Connecting the Dots: Consent at The Gentle Barn

Ashley with cowLast week, I finally got to visit The Gentle Barn, a sanctuary for 170 farm animals who have all been rescued from severe abuse. I’d wanted to go since I moved to Los Angeles – a quick 30-45 minute drive north to Santa Clarita, a very easy-to-access location that is a must-visit for both residents of and visitors to the city. I went to visit the animals and support the sanctuary, I left with an overwhelming sense of connection.

Wherever I go, of course I tend to connect the dots of human, animal, and environmental well-being (I mean, I am me after all), but that wasn’t the point of this trip. No thinking about work, no thinking period – just celebrate the animals and support this amazing organization. And then I found myself unexpectedly sitting in front of the founder, Ellie Laks (who just published a book about the sanctuary), for an introductory presentation. Explaining to my small group about the animals, how we all share the same needs and desires, and the sanctuary’s programs for children, there were so many dots to connect, and then as Ellie moved on to preparing the group to visit the animals, my brain exclaimed, “OMG, consent!”

Ashley with pigThere was something about the way Ellie explained how to treat the animals – we’ve all likely heard to ask people walking dogs before we pet them, etc., but Ellie’s explanation was so simple, so clear, and so full of value and respect for the agency of each animal. “If you walk up to a goat and he walks away, does he want to talk to you?” she asked the crowd? “No!” exclaimed the children in the group, adults suddenly silent (I couldn’t help but wonder how many had forced their kids to give hugs and kisses to friends and family). As she continued this line of questioning, it took all I had not to be that person who yelled out “No means no, yes means yes!” and the like. She was talking about consent, or, as some of my colleagues and I like to call it, basic human decency. I saw the adults fall silent, get a bit uncomfortable, and start thinking. Even to my exhausted brain constrained with the “relax!” directive, I knew then that she was having a major impact on that crowd, promoting positive norms not just for the animals at the sanctuary, but for us all.

Please visit and support The Gentle Barn. Become a member, sponsor an animal, sponsor a group of children…and by all means, if a goat walks away from you, let it be.

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