Laurie Zaleski is a truly remarkable, accomplished, self-determined and inspirational woman living in southern New Jersey. Her mother, Anne McNulty, rented a home for 28 years while working for an animal control service and raising four children on her own. Anne would save every animal she could that once faced no hope. She called it her “funny farm” because most of the animals were misfits, but she loved them just the same. Ms. Zaleski would watch her mother struggle to pay rent, buy food and make ends meet, but still showed incredible compassion to animals that no one else wanted. She told her mother that, someday, she would buy her her own farm, where she could save as many animals as she wanted.
In her early 20s, Ms. Zaleski worked at Campbell’s as an illustrator while attending Rowan University, where she studied photography and graphic design. Soon after graduation, she established Art-Z Graphics, a successful photography and graphics company, contracting to the Federal Aviation Administration and Selective Service System for nearly 30 years. A young Ms. Zaleski purchased a run-down rental property for her mother in Mays Landing, New Jersey, with 15 acres and a barn, but sadly, her mother passed away from cancer just two weeks before the purchase of the property was completed at just 52 years of age.
Devastated at her mother’s loss at such a young age, Ms. Zaleski took on her 30 animals, and faced a future alone and uncertain. Each day brought new challenges and the learning curve was immense. With the help of her sister and a few friends, Ms. Zaleski fixed up the property and the “funny farm” she had once known with her mother had a new home, which was a permanent home.
20 years later, volunteers and visitors came from miles away; people told their friends. Some made significant contributions. Today, there are over 600 rescued animals all living the best lives possible at the Funny Farm Rescue & Sanctuary, most of which roam free. In honor of her mother, whose ashes are buried at the farm, and having no money growing up, Ms. Zaleski decided that the Funny Farm would always be free so anyone could come and love the animals, even if they had nothing. Later, when feeding bills exceeded $4,000 a month, the Funny Farm became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit charity.
Under Ms. Zaleski’s leadership and her incredible team of volunteers and supporters, the Funny Farm Rescue & Sanctuary has become one of the largest animal sanctuaries in the United States. True to her word, admission has always been free. People come from all over the world to see animals that no one else wanted. Today, they live the lives of celebrities through social media and their stories inspire millions.
Funny Farm Rescue & Sanctuary has earned many awards including being named among the Top 10 Places to Visit in New Jersey. Personally, Ms. Zaleski earned the New Jersey Heartland Hero Award in 2017 and the Who’s Who Hero Award of Professional Women in 2019, and was inducted into the New Jersey Veterinarians Animal Hall of Fame in 2018. She was also awarded the Founders Live Girl Power Award as one of the top five women entrepreneurs in the northeast. In addition, Children Making Change has awarded Funny Farm Rescue as their recipient of choice for two years running.
Active in her local community, Ms. Zaleski has her own Kindness Program, which includes teaching about anti-bullying and special needs in schools on Fridays with several of her friendly animals to show how different species interact with each other. She demonstrates to children that we can all get along, despite our differences. Ms. Zaleski also visits nursing homes and inspires everyone to never give up. Likewise, she has co-created three of a planned 10 children’s books on anti-bullying and special needs.
Another one of Ms. Zaleski’s projects involves a film titled “Chuck, a Funny Farm Story” about her inspirational dog, who has special needs and sits upright in a chair in order to eat. Her film, produced by Glasstown Productions, has already won numerous awards at film festivals. Additionally, part of Ms. Zaleski’s mission is to prevent cruelty to animals by increasing the awareness of animal abuse through education. Her knowledge, expertise and facilities make her truly unique in southern New Jersey and the surrounding areas. She is truly a unique and inspirational woman of our time.