Inside Burbank’s Republik Coffee, Lucy jumps on her hind legs as if she’s about to greet me with a hug. We’ve never met before, but the eight-year-old poodle mix is incredibly friendly.
Lucy’s human, Tenny Minassian, tells me later outside, “She just loves going out and meeting people and seeing other dogs.” Sure enough, Lucy has spent much of this interview greeting passersby, both human and canine.
In 2015, this rescued puppy charmed Minassian and her family. Since then, Minassian and Lucy have been on plenty of adventures together, meeting new people and animals in the process. One of those adventures inspired Minassian to write her first children’s book, “Lucy Goes to the Gentle Barn.”
“I just started thinking about how much she has in common with kids and their experiences, especially young kids,” Minassian says. For example, she notes, Lucy is not a fan of visits to the veterinarian, a situation that might be similar to how children feel about doctor’s appointments. “So, I started thinking of all these ideas that I could write about her.”
At The Gentle Barn in Santa Clarita, humans and animals connect through activities like cow hug therapy and horse grooming. Minassian visited the animal sanctuary with her father and Lucy back in 2017.
In “Lucy Goes to the Gentle Barn,” with illustrations by Agavny Vardanyan, the small dog learns to be brave when encountering much larger animals. She befriends a cow who shares her name and smooches a horse – and Minassian shows me a photo of the moment when the dog and horse did so in real life. “She had a good time; I wanted to start there,” says Minassian. “I reached out to the Gentle Barn and they were OK with it.”
Ellie Laks, founder of The Gentle Barn, is a fan of the book – and Lucy.
“At The Gentle Barn, we have guests from all over the world, young and old. Some cry, some connect to animals, some feel part of a greater animal-loving community, and some are brought to tears,” says Laks via email. “I love that Lucy gets to come to The Gentle Barn and meet new friends from tiny chickens, goats with golden eyes, pigs rolling over for belly rubs, giant cows, and even large horses. … It’s a wonderful way for people to experience The Gentle Barn through the eyes of an adorable puppy named Lucy. I recommend the book to everyone.”
Two years before the trip to The Gentle Barn, Minassian had just returned to Southern California from graduate school at San Francisco State. “I told my parents, When I move back we’re getting a dog,” recalls Minassian, who’d never had a dog before Lucy. Her family is from Iran — Minassian was born there as well — where having a dog as a pet isn’t as common as it is in the U.S.
“My mom was really scared of dogs,” she says.
But it was Minassian’s mother who picked out Lucy from the Southern California Pomeranian Rescue. Minassian recalls her mom’s reaction when the folks at the rescue first brought Lucy to stay with the family for a trial period.
“She just scooped Lucy up and was in love with her,” says Minassian. “It was adorable. She had never touched a dog in her life.”
Now Lucy is part of the family. She responds to commands in English and Armenian, the language Minassian’s parents use with her. She’s traveled with them to Las Vegas and even on a trip to Armenia in 2019, which might be the subject of future books that Minassian plans to write. “I have a whole series that I want to do on that,” she says.
Minassian laughs when she thinks back on the Armenian trip. “We took Aeroflot. Not a good idea,” she says of the Russian airline. “They were not really on board with emotional support animals.”
At the time of the trip with Lucy, Minassian says the places she visited in Armenia weren’t particularly dog-friendly either. She recalls restaurants with outdoor seating weren’t pleased with the little pooch hanging around. Finding an Air B&B was a challenge and they had to regularly confirm with ride-share drivers that bringing a dog on board was okay, she says.
“It was a whole culture shock for us,” says Minassian. Still, it was an exciting trip, even if Lucy couldn’t go inside the churches and had to watch from below as Minassian rode the 3.5-mile aerial tramway, Wings of Tatev.
Back home, Minassian and Lucy explore bookstores, vegan restaurants and coffee shops together, scenes from which sometimes pop up on the Instagram account @lucy2therescue. They’ll go to poetry readings, participate in the Best Friends Animal Society Walk and dress up for Halloween.
“She hates that,” Minassian says of the Halloween costumes, “but she does it and we’re matching.”
Lucy has even reunited with one of her canine siblings, thanks to the dog DNA platform Embark. “As soon as her sister did it, they came up as a match,” says Minassian. “They had the same exact walk. It’s adorable.”
The little dog has been a big life-changer. As Minassian dealt with depression a few years back, Lucy became her emotional support dog. And as a result of their bond, Minassian adopted a vegan lifestyle.
“I started questioning why I eat some animals and not others,” says Minassian, who made a career change, too.
After working in marketing, PR and social media, Minassian took a plant-based culinary course and a nutrition certificate and became a vegan coach, helping others adjust to the diet. She has also been at work on a vegan cookbook with her mom, focusing on plant-based Iranian-Armenian dishes.
But it wasn’t just Minassian whose life Lucy changed.
“She’s really changed my whole family,” she says. “Nobody wanted a dog. Everybody loves her now.”
After our short visit, it was easy to see why.
The Gentle Barn is open Sundays to the public, as well as for private tours, field trips and special events. For tickets and more information, visit gentlebarn.org