Funny Farm Rescue owner Laurie Zaleski talks about her ‘unexpected life’ with 600 animals, some in diapers

MIZPAH, NJ – Even if you’re prepared, making the turn to Funny Farm Animal Rescue, where the speed limit drops to one mile per hour, is like stepping into another better world.

It’s not quite the goat character of Bad, Dr. Dillamund, teaching a course at Shiz University, but close. Let’s just say that the usual rules, limits, fears, assumptions and hierarchies don’t apply.

Laurie Zaleski has long learned that these conventions are false idols, embodied most dramatically by her father, a Camden County college professor whose persistent violence drove her mother into the woods of Turnersville to round up animals, people, peace of mind, in a crowded ramshackle house but with room to breathe.

In his new memoirs, Funny Farm My Unexpected Life with 600 Rescue Animals, Zaleski, 53, a graphic designer who shares the Mays Landing farm with these animals — some in diapers, some really, really big, many in weird cross-species friendships — spares little of the difficult backstory that led her to open the inspiring Funny Farm Rescue (open to the public on Tuesdays and Sundays).

She includes the stories of many of her rescue animals – goats, llamas, cats, dogs, pigs, cows, bulls, roosters, ducks and turkeys – mostly as codas to chapters, but the real punch of her story is about the humans.

As she writes of her mother’s post-divorce boyfriend, Barney, another difficult figure in their lives, though more generously described than her father, “Mom and Barney were lonely and disappointed in love, so they tied their lives together like rafts adrift at sea, and dragged children in their wake.

Like its mother, Annie Zaleski, the book is never far from a laugh or a heartwarming story about a rescue animal, its unusual personalities, and its underdog arcs. Ricky the peacock, destined for euthanasia due to a spinal cord injury, sits on the roof of a shed today. Cooper the alpaca always revolves around his best friend, Yogi, the 1,200 pound calf.

Connor the emu, fresh out of a cage on the kitchen table, roams like the big bird on campus. Canyon, the one-eyed horse, entertains young visitors. Lorenzo the llama is doing this llama thing where he’ll kiss you on the lips. Zaleski used animals to teach children about bullying and disability, but just being with them is a nurturing reset to anyone’s anxieties.

“As always,” Zaleski wrote of his mother, “her motto, ‘The more you cry, the less you pee’, always brought laughs and seemed to dispel the blues, at least a little.” “

In all, on the 25-acre farm, she lists “11 dogs, 20 goats, 15 horses, one skunk, four alpacas, two llamas, I can’t even tell you how many geese or chickens on top of my head, 24 pigs, 200 cats, and a 2,500-pound red Angus beef.

In his house, Nemo the goat sneaks through the porch like he owns the place, and Bradley the blind lamb wears a diaper, it looks like he walked in from a nursery rhyme. Various chickens roam (their presence ended Zaleski’s last relationship.) Eleven dogs sleep in his room, though not all in the bed. Most animals other than dogs behave as if they were dogs.

Is this how we should all live, surrounded by other species, everyone walking around in a big minestrone soup of existence?

“I wouldn’t suggest this to anyone,” Zaleski said, wiping up after Nemo in the kitchen. “It’s not conducive to relationships.”

Still, it makes you wonder.

It’s mating season at Funny Farm and Cherry the turkey is trying to mate with Buddy the dog. It’s normal for the loud animal chaos that envelops visitors and keeps volunteers coming back. The roosters crow, the pigs snore, the dogs bark, and everything seems to revolve around Zaleski, dressed that day in her red cowboy boots, a fringed denim jacket, a cowboy hat. boy and a lipstick.

Even if you want to stipulate that Cherry will accept a platonic bond, Zaleski says that friendships between different animals are legitimate.

Do they really have personalities, or is it a creation of the active social media volunteer, who, unlike Zaleski, likes to pretend that it’s the talking animals in the videos?

“Oh my god,” she said. “They do. Even chicken and ducks. Some of the ducks I don’t know either. All turkeys have distinct personalities.

The book tells the story of his turbulent and unconventional childhood, his mother’s flight with her children, and Zaleski’s determination to set up a real rescue farm for his mother beyond the informal one that has been built. in the woods of Turnersville.

His mother died of cancer two weeks before Zaleski moved to the property in the Mizpah section of Mays Landing, not far from the old Jonesey’s Bar on Route 40, bordering the Pinelands. She says she was willing to write honestly about her father while he was still alive, but he died before the book was published. For a heartwarming book about rescue animals, this is a tough read.

The Funny Farm is in memory of his mother and her spirit, with his mother’s ashes buried under an old cart. None of his mother’s animals survive yet. The Rescue Farm has been open to the public since around 2012, gaining a devoted following on social media. Since the release of the book, which landed Zaleski in People magazine, donations have increased about 30%, she says.

Although she imagined herself living an urban artist lifestyle and had created a successful design and photography business by contracting with the FAA Tech Center in nearby Egg Harbor Township, Zaleski says she is satisfied. As any dog ​​owner knows, animals have a way of drowning out most of life’s troubles, and the lessons of these rescue creatures are many. They leave little time for introspection.

“People say when they come here and go around, your problems go away,” Zaleski says. “A girl who was suicidal said ‘When I didn’t have a voice, I had it for the animals.'”

She is not afraid of the animals escaping.

“The door is open,” Zaleski said. “People are like, ‘Aren’t they leaving?’ And I said, ‘If you’re an animal, would you go? Who would go?'”

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