Nonprofit Spotlight: The Gentle Barn

A Haven for Animals and People Alike 

A green sign marks a gravel turnoff a few miles down a wooded road in Dittmer, Missouri. At first you won’t see it—a slight hill and some trees block your view. Come around the bend, and there it is: The Gentle Barn. 


History and Mission 

Since its inception in 1999, The Gentle Barn’s three locations have saved thousands of animals and have hosted over half a million visitors. Their mission is to teach people kindness and compassion to animals, each other, and our planet. 

The Gentle Barn was founded in California by Ellie Laks and Jay Weiner. A second location opened in Nashville, Tennessee, followed by a third in Dittmer, Missouri. Ellie, Jay, and their staff work tirelessly to rehabilitate animals and connect their stories of survival to the personal experiences of children who have suffered trauma. The Gentle Barn recognizes that by interacting with animals and taking a hands-on role in their welfare, people too can heal. 

The Missouri location is home to rescued donkeys, pigs, goats, turkeys, chickens, a sheep, a duck, and cows—the famous St. Louis Six, cows who escaped a slaughterhouse and ran through the streets of St. Louis in March 2017. 


A Visit to The Gentle Barn 

On the property, it’s quiet except for the pig grunting hello to you from inside her stall. It’s unassuming except for the beautiful log home, large trees, and immaculately kept barns. It smells sweetly of hay except for…well, you know. Above all, there is a feeling of peacefulness. From the moment you set foot on the property, you know you are welcome.

A volunteer with Smudge, a turkey.

“Everyone can benefit from time with animals,” said Tamara Boyd, Development and Events Supervisor and volunteer. “Every animal here has a story that mirrors a person’s story. Through the animals, we can reach anyone, and change their life.” 

Tamara’s passion—and the passion of the three other staff members at this location: Matt, Nick, and Christine—is obvious. Their enthusiasm is contagious and the pride they take in their work is clear as well. A smile never leaves their faces as they give Petunia the pig a tummy rub or play ball with Baron, a goat. All four agree that it was the animals who found The Gentle Barn, not the other way around. 


Cow Hug Therapy  

The Gentle Barn offers a Cow Hug Therapy program, an opportunity to “feel grounded, centered, and recharged” as visitors meditate with and hug cows. “By wrapping your arms around our kind cows, listening to each of your hearts beat, feeling the graciousness of great strength and enormous size be extremely gentle and caring, individuals are transformed.” 

A visitor enjoying Cow Hug Therapy with Roo.

Being with the animals is a fundamental part of visiting The Gentle Barn. “We create moments of quiet stillness with the animals to foster a deeper understanding of them as living beings,” said Boyd.  

And a deeper understanding it is indeed. When your cheek is pressed to the solid warmth of a cow’s neck and all you can hear is his heartbeat in your ear, it’s impossible not to think of that animal in a new way. Their presence is as calming as their resilience is uplifting. Each animal at the Gentle Barn has their own effect on those lucky enough to spend a few minutes with them. 


Looking Forward 

The Gentle Barn’s goals for its Missouri location include: 

  • Expanding the gift shop 
  • Improving the footing in the large barn and adding stalls 
  • Updating pasture fencing throughout the facility 
  • Expanding the pig enclosure and adding a shade structure 
  • Adding a bridge over the creek in the cow pasture 
  • Add concrete flooring to the chicken coop to protect the chickens from predators 

Most of all, the Gentle Barn wants to provide a haven for even more animals—and people—by opening more locations across the country. 


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