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Lesley K. Johnson

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GENTLE BARN FOUNDATION
February 26, 2013

I feel compelled to write this in response to so many of the five-star reviews being left on this site in defense of the Gentle Barn and critical of past volunteers and employees who are voicing their concerns about this organization's level of care for its animals and its use of donation dollars. In all honesty, if you're forming your opinions from any sort of remote vantage point – animal sponsor, Sunday public visitor, casual volunteer, Facebook fan – you should admit to yourself that you probably do not have the necessary information or insight to refute with any sort of intelligence the issues being raised by those who have been closest to the inner workings of the Gentle Barn.

I was a senior level volunteer there for two years, acting as both the upper barnyard manager and "special person" to Billy The Goat until his unfortunate death last year. I was also a regular donor. If you visited any Sunday between April 2010 and February 2012, you probably met me, even if you don't remember. I think I missed just two public sessions in the yard during my entire tenure as manager. With this in mind, I would like to respond specifically to those comments left here and elsewhere on line in praise of the barn based soley on what a "wonderful" and "magical" experience it is to visit on Sundays and see so many farm animals living together they way they do in the upper barnyard.

I can't begin to count the hundreds of conversations I had with people who were so delighted and so amazed to find themselves in the middle of what I so often heard referred to as "Utopia." Because you just never see goats living with a 1,000-pound pig living with a tiny little hair sheep living with turkeys living with llamas living with an emu living with chickens living with cows. Right? But have you ever asked yourself WHY you never see goats living with a thousand-pound pig living with a tiny little hair sheep living with turkeys living with llamas living with an emu living with chickens living with cows?

Because it is UNSAFE.

It's unsafe for all of the individual animals, for the staff working the grounds, for the volunteers trying to cover such a condensed and overcrowded area and for the public visitors with little to no experience with farmed animals who venture into the space. When you visit other sanctuaries - and I would hazard a guess this applies to ANY other responsibly run sanctuary – you will see the large pigs in their own area and the birds in their own area and the cows in their own pasture, etc. Because this is what is safest for all involved – most especially for the animals lucky enough to be living in sanctuary rather than dying in factory farms. Yes, a 1,000-pound pig should most certainly be able to run as many crazy, joyful circles around his space as he wants. But volunteers should never have to throw their bodies over smaller, more frail animals while he does, in the panicked hope no one gets trampled.

We all must be critical, intelligent thinkers who form our own opinions based on our own experiences. My experiences at the GB – while some were so very wonderful (like falling in love with so many animals and people there who've forever changed my life) – have also unfortunately led me to believe that the safety and well-being of the animals there takes a clearly measurable backseat to the all-important image of Utopia. Because Utopia tugs at the heartstrings. And because these kinds of emotional responses solicit donation dollars. I think – based on my lengthy and very involved tenure there – that the Gentle Barn no longer raises money to rescue animals. I am of the opinion the GB rescues animals to raise money. This distinction is very important.

And this is why (finally coming full-circle to my ultimate point here) I am so endlessly frustrated at such glowing reviews based solely upon the wonderful feelings people have upon visiting the barn. Yes, as farmed-animal advocates we LOVE that you feel so happy experiencing the joy of being around these wonderful souls. But as farmed animal advocates we also know that our own joy should never – EVER – be at the expense of any animals anywhere. In sanctuary especially, the animals must come first. As someone who staffed that yard from a strictly defensive position during my last year (Who can handle the big pigs best and keep them from brawling in such small barns? Who can best manage [cows] Holy and Madonna to keep them from falling in the pig pool and probably breaking a leg? Which volunteer has a strong enough personality to keep people away from any animals who are overwhelmed by the crowds but still make everyone feel welcome? Who can make sure yet another chicken or turkey doesn't get crushed under one of the pigs?), I most definitely believe your happiness visiting there has been granted at the expense of the residents who call that yard home.

All this being said, please know one more thing: We are not a small group of toxic, disgruntled, ex-volunteers filled with bitterness and hate. Our numbers are many and we are compassionate and concerned and – without exception – brokenhearted. Among us are experts in the fields of animal care and advocacy. Among us are college-educated, working professionals with both corporate and non-profit backgrounds. Among us are community leaders and concerned parents and people who LOVE the original mission statement on which the barn was built. We just think the founders have lost their way. And some of us, myself included, are trying to right our own personal wrongs of staying quiet far too long and watching animals suffer because of it.

More feedback

Would you volunteer for this group again?

No

For the time you spent, how much of an impact did you feel your work or activity had?

Some

Did the organization use your time wisely?

Okay

Would you recommend this group to a friend?

No

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2012

MY ROLE:
Volunteer