Bright smiles, bags of mulch, and a bossy goose that just can’t seem to leave any ankles unscathed. The Second Chance Wildlife Sanctuary is home to over three hundred animals of every species imaginable: dogs, llamas, iguanas… you name it, they have it. This refuge was founded by Jim Bronzo in 1985, and since the day he started, this selfless man has never stopped helping every animal he’s come across—whether it be caring for the animals left at his gate or traveling county to county to rescue any critter in need. Jim has dedicated his life to his animals, to the point where they’re no longer only a cat or bird to him but something much more important: family.
Take this moment to picture something you treasure dearly, the one thing that is most important to you in life. Now, I want you to imagine the anguish you’d feel at seeing that thing ripped away from you, without any chance for you to fight to protect it. On Monday, February 4, at 1:30 a.m., Jim’s life and joy was burned to the ground.
Jim lived in a beautiful second story home on stilts that he built on the property—the heart of his sanctuary, thriving with potted plants on the top floor while the first floor housed many of his reptiles and birds, as well as his priceless paintings. In order to raise extra money for SCWS, Jim painted commissioned portraits of pets, celebrities, and scenery, beautiful work that he poured his everything into, each piece unique and unreplicable.
Ten seconds was all that Jim had to get out of his house, and in that flicker of time he was only able to rescue one of his four dogs; a second longer and he would’ve been lost as well. Thirty-four years of hard work, love, and passion were all gone. Over forty innocent lives were lost. As neighbors called 911, Jim was left with Yoshi in his arms and the clothes on his back.
Jim has only ever shown strength and selflessness to those around him; a person who fights for those who cannot speak and shows them the love they’ve been deprived of is a human of a different caliber. Jim Bronzo is a staple of Orlando’s community, and within hours of the incident, his impact on anyone he’s ever spoken to was demonstrated loud and clear with everyone rallying to raise money, gather supplies and offer resources. It was Orlando’s turn to take care of the man who had spent all of his life taking care of its wildlife.
Before I go any further, I’d like to explain Jim’s impact on my fellow UCF students and I. I’m a part of the Pre-Professional Medical Society on campus, where volunteering at Second Chance Wildlife Sanctuary was a staple event every other Saturday for years; all of us piling into cars with bubbling excitement to go see Jim and the animals. Jim never failed to greet us with a big smile and wide, welcoming arms—a memory that I’ll keep with me forever, because to us, we weren’t just volunteering at any old sanctuary, we were all at home.
Every single person had a connection with an animal there: be it Connor the grumpy goose, Oliver the cat who never seems to run out of love, or Gaga the parrot who’s always ready to toss out a “Hey, baby.” whenever you pass by. My boy, of all the animals, is Donald (or Tom the Turkey, as some others may know him). SCWS was such a home to us that the moment we heard the news, all of us were impacted in a way that we never knew possible—mourning the animals we helped to raise, the progress we’ve seen the sanctuary go through, and most of all, the mere thought of having almost lost Jim, a man who had taught us all what means most in life. Helping others.
For days I couldn’t seem to comprehend that this had all happened, and once it sank in, I was angry. All of your life you’re told that if you do good, then good things will happen to you. Then, you look at the world around you and you see that such horrible things happen to the best of people. Jim, of almost every single person I have ever met, is someone who would’ve never deserved such a tragedy in his life after all the sacrifices he’s already made, and all the struggles he’s forced to go through on the daily.
Jim Bronzo is a phenomenal person, through and through. That can be seen by anyone who walks through the sanctuary’s gates, and just by witnessing the love that has been poured out by the Orlando community, it’s easy to see how there’s a little piece of Jim in everyone’s hearts. That’s when I realized that while I was sitting there angry at how unfair everything that had happened to Jim was, the man himself was already picking himself off the ground and striving to turn everything around.
Look up bravery in the dictionary, I can guarantee you there’s a picture of Jim there, baby raccoon in hand.
Sometimes things happen in life that we can’t explain, but what separates Jim from a lot of people is that he always looks forward, ready to battle his next obstacle. He doesn’t need to look back to know that he has all of us ready to help him every step of the way.
All pictures used belong to the author.