Running The Funny Farm Rescue is Serious Business for this Rowan Grad [VIDEO]

A view of Laurie's back as she walks through her farm, wearing her signature bright pink hat and bright pink boots.

“Life happens when you’re busy making other plans,” says art alumna Laurie Zaleski, who never intended to run a farm.

Meet Laurie Zaleski, the owner and founder of the Funny Farm Rescue and Sanctuary in Mays Landing, NJ (Atlantic County). Laurie also owns Artsy Graphics, which is a graphic design and photography company. She graduated from Rowan in 1992.

For how much land they have, the Funny Farm Rescue and Sanctuary is one of the largest animal sanctuaries in the United States that works with disabled animals. They are home to over 750 rescued animals, all of which are abused, neglected, and unwanted elderly. Most of the animals would not be alive if it weren’t for the Funny Farm.

Laurie hugs a small cow around its neck.

The evolution of the Funny Farm started when Laurie was a baby. Her mom was planning on becoming a nun, instead got married, escaped, and then rented a house in the woods. Her mom started bringing in all of these animals that needed to be rescued. Laurie always wondered why it was called the “Funny Farm” and she said, “It’s full of animals and fit for lunatics because everybody was a special need or again, was going to be euthanized.” So she was saving them. When Laurie was old enough to understand, she promised her mom that she would buy her a farm of her very own. 

When Laurie was in her late twenties, her mom was diagnosed with cancer. She unfortunately passed away two weeks before she made the settlement on a property. Her mom’s dream became Laurie’s dream. She started out with 35 animals and is now over 750.

Laurie squats down to pet a very large pig.

Laurie says life happens when you’re busy making other plans, as she never had the intention of running a farm. Since her kindergarten years, she knew that she was going to be an artist. She attended Rowan to get her degree in Illustration and Graphic Design, which really prepared her for the world. She was interested in traveling the world while endeavoring in photography.

Now, Laurie has combined her passions into one. Her passion for art, photography, and graphics has fueled her passion for animals. I started out on a shoestring and I didn’t become a nonprofit until 2012. When she started, nobody came, nobody visited. Funny Farm is open two days a week to the public and it’s free to get in on Tuesdays and Sundays. It requires visitors to sign a waiver because the animals walk around freely. Funny Farm allows for animals to be animals.

Laurie stands in dappled sunshine next to a farm tractor and holding the ear of a calf.

What is special about Funny Farm is that students and visitors get to interact with the animals, rather than them being stuck behind glass cages. It provides a hands-on learning experience for everyone, with students leaving saying “This is the best day of my life,” because of the interpersonal experience they had. Some of the animals that visitors get to interact with include cows, pigs, horses, goats, ducks, geese, a variety of birds, golden pheasants, cockatoos, bulls, dogs, cats, emus, alpacas, and sheep. Laurie says that it is such an amazing feeling to know that this place has made an impact on children. This is our future, there are a lot of places that don’t let kids volunteer. As long as you have an adult, you can come and volunteer at Funny Farm.

Rowan University contacted Laurie about doing a partnership with Funny Farm and future internship opportunities for veterinary students. When she got a call from her alma mater, Laurie was so excited that she could be a part of Rowan once again and actually help teach some of the students there. She is so excited to be connected to Rowan and is honored to call herself an alumnus.

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Written by: Jordyn Dauter, junior dance & elementary education double major