Jeff Miller – Sep 25, 2020 Updated Sep 25, 2020
According to police in Wyckoff, New Jersey, late on the evening of Aug. 22, officers responded to Abma’s Farm on a report of trespassing and criminal mischief. Members of the Abma family told police they had heard people in the petting zoo area of the farm, which was closed, and when they investigated, they found two males trespassing. The males fled before police arrived.
During their investigation, police said, a Snapchat screen shot was forwarded to the Abma family that revealed a female riding on a donkey in the zoo, as well as images of others involved in the incident.
Snapchat is a messaging app popular among young people — its appeal, apparently, stemming from its privacy features and the fact that photos and messages are available only briefly before they become inaccessible to recipients.
On its Facebook page, Abma’s Farm noted the serious nature of the offenses:
“First and foremost, we are a working farm, and four families (and four generations) live here. This is our home. Second, from a human safety standpoint, breaking into animal pens with no animal training is dangerous. Animals can kick, rear up, and trample you. In the dark, anything can happen.
“Third, the safety of OUR animals has been compromised and that IS. NOT. OKAY.”
The post continued that the incident had left the animals “shaken and skittish.” A couple of animals got out through gates that were left open, but they were recovered after a search the next morning.
“This is very troubling to us,” the family summed up in its Facebook post.
On Aug. 24, the farm, which also operates a market and greenhouses, announced its barnyard was closed for the day so the animals could undergo a thorough wellness and health check by a veterinarian.
Police, meanwhile, said the investigation had been turned over to its Detective/Juvenile Bureau.
Fortunately, that’s not all there is to this story.
Soon after the incident, 5help.org, a foundation that had been launched by two other New Jersey teenagers to provide immediate aid in times of crisis, such as COVID-19, stepped up in a big way:
“Animal abuse and trespassing IS WRONG! While some teenagers may want to cause harm, others want to help,” 5help.org’s website explains. “This is a plea from teenagers who want to do good by turning a negative situation into something positive.”
With that, a campaign was launched to raise money to install surveillance and lighting so trespassers won’t be able to do further harm to the animals at Abma Farm.
“The Abma family is not looking to exploit this situation in any way, which is why they weren’t seeking any donations,” according to 5help.org. “They have been overwhelmed with the outpouring of support and are grateful to all, especially those who have reached out to them during this time. After further thought, they have been inspired seeing that other teenagers want to help correct a wrong that was done to their family and animals and feel this fundraising effort on their behalf represents a positive message of hope for the next generation showing youth in action.
“For this reason, the Abma Family would like to match dollar for dollar what this campaign raises with a combined goal of $20,000 to put in place safety measures that will protect their animals and farm from any other trespassers and abuse.”
Who knows the exact set of circumstances that led to the pranksters’ acts; most likely boredom, peer pressure and the intent to get some yuks from their buddies played a role.
That’s the recipe for a lot of youthful foolishness, as many of us realize in our “What was I thinking?” moments of adult reflection.
But this case in New Jersey, which had such hurtful consequences, goes a bit beyond your basic kids-will-be-kids hijinks.
That’s why, along with paying any restitution and court costs imposed, some creative and meaningful punishment would seem to be appropriate for these transgressing teens.
Maybe some weekends of hard labor on a farm would be a start.
As well as — and apologies if this seems a bit too radical in these overly permissive times — a temporary timeout in Facebook, Snapchat or whatever related privileges the youths enjoy, to give them ample time for reflection on their behavior.
And, perhaps, to think about how technology, if used properly, can instead be a conduit for good deeds — a concept the teens behind 5help.org, much to their credit, are already embracing.
For more information on 5help.org and its fundraising efforts, go to https://5help.networkforgood.com/projects/107954-help-protect-abma-s-farm-animals