Elgin woman turns tragedy into mission to promote mental wellness -- with goats
Danielle Kerr of Elgin firmly believes in taking something bad and turning it into something good.
So when she and her husband, Brad, experienced the worst moment of their lives -- when Brad's father took his own life -- she wanted to do something to make a positive come from it.
She never would have guessed that her mission to improve mental health and promote mental wellness would involve goats -- lots of goats.
Kerr opened Goat Yoga Chicago in 2018, three years after the death of her father-in-law, who had battled depression.
"It was tragic. It was life-changing," she said of his death. "I'm not the same person I was, and neither is my husband. We have a different viewpoint on everything."
In a move to shake things up the following year, they sold their suburban home in Elgin and bought a 3-acre farm on the western edge of town from friends.
"We made a rash decision," Kerr said. "We thought we'd buy this property and everything would be better.
"And it wasn't."
The house turned out to be a bit of a "lemon," she said, adding to their stress.
That's when she started doing yoga to help her own mental health. Not long after, she learned about goat yoga from a magazine article.
"I read through it and thought, 'Oh my God, this is perfect,'" she said.
Brad wasn't as sure.
"My reaction was 100% 'Are you crazy? What are you thinking?'" he said. "I never would have done something like this myself, but Danielle was going to find a positive out of a bad situation, and I've come along for the ride."
Danielle started researching all she could about the goats.
"Everything I learned, I loved," she said.
Danielle Kerr met with Lainey Morris, the woman who started the original Goat Yoga studio in Oregon. Morris helped her get started.
The Kerres started with a pair of goats and had six by the time they held their first goat yoga class at the Elgin farm, which they dubbed Reverse the Kerr Farm -- an homage to her father-in-law's lifelong love of the Cubs and the team's battle to reverse the curse (which coincidentally centered on a goat).
Danielle said the name also refers to reversing the curse of mental illness.
"We wanted to turn around our bad luck but also help other people," she said.
They now have 17 little yoga helpers -- 15 Nigerian dwarf goats and two mini Nubian goats. They range from 30 to 80 pounds when fully grown at age 2 to 3, and their life spans are similar to dogs at 10 to 15 years.
About half -- including Harry Caray, Rizzo, KB and Javy -- are named after Cubs players and luminaries. The more recent additions to the goat crew got names from other corners of pop culture, such as new babies Dre and Snoop.
The goat yoga classes are held outdoors at the farm on Muirhead Road in far west Elgin and indoors at a studio at the Arboretum of South Barrington. Classes are $39 for an hour, with half of the time spent doing yoga with the goats and the other half just playing with them, cuddling and taking photos.
The goats aren't trained, and each has its own personality.
Some, including Rizzo, like to plop down on your mat and make you work around them. Rose, who fortunately is one of the smaller goats, is quick to hop on your back as soon as you go into table pose.
Ages 10 and up are welcome, and Kerr said she's had people in their 90s come out. Couples, families and groups of friends frequently book the sessions together.
"We had a group a couple of weeks ago that came to goat yoga and then went to a memorial service," she said.
While the focus is mental health, she says it's certainly not therapy that they offer. And even though the yoga is basic and ideal for beginners, everyone can benefit from the experience.
"People love it," Kerr said. "You're laughing. You're being silly. It just brings such joy.
"We call it an experience for a reason," she added. "You leave with a memory, and it just evokes joy. I think there's value in that."
For Kerr, the joy she personally gets from the goats and the joy she sees them give other people have made the challenges she and her husband have faced to stay afloat during the pandemic worth it.
"We took what happened as an opportunity to make a change," she said. "It didn't start out right from the beginning, but sometimes when all those bad things happen, you're pushed to do what you're meant to do."