The Gentle Barn, a national nonprofit animal rescue and sanctuary, highlighted its cow hug therapy program this year through a new fundraiser which allowed donors to send a virtual “cow hug” to loved ones in the form of a digital Valentine’s Day card.
Each Valentine, featuring therapy cows John Lewis, Chico and Destiny, raised $10 for the nonprofit, which currently houses more than 170 rescue barnyard animals at its 6-acre headquarters in Santa Clarita. The emailed cards, offered for the first time this year, share a portrait of a cow and a short poem about sharing a hug with the recipient.
“Our Co-Founder Jay Weiner and his amazing marketing team at The Gentle Barn came up with the idea this year as cow hug therapy has become so popular, we thought it would be cute for folks who are too far away to come — they can get a virtual one,” Ellie Laks, co-founder, said in an email. “And for people who have had the pleasure of cow hug therapy, they can send a cow hug to their loved ones.”
The Valentine fundraiser supports the rescue’s cow hug therapy program — touted as being helpful for trauma victims, veterans and at-risk youth — which encourages paying visitors to come interact with the large barnyard animals. Of its roughly 40,000 annual visitors, about 1,500 people per year try cow hug therapy, according to the company.
“We have been doing cow hug therapy for 22 years now since rescuing our very first cow named Buddha. At the end of long days at the inception of our organization, I would lean on Buddha for strength and comfort and she would wrap her neck around me and hug me back. That is when I knew the incredible healing qualities and extended it to all our guests,” Laks said. “Most of the healing is because of the cows themselves, but part of the healing is because of the energy, quiet, tranquility and peace that the actual land itself offers to people.”
The nonprofit did not disclose how much it raised through the Valentine’s cards.
Laks founded the first Gentle Barn on a half-acre San Fernando Valley property in 1999. Weiner joined her in 2002, shortly before the move to Santa Clarita to the organization’s current, larger location which houses cows, pigs, chickens and other rescued barnyard animals.
In addition to the Santa Clarita property, The Gentle Barn has a second location in Nashville, Tennessee, and a third in St. Louis, Missouri. Laks and Weiner plan to eventually open Gentle Barns in every state “so that everyone in America can hug cows, cuddle turkeys, give pigs tummy rubs, and look into the eyes of these animals and know for certain that we are all the same, and deserving of the same rights, respects and freedoms.”
Since its inception, according to the nonprofit’s site, The Gentle Barn has saved thousands of animals and been host to more than 500,000 people.