🔴 What started as a two-hour job grew into an 11-hour rescue of 200 animals

🔴 Animals were locked inside with no food or water

🔴 There is an immediate need for donations and volunteers at the Funny Farm Rescue in Mays Landing

What started as an assist to State Police to remove some roosters turned into a full-scale rescue of 200 animals from a seized property on Saturday.

Sigfredo Perez, 81, of Newtonville, and Queli Merlo, 49, of Hammonton, were charged by the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office on Jan. 30 with owning/training live animals and training them to fight on a property in the Newtonville section of Buena Vista.

Laurie Zaleski and her Funny Farm Rescue and Sanctuary was tasked to pick up a couple dozen roosters.

"Oh my gosh. I have never seen anything like this in my entire life and I've been rescuing animals forever and it was God-awful," Zaleski told New Jersey 101.5.

The South Jersey Wildlife Aid Rehabilitation and Sanctuary Rescue was also part of the rehoming of the animals on Sunday. The group said on its Facebook page what they saw at the property was "literally what nightmares are made of."

Zaleski said she thought it would take an hour or two to remove the roosters. She wound up spending 11 hours making three trips with her horse trailer to remove the chickens, hens pigeons, turkeys, ducks, cats and dogs she also found on the property.

Laurie Zaleski with animals found at a property in Buena
Laurie Zaleski with animals found at a property in Buena (Funny Farm Rescue)

Breaking down during a rescue

She found enclosures with no doors that the animals were locked inside with no food or water. Carcasses of dead roosters and chickens were also inside the enclosures.

"In the middle of it, your adrenaline's going. But at one point, you break down because your heart goes out for these poor babies that they can't get their food and water and they're starving to death and some of them did," Zaleski said.

There was also a fighting ring with newer cages Zaleski described as an arena where the rooster fights happened.

"All the roosters were in these little tiny compartments like solitary confinement. Then they would bring them out, I guess, and fight them," Zaleski said.

Laurie Zaleski with animals found at a property in Buena
Laurie Zaleski with animals found at a property in Buena (Funny Farm Rescue)

Some of the animals needed immediate medical attention like a duck that had been hung as "bait" using twine. It's toe was nearly severed and was removed.

Before she arrived some dogs and rabbits were already found dead on the property by State Police and investigators from the prosecutor's office. The USDA also tested every bird on the property for Avian flu before releasing them to Zaleski.

"Because I have so many birds, if they came in and they had the flu, then they would have to euthanize all mine. So we didn't want that to happen. They had to stay in quarantine," Zaleski said.

The fighting roosters likely won't be adopted and don't get along with the other roosters already at the Funny Farm. Zaleski needs to quickly build more pens and shelters.

"I've never had to deal with something in such a large amount of animals that can't be together. Because all my animals, I let them loose, they all kind of live happily ever after together. And these, they just cannot because of the way that they were raised. So it's a bad situation," Zaleski said.

Animals on a dilapidated property in Buena
Structures on a dilapidated property in Buena (Funny Farm Rescue)

A need for donations and volunteers

There is an immediate need for donations as the shelter is funded completely by donations. Additional volunteers are also needed because of the nearly 100 additional animals that need care.

Donations can be made at the shelter's website.

Zaleski is also having trouble sleeping and processing that this situation existed 15 minutes away.

"We've dealt with tough situations with rescue before but nothing as horrific as this. I mean, I haven't been able to sleep because I keep having visions of that place to the fact that it's in New Jersey," Zaleski said. "I can't believe we as a society people are still treating animals like this. I just didn't think that we were capable. And we are."

Dan Alexander is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at dan.alexander@townsquaremedia.com

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