My Gentle Barn; Ellie Laks
Harmony Books - 2014
My Gentle Barn, a memoir, tells the story of Ellie Laks’ troubled childhood, feeling misunderstood and abandoned by her Jewish Orthodox parents and sexual abused by baby sitters. She relates that her early love of animals, to which she turned to for solace, helped to heal her emotional pain. From an early age Ellie had a dream to rescue neglected and abandoned animals. She wanted other troubled children to have a place to go where animals could help to heal their hurts.
According to the author, the Gentle Barn began one a small scale in an effort to rescue homeless and neglected dogs, right in her own backyard . Later she expanded her rescue to include pigs, goats and cows and quickly outgrowing her initial quarters. She was able to purchase a much large, more appropriate property, in part, thanks to a trust fund. This new property allowed her to continue her mission of helping more animals and healing more children. In 1999 the Gentle Barn animal sanctuary in Santa Clarita, California has open to the general public and has been helping animals and healing at-risk children. In a NY Times article, I read that according to Ellie’s husband, it takes about $50,000 a month to operate the Gentle Barn. The money has come from individual donations, through the Gentle Barn website, as well as from private family donations, corporate grants and foundations. Major donors have included Ellen DeGeneres, Toyota, CBS, William Morris Endeavor and Princess Cruises.
When asked early on why she does what she does, she replied, “You don’t understand. I’m not saving the animals; they’re saving me." Her stories about nursing the rescued animals back to health from deplorable conditions seemed genuine and heartfelt, and her love and concern for the animals welfare admirable. I loved her devotion to help troubled kids and how she was able to get some of them to trust through their interactions with the animals.
Although her memoir is inspiring and she is to be commended for her work, I never felt any sympathy for Ellie. Yes, she claimed her childhood was difficult, and the path to the Gentle Barn, involved lots of stumbling blocks. She also made a lot of bad decisions in her life. She spent 3-years as a crack addict, married, divorced, had unplanned pregnancies, remarried and ended up with significant financial issues. Some of her recantations just did not ring true for me, making me wonder whether parts of the memoir might have been embellished or even fabricated.
After finishing this memoir, a book which I am happy that I read, I started “googling" The Gentle Barn and Ellie Laks” and came across (2) interesting links which made wonder about the validity of what I read in this book. I think that while The Gentle Barn is and continues to do good work, there may be another side to the story which the reader has not been privy to. One of these links of concern was posted by the author’s own brother in response to this memoir. View HERE.
I guess readers will be left to form their own opinions. One thing I do know is that I’d love to visit The Gentle Barn. As a lover of all animals, I’m pretty sure I would love spending a day there.
4/5 stars (eGalley and audiobook)