Hippos and tigers and giraffes, oh my!

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Twilight Wish Foundation
Twilight Wish Foundation

Over the last year or so, activities director Randie Duretz has formed a fast friendship with Connie Stine, 69, and her animals.

Stine's plush pets are part of a package deal, a treasured collection that brings her good luck during weekly bingo sessions at Luther Woods Nursing and Rehabilitation in Hatboro, PA.

“She has animals galore. It's like that scene out of E.T.” Duretz told McKnight's. “If she's not at an activity, she's got a book and she's probably in her room looking at pictures of tigers.”

Stine, who has a developmental disability, loves all kinds of creatures, whether they're big or small, stuffed or live. So when Duretz learned her resident's last trip to a zoo came when she was alongside her father at age 6, she reached out to the Twilight Wish Foundation to make a request.

Last month, the organization delivered, arranging a daylong outing and behind-the-scenes opportunities for Stine and her sister, Sharon Kunsky. The highlight? Feeding the zoo's hippos whole heads of lettuce. Second best: securing a new momma tiger to add to her stash of pampered stuffed animals.

“I've never seen somebody's face shine like that,” said Duretz, who has been at Luther Woods since 1990. “She was in her glory.”

Because Stine uses a walker, her tour of the somewhat rocky zoo included a golf cart ride and lots of hand-holding with his sister. Zoo officials escorted Stine into the 42-acre property, and they gave her the choice of feeding the hippos, a flock of penguins or giraffes.

She went with Unna and Cindy, Nile hippos who weigh in at about 3,000 pounds each and have gigantic chompers. Duretz recalled how Stine called to them sweetly making kissy noises more suited to a puppy.

“But they were trained, and they came right to her,” Duretz said.

After the feeding session, Stine made the rounds and posed for photos with the giraffes too.

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