Animal behaviorist and communicator Ellie Laks has been training dogs since she was eleven years old, and she has rescued, rehabilitated and found homes for hundreds of “unadoptable” dogs and cats. Ellie believes in using meditation and stillness to become a better listener and she relies strongly on intuition. A proponent of vegan diets, Ellie is also the founder of an animal sanctuary known as The Gentle Barn that has expanded to three locations across the USA. She firmly believes that animals and people are alike in that we all have different personalities, interests, perceptions, memories, and needs.
Ellie recently discussed her life and career via an exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you both discover your love for animals and what led you to working with them?
Ellie Laks (EL): Jay and I both had challenges growing up and animals were always who we turned to. Jay and I both have vivid memories seeking refuge with the horses of our riding stables or the dogs and other animals in our respective neighborhoods. I founded The Gentle Barn in 1999 and Jay came in as a volunteer a couple of years later. We later fell in love and joined forces to expand the mission, save more animals, and heal more people.
MM: How did you develop your ability to seemingly communicate with animals?
EL: Animals have been speaking with me since the start. I remember being only three years old and sitting with wild rabbits in the forest behind my house. At six years old I heard a distress cry and walked out of my house, down the street, and along the shore of the lake to find a baby bird who had fallen out of her nest. I thanked her for calling me and brought her home to raise until she could fly away. I started training dogs professionally at eleven because I could easily understand and communicate with the dogs. I thought that being connected to animals and being able to understand them and communicate with them was normal. It was only later in high school that I was teased for my connection with animals and realized that I had a unique gift. The more I trust the still, small voice inside my head, the louder it gets.
MM: You’ve said that you think mostly anyone can communicate with animals, so what would be the first steps?
EL: I believe that we all can communicate with animals, just most of us have forgotten that we can. The first step in remembering our intuition is to adopt a plant-based diet. Eating gently allows us to open and connect to all living beings. The second thing is to create a daily meditation practice to quiet the mind, be comfortable in the stillness, and connect with our higher self. The third step is to practice self-care, take yourself seriously, and build that trust for yourself so that you can trust the information you are given when you quiet your mind, ask a question, and trust the answer. Then, the fourth step is to sign up for a class or take the whole two-year course at Communication with All Life University so you can be validated and gain confidence.
MM: How did you get involved with animal adoptions and how do you pair animals with their forever-families?
EL: From the time I was a teenager, I always dreamed about going to the shelter to rescue dogs and cats. When I started my dog training, boarding, and walking business to help me through college, I took my first paycheck and went to save someone at the nearest shelter. I found a dog from a puppy mill with 7 puppies who were going to be euthanized that day and took them home. The puppies sadly had distemper and all passed away one by one, but I was able to save the mom and show her how to be a real dog to play, walk on leash, ride in the car, and cuddle in bed. That experience was the first of many, and over the next several years I saved over 500 unadoptable dogs and cats and found loving forever homes for them. When I adopted them out, I did not want to get them back, only to suffer more heartbreak. Making sure the homes were a good match and that it would be permanent became crucial. I became really good at truly understanding who the dog was and wanted and matching them with homes that would be a good fit. I knew which dogs needed a lot of exercise and activity, versus the ones who would be happy sleeping all day. I saw the ones who would be alright on their own, versus the ones who needed another dog for company, versus the ones who needed someone who worked from home. The key is to always trust my instincts and not waiver on what I knew to be true, even if it would upset a potential adopter. One time there was a family who worked twelve hours a day who wanted to adopt a puppy as an only pet. That would have never worked, the puppy and the family would have been miserable, and I would have gotten that puppy back for sure, even though the people were adamant that they wanted him. They were upset, but I stuck to my guns and that puppy was later adopted by a family who was always home and had another dog to play with. That puppy lived happily ever after with his forever family.
MM: How did you establish The Gentle Barn?
EL: Like I wrote in my book, “My Gentle Barn,” creating a sanctuary where animals heal and children learn to hope, The Gentle Barn was my dream since I was seven years old, but I had no idea how to start. After procrastinating for decades, I discovered an abusive petting zoo and ended up bringing home very ill, injured, and old animals from there to my half acre backyard. After healing them with the help of a mobile veterinarian, I took care of them and months later realized I had started my dream. I established a 501c3, and a board of directors, and then called around to foster agencies, probation camps, domestic violence and homeless shelters, war veteran centers, drug and alcohol rehab facilities and invited them to bring their clients. I invited the community to come visit the animals on Sundays and during the week for private tours, and here we are almost twenty-five years later.
MM: What have been some of the most profound experiences that you’ve had while working with animals?
EL: I went on a cross country road trip with a turkey and shared snacks with her, sang to music together, and even visited the civil rights museum and the Grand Canyon together. Jay, our daughter, and I drove from California to Washington State to rescue a family of piggies. We had a calf grow up in our living room. I have helped find lost animals, solved behavioral issues, and identified health issues through animal communication. And when our beloved rescued dog got sick, was able to talk to her and find out that she would give me another year, train my next service dog, and spend an entire year going through her bucket list including have a parade for her just before she passed away. It was beautiful.
MM: How do you hope your careers — and the farms — evolve over the next ten years?
EL: I am excited about expanding to New York and having four thriving locations. I am excited about writing a Gentle Barn children’s book series and Jay a vegan cookbook. We hope to have a hit television series where our animals can have a louder voice and a further reach so that more people can see how intelligent, affectionate, and magical animals truly are. We wish to teach more classes to help more people open their own sanctuaries and do more animal communication sessions for people around the world to strengthen their relationship to their own animals.
MM: What are your ultimate goals for the future and is there anything else that you would like to mention?
EL: My ultimate goal is to help create a plant-based world where humans will protect instead of harm, unite instead of divide, and be gentle to all living beings so more can be happy and free instead of suffer. Please come hug a cow at The Gentle Barn and donate by going to gentlebarn.org, follow The Gentle Barn on all social media platforms, and my next book, “Cow Hug Therapy” comes out in May.