Cow-Hugging Therapy Introduced as a New Way to Cope


It’s often difficult to feel comfortable speaking to a new therapist right off the bat. Instead of sticking with old methods, some people are switching it up by using animals as a way to help cope with the stresses of life.

The Gentle Barn was found by Ellie Laks and her husband, Jay Weiner, and has been operating for over two decades in California. The animal sanctuary offers “cow hugging therapy” and is expanding to other areas in the United States. Their recent venture to St. Louis is looking to promote hugs as a way to draw attention to five special cows.

In addition to the rescued cows, there are three large hogs, along with some chickens, turkeys, donkeys, goats, sheep and a duck. A bio of each animal’s back story can be found on The Gentle Barn’s website.

Scientific studies of animal-assisted therapy have increased over the last two decades but very few focus on farm animals. According to a 2011 study, there was an improvement in psychiatric patients who had work-related tasks connected to dairy cattle.

“Over the last 22 years, we’ve gotten really wonderful feedback on how they brought people who wouldn’t talk, who were not responding to traditional therapy. They were angry, they were shut down. But magically in the barnyard among the animals and in those cow hugs, it kind of would reset them, open them up and help them be vulnerable and allow them to progress in regular therapy,” Laks said.

There are five cows available in the new Missouri location of The Gentle Barn, Chico, Eddie, Houdini, Johnny Cash and Roo. They gained fame locally after escaping a St. Louis slaughterhouse and leading police on a pursuit that lasted over five hours.

A cow therapy session will set you back $200 for a two-person, one-hour session, which is definitely worth it to pet a cow and make a new friend.


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