NJ DISCOVER SPOTLIGHT: Meet Laurie Zaleski, Animal Activist, Owner, Funny Farm Rescue; an Animal Sanctuary; A Most Amazing Place and One of New Jersey’s Top Ten Family Places to Visit. By Calvin Schwartz October 17th 2017
This is a short story before my story. Cut to around thirty years ago. I was a regional manager/salesman for Luxottica Group, the world’s leading eyewear company. One of my favorite eyeglass accounts was George DuBois, optician extraordinaire and humanist. He employed a teenage student from across the street, Laurie Zaleski, as an optical technician. That’s the beginning of my story.
I left the optical business ten years ago and drifted out of touch with George and Laurie who was working with the FAA in graphic design. Over the years, an occasional email dealing with current events arrived from George. A few weeks ago, I saw the Funny Farm Rescue Facebook page. I mentioned to George in an email, that I haven’t eaten anything with four legs since 1975 and everything Laurie (and you) are doing to care for abandoned, sick animals is so meaningful. It hit me; I needed to do an NJ Discover story on Laurie and the farm and get a chance to see them both after so many years.
Two weeks ago, I drove down to May’s Landing with two GPS systems to help my navigation. I was going to deep south Jersey where they still have general stores and on a relief map its actually not that far from the Mason-Dixon Line.
It’s October and there is supposed to be a chill in the air. It was in the low eighties with a cloudless blue sky. One GPS told me to make a left, the Google Maps told me right turn. It was right as I pulled into the farm complex of 20 acres. I hugged George and Laurie while several dogs gathered around. We sat at a picnic bench; my yellow legal pad primed.
Many years ago, Laurie’s mother rented a house across the street from George’s optical store and when she was a young teenager, started working for him; filing and miscellany. “My mom worked for animal control so we always had animals. She rented that house for 20 years and when she died, I bought this farm and moved here in 2000.” At the time, Laurie had a graphic design and photography business and works for the FAA as an outside contractor for the past 27 years. To add to her fascinating persona, she has a pilot license.
“When I moved here, I brought 30 animals with me and the numbers slowly grew. I met Dennis, my boyfriend, at the airfield. He’s a pilot too. Now we have 500 animals here. We spend $4000 per month just on feed which becomes $110,000 per year for everything. Five years ago, we started to get donations. Of course, we both work full time.”
The thought occurred to me, that a main thrust of this article should be reaching out to our NJ Discover audience and encourage you all to donate something, anything to help Laurie and company care for these precious 500 animals.
The farm is open for visitors two days a week, Tuesday and Sunday. “People drive from New York and even come from all over the world to see our farm and animals. Sundays in the summer brings 2000 people to visit. We have a wish list, that people bring food and/or donate but only if they can…. It’s 20 acres so we do hayrides also.”
Next, Laurie introduced me to ‘Chuck,’ a beautiful German Shepard dog. She explained, with a distinct hint of emotion in her voice, that ‘Chuck’ has a mega-esophagus and has to sit up when he eats. “He can only drink a concoction of blended food as a liquid because the esophagus is blocking food from being absorbed in the GI tract. When I took him to the University of Pennsylvania Veterinary Hospital, they told me it was the worst case they’ve ever seen. They didn’t give him long to live; maybe six months. But that was five years ago.”
There was a lot of love and devotion coming across; it’s so easy to see and feel. Laurie was replete with a refreshing genuineness. All of a sudden, a small black and white goat jumped onto the table top. She hugged him and in a flash the goat was munching on my yellow legal pad. It was a scene perhaps from the ‘Sound of Music.’ (The Lonely Goatherd).
Laurie told me about how they feed ‘Chuck;’ in a Bailey Chair which you can even buy on Amazon. When they brought him home from the hospital, they taught him how to sit. The dog sits upright in this chair so the liquid can go straight down and get partially absorbed into the GI tract. “Chuck even knows how to hold his own bowl. The hospital bill for ‘Chuck’ was $10,000. The power of Facebook brought 20,000 followers…. 100,000 people prayed for ‘Chuck’…. $7000 was raised in a few weeks.” She told me they don’t use Go Fund Me. “We don’t beg for money. We don’t put sad things up…. Our philosophy is live your life, be happy and give things a chance.”
I was in a tell me more place, totally enthralled/awestruck with her devotion and caring. I think she could tell. “I rehabbed a peacock who lived in my kitchen for three months.” I asked about her dreams for the farm. “I’ll leave the farm to be an animal rescue forever. I think this is one of the last few animal rescues in New York, New Jersey and Delaware (as far as I know) We are one of the Top Ten places to go with a family in all of New Jersey.”
“How did this farm all happen?” “This place took a life of its own when I came here with 30 animals. I met Dennis flying. He is the equipment guy and sees the big picture about making a difference. George is so devoted and incredibly handy with tools. We have 20 loyal volunteers and a pool of 100 more volunteers. Pete, over there, volunteers and is on oxygen…. Funny, we started with 30 animals, which became 300 and now 500.”
Laurie explained that there is no politics on the farm. “Just be kind to the animals.” She talked about some dealings with the local vegans, about their complaining that she had leather seats in her car. “I’m a vegetarian, different from being a vegan.” I told her about my being a flexitarian since 1975. I eat nothing with four legs, but do eat chicken, turkey and fish. I’m not perfect yet. “My mission is not to change you into a vegan. Be kind to animals. She told me about a little girl who came to the farm, held a baby chick and then told her mother she’ll never eat chicken again.
My mind was swimming in thoughts about writing this article and continuing to spread the word about all the goodness and caring going on here. I’ve got ideas, I told Laurie and George. Next up, was the tour of the barns and stables in the Club Car (from a golf club) with George. He built many of the animal residences. I fed the pigs and looked all around for Charlotte’s web. George showed me the barn with the cat houses; I took a few pictures leaving the innuendo outside. There was probably a dozen cat sleeping quarters.
Later, Laurie and I took a walk past a barn and a horse grazing. The horse was 45 years old and was peacefully living out a life. This kind of sums the experience up for me. The love and caring everywhere. Earlier, I fed a white horse, ‘Socks’ some bread. When I was writing notes, I felt a warm moist sensation on my arm. It was ‘Socks’ thanking (kissing) my arm.
George, Laurie and I hugged again, vowing to get together much sooner than later. There is so much here that people need to know about. I love the mantra of NJ Discover; to elevate the people and places of New Jersey. And now we’ve done that to animals. And please help out this non-profit. Everything, anything helps. And so it goes.
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/FunnyFarmRescue/
DONATIONS: can made by PayPal, or mailed to: Funny Farm Rescue 6908 Railroad Boulevard. Mays Landing, NJ 08330
For more information, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
MISSION: “The Funny Farm Rescue is a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) charity. We are personally and professionally committed to the well-being of abused and abandoned animals. We provide food, shelter, medical care, compassion and love for the rest of their natural lives in a permanent, safe and healthy environment.”
“The Funny Farm Rescue Animal Sanctuary takes in animals from the SPCA, the Pig Placement Network, Atlantic City Police, Atlantic County Wildlife Aid, Humane Society, as well as the public. By starting a non-profit 501 (c)(3), the help from donations, we can pay for food, veterinary expenses and improve facilities, aiding in the quality of life for the animals.”