Our story on Colo the gorilla this month sparked lots of zoo conversations around the office—but none more interesting than the tales from Tom Dodge, the longtime Dispatch photographer. His father was the late Mel Dodge, the legendary director of the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department, which used to oversee the zoo's operations. No one loved the zoo more than Mel Dodge.

Many of the zoo's animals found their way into the Dodge home, including several cheetahs, a couple of tigers and a handful of lions. Most were usually cubs. But one lion, Elsa, grew particularly fond of the Dodge family and their home. In fact, she had her own apartment in the Dodges' basement. Tom says they kept a bowling ball down there that she liked to bat around and a recliner that she'd drag like prey. Mel's wife, Norma, would heat up Elsa's food on the stove.

Tom says once during an Elsa stay, the family's gas oven stopped working. A repairman was called and let into the home by Tom's sister, who wasn't feeling well and went to her room while the repairman worked. At some point, Elsa managed to open the basement door, thinking someone was heating up her dinner. Needless to say, the sight of a nearly full-grown lion was disconcerting. The repairman screamed and bolted into the Dodges' bathroom, locking the door behind him. The scream scared Elsa so badly she took off running circles around the house, knocking over lamps and end tables and the like. But, ultimately, calming Elsa down was easier than coaxing the repairman out of the bathroom, Tom says.

Driving Elsa back and forth between the Dodges' home and the zoo was typically a pretty uneventful excursion. Tom says Elsa usually liked to look out the back window of Mel's city-issued sedan. But things took a turn during one trip to the zoo, when it started to rain. Tom says when his dad turned on the windshield wipers, Elsa immediately pounced into the front seat and lunged at the wipers as they rocked back and forth. “Dad had to pull over and just wait for the rain to stop,” says Tom. “I think it was the last trip she ever made.”

To read another zoo tale, about former Mayor Greg Lashutka's run-in with a kangaroo, visit ColumbusMonthly.com.

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Speaking of eventful, we were informed as we were going to press that Columbus Monthly was in line for two national awards. The City and Regional Magazine Association, to which most city magazines across the country belong, announced that Columbus Monthly is one of five finalists for General Excellence as the best city magazine in the country with a circulation under 30,000. We're up against Madison Magazine, San Antonio Magazine, Sarasota Magazine and Sonoma Magazine.

Additionally, talented freelancer Suzanne Goldsmith is nominated as one of five finalists in the under-60,000 circulation category for profile writing for her riveting story, “Life is Incredible: The Good and the Bad,” from our October issue, an uplifting yet devastating story about the brief life of poet and Black Lives Matter activist MarShawn McCarrel.

We should find out the results in the coming months. Wish us luck.