Monday, August 10, 2015
In the midst of being triggered and traumatized by a therapist who was supposed to be helping me, I told him, "You have to be nice."
But that's not really what I meant.
I was begging him to be gentle with me.
I know, it sounds like a joke, like some fair maiden about to be ravaged by a disreputable Lothario. But I wasn't joking, no matter what this know-it-all therapist accused me of. I was very serious.
It all started when I visited an animal rescue called The Gentle Barn last year and hugged a cow. I was so moved by the stories of abused animals who were learning to trust humans again—or for the first time. They were saved from vicious trainers, neglectful hoarders, illegal backyard butchers, and petting zoos where they were beaten, forgotten, and left in their own filth. They were malnourished, separated from their mothers or their young too soon, and traumatized. Some of them had recovered physically, but their hearts were still broken.
I started following The Gentle Barn online because I like to see the pictures of the farm animals. But what really captivated me were the photo captions: the individual stories of each rescue, and their respective recovery. Here are some of the stories that really get to me, no matter how many times I read them:
Amelia the goat is learning that humans can be kind and that The Gentle Barn is a safe place to be. She will get to feel love the rest of her life. Bluebell the goat will only know a gentle hand for the rest of her life.
They keep telling Aretha the cow that she will get to live at The Gentle Barn for the rest of her life, and once she trusts them, they will brush her gently, scratch her back, hug her softly, and love her until the end of time.
It took them two years to get Bonsai the horse to trust humans again, and they spent three years showing Caesar the horse that it was safe to express his feelings and his personality.
Because Dolly the cow was not used to having much company, she didn't know how to accept love. It took her a while to bond with the other cows and allow people to pet and love her.
Emily the goat seemed lethargic and depressed when she arrived to The Gentle Barn, but after months of around-the-clock care, the life came back into her eyes and the hope came back into her heart.
Mango the sheep was terrified at first, but she will now take hand-fed treats. The Gentle Barn will not stop working until she trusts them completely. And it may take them years to win the trust of Sunshine the sheep, but they won't quit until they have it and they can show her how much they love her.
Rama the turkey was saved from becoming a Thanksgiving dinner. She still won't allow anyone to pet her, but at least she won't run away from them anymore.
Reina the goat's body has finally healed, but she has never known a kind human before coming to The Gentle Barn. They will keep working hard to show her love, kindness, and safety for the rest of her life, and one day they will pet her.
Emily (Photo: The Gentle Barn)
It's not much, but I decided to sponsor Emily the goat for a couple of months. I don't have the money, but I'd rather take care of her than take care of myself. In choosing an animal to sponsor, because I was so touched by all their stories, I asked The Gentle Barn if there were any that were less popular than others, or needed a little extra help. Was there one that was no one's favorite, that least often got picked? I could've just signed up for an annual membership, but I liked the idea of helping a specific animal out. I asked them to give her a scratch and a kiss for me. I know they will.
Some might consider these animals "difficult," or "unwilling to cooperate." They've given up. They don't want help. They'd rather die. But at The Gentle Barn, nobody believes them. Instead, these animals are given belly rubs, chiropractic care, massage therapy, acupuncture, and whatever else necessary to take away the pain and suffering that they have endured. Their troublesome histories are acknowledged and respected. And once they are rehabilitated, they, in turn, can provide therapy to the disadvantaged and disabled.
You have to show love, if you want love back. You have to earn trust. You have to prove safety.
And you have to expect that those who have been abused might run away from you, or run to attack you. But you can't spank a stray dog for biting you.
I'm not a vegan. I embrace my omnivorism. But I try to make it ethical while keeping my place in the food chain. And if a predator decides to eat me one day, I probably deserve it. I probably have it coming.
But in the meantime, can we show a little kindness? Can we be gentle to others, in hopes that we will be treated gently in return?
Photo Essay: The Gentle Barn, Healing Hearts in A Forever Home
Living With the Terror
Photo Essay: Blessings for the Poor in Spirit