Refill with Randy – Animal encounters make for strong memories

Posted 16 July 2023 at 8:00 am

By Randy LeBaron

Good morning! Grab your favorite cup. Fill it up. And let’s start this week right… TOGETHER!!!

A few weeks ago I wrote about how comforting our pets can be but my love of animals goes way beyond my feline friends. From my first date with my wife at The Seneca Zoo back in 1994 until our anniversary outing to The Cincinnati Zoo last month my family has always loved to spend time looking at, and learning about, animals. When our kids were little and we would take long road trips to see family down south or out west we would always find some sort of animal encounter to stop at to break up the day.

Over the years we have visited zoos in: Rochester, Buffalo, Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Washington D.C. Tampa, Erie, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, and Toronto, as well as other animal-centric sites like: Sea World, Marineland, African Lion Safari, Animal Kingdom, Gatorland, Grant’s Farm, County Fairs, Reptile Houses, and Sanctuaries.

We like to find some unique things to do at each place such as petting sharks and stingrays in Indianapolis, watching the Cheetah Run in Cincinnati, feeding the bears at Marineland, or getting to see Pandas in Washington D.C.

The only thing we enjoy more than simply seeing animals though is being able to engage with them. We have ridden horses, camels, and elephants; hand fed tigers, giraffes, and goats; held snakes, alligators, bats, birds, kangaroos, and tarantulas; and petted dolphins, killer whales, beluga whales, sharks, and sting rays. Sheryl and I have gone on snorkeling expeditions around coral reefs in the ocean and my son even caught a shark by accident two summers ago while fishing off a boat in Tampa Bay.

Sometimes the animals get closer than anticipated. We have had monkeys riding on our car ripping off everything that wasn’t bolted down, gone tubing in gator infested water, and one day we got back to our hotel after spending the day at The Tampa Zoo only to turn on the TV and discover that a tiger had escaped it’s cage within minutes of us leaving.

It’s a good reminder that wild animals are just that—wild. That being said, we still prefer to be up close and personal when possible which is why in just a couple weeks our family will be headed down to Orlando, FL where we will have the awesome opportunity to train, and swim with, dolphins for a day.

So what animal encounters have you had? If you are reading this on the Orleans Hub’s FB Page please share a story or photo in the comments or feel free to e-mail me at

See you in 2 weeks… Pastor Randy