I first heard about Popcorn Park years ago when a friend who was forced to surrender her dog brought her there.

She was heartbroken, of course, but the one thing that gave her comfort was knowing she was giving her dog away to a shelter that would find her beloved companion a good home.

I never forgot Popcorn Park and years later I visited myself. (It's easy to find, located on Humane Way at Lacey Road, right off Garden State Parkway exit 74 north or south.)

I've had a soft spot for the other beings we share this planet with from the time I was a young child and took to heart the instruction to be kind to animals, which I felt shouldn't just apply to our pets, but should include all creatures.  Aren't cows, pigs, chickens, ducks, goats, etc., just as worthy of compassion as our companion animals?

And that's exactly why I became a vegetarian decades ago, back when it was considered very, very strange.  Hey, that's o.k., I've always been a little left of center.

It seems Popcorn Park Zoo agrees with that philosophy: first, that I'm a little strange, and second,  because here is not only a shelter for surrendered cats, dogs and small animals, but a 7 acre rescue zoo for injured, ill, handicapped, abandoned, abused and exploited wildlife, birds, exotic and farm animals.

Popcorn Park is an animal rescue and sanctuary, part of The Associated Humane Societies, founded in 1906, the largest animal sheltering system in New Jersey.  The AHS is a hands-on, non-profit, charitable organization.

When I visited the zoo a few years ago, I was heartbroken by the stories of abuse and neglect that these animals were forced to endure at the hands of Man.  But I was touched and inspired by the work being done to rescue and rehabilitate these creatures.

Now that spring has arrived, you might want to think about a visit to this wonderful refuge for all creatures great and small.  It makes a nice outing for kids and adults alike, and you'll be supporting a fantastic organization!

"Animals are more than ever a test of our character, of mankind's capacity for empathy, and for decent, honorable conduct and faithful stewardship.  We are called to treat them with kindness, not because they have rights or power or some claim to equality, but because they don't." ~Matthew Scully