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John Bergmann runs a special zoo for older, exploited, and abused animals

John Bergmann manages Popcorn Park, a special zoo in New Jersey that gives a home to distressed wildlife and exotic and domesticated animals.

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The zoo also has a large kennel, which has high adoption rates for the household pets there. Many come from states with severely overcrowded animal shelters, where animals would not be held long before being put down.

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The zoo runs primarily on donations, Bergmann says, which help offset the cost of its 42 staff members, including veterinarians and animal control officers, who provide constant care for the animals.

And that doesn't include supplies and specialty food items needed to accommodate the picky eaters among the menagerie.

On a recent afternoon, the aroma of homemade mashed potatoes filled the zoo's kitchen. The meal was for one of the animals that enjoyed variety at lunchtime.

And, honoring the zoo's namesake, visitors can purchase air-popped popcorn to share with some of the farm and domesticated animals that have less-rigid diets.

Beyond helping animals in need, Bergmann says that the zoo has a larger mission.

"I always hope, and I always think, [that visitors] walk out of here with more compassion for animals than they walked in here with," he says. "I always thought that was a [large part] of our mission, that we would change the minds of people to have more compassion for animals."

While he seems to have found his dream job, Bergmann says he has trouble with one aspect of his work: saying goodbye to the animals that die.

Sonny, an elephant, had been brought to the United States from Zimbabwe to be trained for circus work. After he resisted his training, he was sent to a New Mexico zoo, from which he escaped several times.

Rather than putting him down, in 1989 the zoo sent a letter to other facilities across the country to see if anyone might give a new home to the troubled creature.

"We were the only one that raised our hand," Bergmann says. 

It took extensive care and much training, but Sonny finally adapted to his new surroundings at Popcorn Park and lived there a dozen more years, dying in 2001.

A local funeral home donated its services to host a ceremony for Sonny, and Bergmann delivered a eulogy.

"He didn't belong here," he said, remembering his friend. "All we did was keep him company when he was here."

For Bergmann, it was bittersweet to see Sonny leave Popcorn Park.

"It is very sad that he is not with us any longer," Bergmann says, holding back tears as he adds a comforting thought. "But he is with his herd again."

Helping animals

For more information on Popcorn Park, and for details on how to donate to the zoo or sponsor specific animals, visit www.ahscares.org or call (609) 693-1900.

UniversalGiving helps people give to and volunteer for top-performing charitable organizations worldwide. Projects are vetted by UniversalGiving; 100 percent of each donation goes directly to the listed cause.

Below are three opportunities to help animals, selected by UniversalGiving:

The San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals provides lifesaving veterinary care for homeless animals before placing them for careful adoption. Project: Provide urgent care for a homeless animal.

Greenheart Travel is a site for conservation and community-development projects around the world. Project: Volunteer at an animal rescue center and eco-reserve in Costa Rica.

EcoLogic Development Fund helps conserve and restore forests to preserve wildlife habitats. Project: Preserve a biological corridor in Honduras.

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