MOUNT LAUREL, NJ — PAWS Farm will be run by Rowan University's Shreiber School of Veterinary Medicine under a resolution that was unanimously passed by the Mount Laurel Township Council on Tuesday night.
Founded in 1979 by Charles and Kate Tweedy, who operated the nature center for over 25 years, PAWS Farm became a beloved South Jersey institution, where families and schools took children to learn more about animals, nature and farm life.
In January 2020, PAWS Farm abruptly closed its doors when the contract operator told the Township it could no longer operate the business. The closure caused the Township to re-house all the animals to safe homes at other zoos, farms and preserves. Although the Township searched for a new operator, the onset of COVID-19 and the uncertainty of the pandemic left little hope for the future of PAWS until Volunteers for PAWS Farm, Inc. was formed and stepped up to the task.
“As original founders, my wife Kate and I just could not accept that fate for PAWS,” said Dr. Charles Tweedy in April 2022. “We got some of the old band back together and now their grown children, to forge a new path for this treasure. Our first step was to convince the Township to give us a lease on the property, so we could go in and clean up the property and make significant repairs and upgrades. With the Township’s blessing we raised and spent about a $250,000 bringing the PAWS property back to life,” Dr. Tweedy said.
The Mount Laurel Council in April 2022 adopted a resolution allowing the re-opening of PAWS Farm to move into Phase 2, in which Volunteers for PAWS Farm, Inc. hired a caretaker for the property, refurbished the buildings and cleaned the grounds. Many special events were held on-site for fundraising for animal care and operational support, including weekly story time for children, a Fall Festival and Cornhole Tournament and open houses.
The Shreiber School of Veterinary Medicine is expected to begin running PAWS Farm in January 2024.
"The Board of Volunteers For PAWS Farm, Inc. has diligently and tireless repaired and restored all the buildings and grounds of the PAWS Farmstead and opened it to the public for the last two summers and is now prepared to turn over this historic and now beautiful Mount Laurel Township property to the new Shreiber School of Veterinary Medicine for the outstanding and exemplary Rowan University to preserve and enhance our beloved PAWS Farm," said Kate Tweedy.
Kate and Charles Tweedy were honored by the Mount Laurel Council on Tuesday with a Proclamation thanking them for investing significant funds and working countless hours with volunteers to save the property and "bringing nature and animal education to generations of Mount Laurel residents and visitors."
The School plans to welcome its first class in 2025, pending accreditation approval from the American Veterinary Medical Association Council on Education. Once accredited, it will be the first Veterinary Medicine school in New Jersey and will offer the state's first Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree, as well as related degree programs designed to shape the future of veterinary medicine and animal health care.
Dr. Matthew Edson, Founding Dean of the Shreiber School, called PAWS Farm an "important component" of the school's goals and hopes that the partnership will expose more people in the community to the possibilities of a career in veterinary medicine.
"Part of our school's mission is to collaborate with partners in the community to broaden the impact of education in veterinary medicine, and this fits perfectly with that," said Dr. Edson. "We see PAWS Farm as an important component of how we want to connect with people in our area to increase understanding of the importance of animals in our lives. This facility will advance our mission of introducing people of all ages and backgrounds to opportunities in veterinary medicine that they may never have considered before."
Shreiber School officials stressed that PAWS Farm will still be accessible to the public and will offer many programs for youth and families as it "seeks to maintain the spirit of the historical property while creating new opportunities to educate the public about animals and veterinary medicine."
The Shreiber School's Associate Dean for Student Success, Dr. Suzie Kovacs, who will be overseeing the team running programming at PAWS Farm, said that the School is currently in the process of hiring an on-site team and developing curriculum, and will communicate with the public about upcoming events and educational opportunities as plans fall into place next year.
"We are being very thoughtful about how we proceed," said Dr. Kovacs. "We want to make this a place where people who remember it from their childhood will enjoy bringing their own children and grandchildren here. There will be many new memories made at PAWS Farm."
The move was lauded by Mount Laurel's local and state elected officials, including Mayor Stephen Steglik, Deputy Mayor Fozia Janjua, Senator Troy Singleton and Assemblywoman Carol Murphy.
"This is great news for our Township, which places community first. As a Green Acres location, PAWS Farm is an important part of our town's history, and with the active participation of Rowan University, will remain an important part of its future," said Mayor Steglik. "When PAWS closed right before COVID, we made a commitment to the residents that we would continue to work and find a long term solution. We know there was skepticism based upon everything that was happening around the world. After much hard work, today, we are pleased to announce we kept this promise."
"The people of Mount Laurel are passionate about building their town into a strong community, and I am pleased to see Rowan University putting real effort into the same," said Deputy Mayor Janjua.
"The PAWS Farm Nature Center has long been a beloved, community recreational and educational space that offers hands-on learning experiences for families and their children," said Senator Singleton. "It is especially fitting that the Shreiber School of Veterinary Medicine of Rowan University will be running this site, as it is uniquely positioned to foster such programming which will continue to open the eyes of children or all backgrounds to the career possibilities in the veterinary industry. We knew that there would be great value in South Jersey being home to a vet school and partnerships like this underscore the benefits it brings to our communities."
"As an advocate for animals, both on the farm and in our homes, the funding and programs for PAWS Nature Center and now the Shreiber School of Veterinary Medicine are essential in keeping our friends healthy and educating our future animal care providers," said Assemblywoman Murphy. "I will always do what I can to fight for our community and continue the success and growth of PAWS' original mission."
For more information about the Shreiber School of Veterinary Medicine, visit https://svm.rowan.edu/.
For more information about PAWS Farm, visit https://www.pawsfarm.org/.