“Funny Farm: My Unexpected Life with 600 Rescue Animals” by Laurie Zaleski is not what I was expecting at all. We know from the first page, the Prologue, that it’s about how Zaleski rescues animals, but what is unexpected is that more than half the book is about her childhood, her parents’ abusive relationship, and how her mother left and raised them in a tiny, dilapidated house where she also took in animals of every size, shape, and need. This book is the best kind of nonfiction—it’s nonfiction that reads like a novel, and it’s hard to put down. We want to know more about Zaleski’s family and how they will survive in the shack where they end up after leaving their very nice suburban home. We also want to know how Zaleski ends up with a farm and over 600 animals.
Each chapter begins with a story from Zaleski’s childhood. These are told in chronological order, so we learn first about how abusive and violent her father was to her mother and to the children. Scary violent. We learn that her mother finally got the determination and strength to leave, but that without a college education, this pampered housewife was ill-prepared to support three children. Yet that’s just what her mother did, and the tale is astounding. It’s also heartbreaking as Zaleski details how their father still haunted them and committed heartbreaking acts of violence against them. But we realize that those were the days when a wealthy man’s word against that of his former wife, who worked hourly jobs to support herself, meant that he was never held to account for his actions.
At the end of each chapter is a separate section titled “Animal Tails” in which we learn about the current Funny Farm and the ways many of the animals arrived there. We learn about the “Chicken Man,” who would bring horribly unhealthy chickens to them which they eventually learned he had saved from a factory farm. When a chicken would escape the slaughter line, he’d tuck it in his pocket or under his coat and sneak it out. We meet the young man who “liberated” two calves who were lying, practically dead, in a trailer bound for slaughter. No food, no water, just two calves suffering. So he put them in his Toyota Camry and took them to Funny Farm.
Zaleski has more patience than I do, and one of the stories that made me angry (not at Zaleski) was when one of her employees bought a German shepherd puppy from a breeder. This incredibly ignorant woman raved about his pedigree, but once the puppy began throwing up, she didn’t know what to do. When the vet told her that he had megaesophagus, often caused by inbreeding (so much for that pedigree), she called the breeder to return the puppy and get her money back. The breeder did return her money, but didn’t want the puppy back. Not a surprise. The employee was going to bring the puppy to the pound. When Zaleski told her that the pup would end up being killed, she insisted otherwise. She thought that because he was cute and “PUREBRED,” he’d be fine. And she certainly didn’t have time for the “hassle.” We know what happens next. He ended up at Funny Farm where Zaleski did everything she could to keep that puppy alive. And she did an incredible job, too. Instead of the six months the veterinarians had given Chucky, he had five wonderful years.
This is a book that is a must read for animal lovers. It’s really got everything—a story about a family, a tale of determination and courage, a story about saving animals and rehabilitating them, and animals whose “tails” will make you smile. Wonderfully written and charming, you won’t be sorry you picked up this animal story.
Please note: This review is based on the advance reader’s copy provided by St. Martin’s Press, the publisher, for review purposes.
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