And after that there is hope and renewal.
At least 40 animals died in the fire that swept through the main building and barn at Little Ponderosa Zoo and Rescue Dec. 4.
Every loss was felt like a punch in the chest to owner/founder James Cox.
“Those animals were like his family,” Anderson County Judge Don Elledge said during a short speech Saturday when Little Ponderosa re-opened.
On the day of the fire Elledge said Cox was despondent, heartbroken over the losses.
“He said he didn’t know if he could go on and I told him, ‘James … take it one day at a time and see where it goes.’”
But, Elledge said, Little Ponderosa is like the myth of the Phoenix … Returning out of the ashes.
Elledge has been a close friend to Cox for 30-plus years. He chronicled the rise of Little Ponderosa Zoo and Rescue from its beginnings to the status it holds now as one of the most trusted animal rescue facilities in the United States.
Elledge related numerous anecdotes about Cox and Little Ponderosa; little tidbits about the legacy Cox is building.
• The main barn was built by Cox and his father when Little Ponderosa started becoming a haven for rescued animals. The barn was more than just a structure, it also held a sentimental value for Cox.
• Throughout the years Cox has made fast friends with animal lovers: Dan Haggerty (Grizzly Adams) visited Little Ponderosa and became such a fan that when he died in 2016 his family contacted Cox and said his family requested he be at Haggerty’s funeral service. “They were going to fly him (Cox) to California … But James couldn’t leave is animals,” Elledge said.
• Ernie Brown Jr., better known as Turtle Man from reality television “Call of the Wildman,” visited Little Ponderosa last year. When he learned about the Dec. 4, he came back to Anderson County to support Cox and the zoo.
• Cox was asked to be on a network morning show. The network was going to fly Cox to the show’s studios, pay his expenses … “James turned it down … He said he couldn’t leave his animals,” Elledge said.
• One of the reasons Cox “couldn’t leave his animals,” Elledge related was because he could never find enough help at the zoo. Elledge told him to hire Latinos, specifically from Mexico. Which he did (“legally,” Elledge laughed), paying for the worker’s air fare out of his own pocket. “That’s where James was the Monday of the fire,” Elledge said. “He was taking his workers to the airport so they could fly home.”
And while Dec. 4 was devastating, it also seemed to bring those who know Cox and Little Ponderosa to a focal point.
The outpouring of support for the zoo was mind boggling. Within 48 hours the surviving animals were housed, food was donated, and it became obvious people wanted Little Ponderosa to return.
“And it will return,” Elledge closed his remarks. “Bigger and better than ever.”