PLAINFIELD, NJ - F.O.S.H. held its 12th annual Celebration of Animals at Cook Elementary School Park on Leland Avenue, Saturday afternoon. In her opening remarks, animal lover and F.O.S.H member, Mary Ellen Chanda emphasized this year’s theme, “You are the difference.”  Emphasizing the YOU in this theme, Mary Ellen encouraged the audience of about 50 animal lovers who stood with their pets, to get out into their communities to make themselves responsible for doing something to affect others in a positive way, “no matter how seemingly insignificant those actions might be,” said Chanda.

“We are all familiar with people who have famously impacted society,” said Chanda.  “Mother Theresa, Marin Luther King, Jr., Albert Schweizer, Mahatma Ghandi and St. Francis of Assisi have made a difference in the lives of both people and the animals, the wonderful creatures we celebrate today,” Chanda said.   

Chanda and her husband, Bob, are known for rescuing animals for many years in Plainfield. Both are often seen, patiently walking the neighborhood, with several dogs in tow, all of whom have been saved by them.

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Thirteen years ago, Friends of Sleepy Hollow (FOSH) responded to the closing of the Garden State Kennels in Stirling which was responsible for animal control in Plainfield.  Mary Ellen told the crowd on Saturday that rumors of multiple safety violations at the site proved true, and Plainfield strays were left with no place to go.  FOSH formed an Animal Initiatives Committee to work with the city to find a humane alternative site. It was that same year that FOSH began the annual ‘Blessing of the Animals event.’ The purpose was to provide a way for people to bring their animals to be blessed, and more importantly, to update them on important animal issues.

Long-time Plainfielder, and FOSH Animal Initiatives Committee member, Marie Ansari told The Alternative Press, “It is important to teach our children compassion for the animals…we want to send the right message that you don’t just throw away an animal because it has challenges.”

Reverend Leroy A. Lyons, retired pastor of S. Mark’s Epsicopal Church, Plainfield; Sister Nancy Riley, a sister of Mercy from Mount Saint Mary, Watchung; Dr. Jim Handlin, Buddist; and Ellie Campolei, Shaman; all offered prayers according to their faith traditions, making the event representative of the people of Plainfield.  Shaman, Ellie Campolei, prayed not only for the animals, but for the people who are called to care for them.

A special treat for the audience was the presence of 17 year old Justice, a beautiful Union County mounted patrol horse, under the care of Officer Catena.  Officer Catena, who beamed at the mention of Justice, received Justice when he was only 4 years old, from the Watchung Stables.  

Closing out the ceremony, Mary Ellen Chanda recited an original poem that she encouraged her friend and poet, Rosemary Walsh of Long Island, NY, to write, titled YOU ARE THE DIFFERENCE.  Beautifully written, the last line of the poem poignantly states, “Your being there in any way you can, as only you can be is the difference.  YOU. Be the difference.”

Vegan cookies, coffee, tea were served as well as fresh water for the pets. Certificates were made available for pets who were blessed.

Serving on the Animal Initiatives Committee are: Marie Ansari, Gloria Binkowski (VMD), Mary Ellen Chanda, Shirley Edwards, Pat Turner Kavenaugh, and Shannon Pacheco.

FOSH is a local all-volunteer, non-profit (501c3) community service organization. You can find them at