Encore: 7-Year-Old’s Love of Animals Thrives Today as Her Gentle Barn Foundation
Sitting still for the service at her family’s Orthodox Jewish temple felt like torture to her as a five-year-old. Faking a trip to the restroom, she slipped out the temple door. Suddenly, she was covered head to toe in Monarch butterflies.
Ellie Laks is the founder of the Gentle Barn Foundation, a celebrated animal-welfare advocate, humane educator, and author of My Gentle Barn: Creating a Sanctuary where Animals Heal and Children Learn to Hope. The gentle barn was Ellie’s dream since she was seven years old. In 1999, a few years after majoring in psychology and special education, her dream became reality. The Gentle Barn Foundation was established as a sanctuary to severely abused and neglected animals that no one else wants.
How Did You Start Using Your Talents?
Early in childhood, Ellie loved animals and rescued them often, often to her family’s chagrin. She recalls, “I would say to my parents, ‘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 came out of my mouth at the age of seven—and trust me, I do not know where this came from—but out of my mouth it came. That turned into a mantra, which turned into my life’s purpose. I would sit at school and doodle what the Gentle Barn would look like. I’d go to sleep each night and fantasize about all the animals I would love.”
The Most Impactful Turning Point?
“To put myself through school, I became a dog-walker, trainer, boarder and groomer. I speak better dog than human, so I love being around them and training them. I’ve trained dogs professionally since I was eleven, for my neighborhood. My business got big enough and I got a real, substantial paycheck. I drove down to the high-kill shelter near our house thinking, this is going to be easy. I’m just going to pick a dog and bring him home. We’re going to sail out to the sunset. But when I got there, I got a rude awakening. There were 300 dogs, screaming to be the one I picked. I realized, how in the world do I pick one out of all those needy faces?”
Ellie was in for a heartbreaker. Selecting seven pups that were to be euthanized that day, she brought them all home, only to lose them one by one to distemper. It was a harsh reality test of her childhood dream. After the pups all died, she insisted on taking China, the mother, back home with her. Against all odds, she nursed her back to health, and China lived for 10 years.
The Most Powerful Lessons Learned?
After some very dark days when she nearly lost her dream, Ellie reports, “I just held on to who I am with everything that I had, and it got me through. Now I have a thriving organization. After years of working as a volunteer, I finally get paid a salary that pays my bills. The universe rushed in to support me, and I think that’s what I would tell people: when we embrace who we are, our life’s work and purpose and the gift inside that we’ve shared with the world, life rushes in to support us.”
Steps to Success from Ellie Laks
1. As you find your purpose, learn everything related to it, as best you can. None of the knowledge will be wasted.
2. Don’t let yourself give up on your dream, despite apparent evidence to the contrary.
3. Share your gift generously and freely, and welcome the support the Universe sends through whatever channels it chooses.
On Her Bookshelf
My Gentle Barn: Creating a Sanctuary Where Animals Heal and Children Learn to Hope, by Ellie Laks and Nomi Isak
Connecting With Ellie Laks
YouTube Channel: youtube.com/user/gentlebarn
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