A California-based nonprofit is using cow-hugging therapy to help people cope with stress.
Animals are candid, loyal companions, says founder of The Gentle Barn, Ellie Laks. And, Laks said, they can give humans emotional support through tough moments in life.
"If someone needs healing, the cows wrap them in a really good hug with their necks," Laks said. "Cows are very centered, grounded and immersed in the present time and they help us do the same."
Laks, who said she majored in special education and psychology, said that cow-hugging therapy can help with a wide range of mental health issues, including depression, anxiety and compassion fatigue.
According to the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, close interaction with other animals can help increase happiness and reduce stress.
However, the CDC also added, "it's important to be aware that farm animals can sometimes carry harmful germs that can cause a variety of illnesses in people, ranging from minor skin infections to serious illnesses. One of the best ways to protect yourself from getting sick is to thoroughly wash your hands right after handling farm animals, their supplies, or anything in the areas where they live and roam."
The Gentle Barn was founded by Laks in 1999 on a half-acre property in the middle of California's San Fernando Valley.
"The Gentle Barn was my dream since I was 7 years old, as animals saved and healed me throughout my childhood," Laks said.
Along with cow-hugging therapy, The Gentle Barn serves as a sanctuary and has helped save thousands of animals, according to Laks.
"We rescue animals from severe abuse and neglect and, once healed, partner with them to help people going through trauma," Laks said. "We connect people around the world to the magic and love of animals."
Anyone can book an hourlong therapy session with a cow to hug them and meditate with them.
The nonprofit has extended its locations to Nashville, Tennessee, and St. Louis, and Laks said they hope to open a location in every state.
"The cows are very intuitive, affectionate and knowledgeable of their guests' needs," Laks added.