©2017 BY THE UN-BUCKET LIST

hug a sloth

Sloths: so hot right now! You've probably seen that video of Kristen Bell crying hysterically when she got to meet a sloth at her birthday party a few years ago. Then there's the super slooowww sloth-run DMV in Zootopia (so accurate). Sloths have even made their way to primetime when a contestant from Colton Underwood's season of The Bachelor stepped out of the limo in a sloth suit and heels. Let's face it, sloths are A THING.

Long before I found Kelsi’s list, I always knew she wanted to hug a sloth. I even briefly looked into finding one for her to meet a few years back but nothing ever came of it (kicking myself now of course). She was sloth-sessed, so much so that her friend Niki gave her this “Hug A Sloth” kit a few years ago (this pic is actually from Kelsi’s social media). So allow me introduce Murphy, full name: Murphy Morpheus Michelle Branch Brown. He (she?) is in my possession now and was my travel companion as I set out to meet a REAL. LIVE. FURRY. ADORABLE. SLOTH.

And where exactly does one go to hug a sloth? The jungles of Costa Rica or Peru? Yeah, that would probably make the most sense, but I somehow ended up in CHICAGO (Lake Forest, IL to be exact). Why Chicago? I'll explain later...

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I booked a hotel super last minute (a.k.a. when I landed in Chicago) and one of the first things I noticed when I walked into Hotel Lincoln's cute lobby was this neon "All You Need Is Love/Lincoln" sign. Kelsi loved the Beatles! We even went to the LOVE Cirque du Soleil Beatles show in Vegas, and her favorite song was "Here Comes The Sun", which she wanted played at her funeral.

 

When I checked in, Brenda at the front desk asked what brought me to town so I gave her a brief history of my journey before going up my room to rest for a little bit. Then I swear no less than 2 hours later I got a knock at my door and they brought me THIS:

I was so touched, I cried! How did they do that? Where did he come from? I literally JUST booked the hotel a few hours before—talk about customer service! Murphy now had a big brother, who I named Lincoln...obviously.

Ok, so back to HOW I ended up in Chicago. There's an international spot popular for sloth "rescuing" Kelsi had mentioned wanting to visit before, but after reading some reviews I was skeptical this place truly had the sloths' best interest at heart. Besides that, sloths are only native to countries which are currently at risk of the Zika virus, which I've been advised to avoid right now since my husband and I plan to grow our family soon (total buzzkill when planning a honeymoon BTW).

After very careful consideration and a lot of research for a huggable sloth (because most sloths can't be held) in the states I found The Wildlife Discovery Center in Lake Forest, IL and its wonderful curator Rob Carmichael.

Screaming Hairy Armadillo

Rob, who's extremely passionate about animal welfare and education, founded the Wildlife Discovery Center in 1996. Today it's home to around 200 animals, comprising of 170 species. Many were rescued due to injury in the wild or other unfortunate circumstances (like David the alligator found with his mouth shut taped in LAKE MICHIGAN, what?!), others were born in captivity and couldn't be released. It's free to the public so anyone can come learn about all these cool creatures!

I made tons of friends there: "Chaco" the screaming hairy armadillo, "One-Eyed Cy" the owl (ok his name is just Cy but he really only has one eye. Arghh!), "Shrimp" the Komodo Dragon, and "Daisy" the albino Burmese python to name just a few. But my absolute favorite was my new BFF (best furry friend) HAZEL!

Hazel is an orphaned, two-toed sloth rescue who loves carrots and zucchini. She's also super soft, which I wasn't expecting because sloths kind of look like crawling Brillo pads right? She came to the Wildlife Discovery Center when she was just a baby, and is so loved and pampered by her sloth-daddy Rob! 

Rob said Hazel can take some time to warm up to new people but she just melted into my arms. We hugged for 20 minutes! I like to think it was because she was calmed by Kelsi's presence or maybe Kelsi pulled a Patrick Swayze in Ghost and took over her body—totally something she would do FYI. But wait, there's more...

What's better than hugging one sloth? HUGGING TWO! Yep, I checked this one off the list two times! Say hello to my buddy Henry, another 2-toed sloth rescue who came to the WDC at the same time as Hazel. He's a little smaller than Hazel and as you can see he takes being a sloth VERY seriously. 

This was such a rare opportunity. Like I said before, most sloths can't and shouldn't be held, because obviously most aren't raised by humans. It was also emotional experience for me (I got teary eyed when I first held Hazel) because while a lot of thing's on Kelsi's list are traveling places, this was more of a special moment. I know how much she wanted to hug a sloth, so although I was happy to do this in her memory, it also made me sad I was doing it without her. (and let's be real, she'd probably be a little jealous too) 

On my flight back home to LA I felt like I should explain to the guy sitting in my row why I was taking pics of my travel buddy Murphy. After I told him Kelsi's story he came to this website and made a $500 donation to my Cystic Fibrosis Foundation/Skydiving fundraiser BEFORE THE FLIGHT EVEN TOOK OFF! Yep, there's me crying again. Could this trip have ended any better? Now I've got 2 new Best Furry Friends, raised more money for CFF, and checked another item off the list not once, but twice!

Sloths are such special and unique creatures, just like Kelsi, and now I get why people are so obsessed. I don't know that anything on the list will make me feel as emotional as this experience did. Except skydiving. Yeah, definitely skydiving. But that emotion is called TERROR my friends. Until then I'll be reliving memories of my cuddles with Hazel and Henry!

Huge THANK YOU to Rob Carmichael of the Wildlife Discovery Center and my dear friend Around The World With Justin for helping me capture these moments!