it, we have videos of different athletes and celebrities talking about why they chose a plant-based diet. Basically we break it down into three choices, environmental, health, and ethical reasons for animals. And so we have celebrities and athletes talking about the different reasons why they chose a plant-based diet, and people can watch those videos and get inspired, they can also learned about how it impacts the environment, our health, and animals when we do eat meat and drink dairy and how it saves them and heals them when we adopt a plant-based diet. We also have recipes, we cook in our home, and we videotape it so people can see how easy those recipes are, and we also go out to local restaurant and we show people no matter where you live or what restaurant you are eating at, or where do you go to eat, you can always find something that’s plant-based. We’re really trying to show people it is so easy, and I know it’s new and intimidating for people, but if they can really embrace how incredibly easy it is to eat delicious things, where ever we go, that maybe they won’t be so afraid and try it for themselves.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s easier more than ever, it’s trending, and it’s almost sexy now.
Ellie Laks: It is! That is sexy. I agree.
Caryn Hartglass: Makes you look sexy and you know, it’s just the right thing to do. And what about The Gentle 52 Sponsorship Program, what’s that?
Ellie Laks: So, my husband, Jay, who we work at The Gentle Barn together, he came up with this wonderful program call the Gentle 52 because we’re open to the public every Sunday from 10-2 where people can come meet the animals and hear their stories and hug a cow and cuddle a turkey, and it’s amazing. And so, he came up with the Gentle 52 program, which basically is there are 52 Sundays in a year, so every Sunday that people are here, there’s a new corporation or company that can sponsor that Sunday, and they come out and they give free products to the visitors, and they give gift certificates, and it’s a way that we can support these wonderful, ethical, cruelty-free, vegan companies that are doing such great things in the world, so it’s a way we can support them, but it’s also a way for them to reach out to our visitors. So it’s kind of a win-win, and it’s very exciting. Every Sunday, there’s just a new vendor there, it’s very, very exciting.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, well, the nice thing is that there are more and more of these companies, so you’re able to have this win-win situation. About 30 years ago, even 10 years ago, was harder to get these sponsors because they weren’t out there. But fortunately, there’s a lot of vegan entrepreneurs out there, and they’re making wonderful products.
Ellie Laks: Yes, agreed!
Caryn Hartglass: Making it easy for everybody.
Ellie Laks: Yeah, absolutely.
Caryn Hartglass: Now, you are located in Southern California. And what do you, where, how do people find you?
Ellie Laks: So, we’re in Santa Clarita, which is about 30 minutes North of Los Angeles. And, we have directions on our website, GentleBarn.org.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, got to get there someday.
Ellie Laks: Oh, we would love to meet you.
Caryn Hartglass: I need some hugs from some of those guys.
Ellie Laks: Let me just tell you that hugging a cow can, oh my god, is the best thing ever, it changes lives. It, my motto, which I am going to make into a bumper sticker one day is, you can’t hug a cow and have a bad day at the same time.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, well, I’ve looked into different cows eyes. I am not really an animal person, I don’t have a dogs or cats that live with me, but I have a strong feeling about how non-human animals really deserve to live, their lives to the fullest with their families and friends, and anytime I can look into one of their eyes and tell them I am not eating you, or your friends, and I believe in you, it’s a powerful experience.
Ellie Laks: Yes, absolutely.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, well, Ellie, it was really lovely talking to you. I am looking forward to finishing this memoir of yours. Thank you for sharing these stories, and I hope to get to The Gentle Barn someday.
Ellie Laks: Yeah, we look forward to meeting you. Such a pleasure to be here today, thank you so much.
Caryn Hartglass: Thank you. Thank you so much! Bye bye!
Ellie Laks: Bye!
Caryn Hartglass: All right, so I just wanted to say before we take a break and get to the second part of this show, Wednesday, August 20th, that’s tomorrow, Wednesday, August 20th, I am hosting a webinar on water safety and drinking water purity, if you want to register, it’s free! It’s at 8pm, August 20th, just go to ResponsibleEatingAndLiving.com website, scroll down on the right side towards Water made wonderful, and click on the “Click here to reserve your spot now” I hope to see you then! And get your questions ready about water safety. All right? Other than that, visit GentleBarn.org. And see all the lovely things that are going on there. Okay, let’s take a quick break.
Transcribed by Queenie Tsui 9/16/2014