From Rockingham to Noah’s Ark

Ellerbe woman transports new toys to lions, tigers and bears

By Kevin Spradlin

Rescuing a bowling ball from the landfill doesn’t have quite the noble ring to it some other tasks might have attached, but that didn’t deter an Ellerbe woman from doing just that.

Dianne Emanuel had a far greater destination — and sense of repurpose — for 14 bowling balls Mike Hill at Striker’s Bowling Center was about to send to the dump. Instead, Hill agreed to donate them to Noah’s Ark, an exotic animal rescue near Atlanta, Ga.

Submitted photo Charlie Hedgecoth, Noah's Ark assistant director, left, stands with Dianne Emmannuel and Ron Kanode during a visit to the Georgia animal sanctuary.

Submitted photo
Charlie Hedgecoth, Noah’s Ark assistant director, left, stands with Dianne Emmannuel and Ron Kanode during a visit to the Georgia animal sanctuary.

Emanuel agreed to drive the bowling balls there. Last week, she and husband Ron Kanode made the delivery to the sanctuary in Locust Grove.

Emanuel said Hill was in the middle of a remodeling project at the bowling alley and had already taken 40 bowling balls to the dump.

“He started saving the balls for me,” she said. “I got in touch with Noah’s Ark. They were real excited about it.”

Unlike soccer balls or other household items that can be shredded in minutes by the animals, bowling balls have a longer shelf life at Noah’s Ark.

Emanuel and Kanode drove the five-hour journey last week. She had lived in Atlanta for some 20 years and had never heard of Noah’s Ark, but began following the private group’s animal rescue efforts on social media after a few friends pointed her in that direction.

Emmanuel said the sanctuary in real life is everything the website and Facebook page promises.

“That place is so wonderful,” Emanuel said. “Every animal was rescued from some abusive situation. They now live in this beautiful park-like setting.”

A Noah's Ark photo BLT — Baloo, Leo and Shere Khan — were rescued from the basement of an Atlanta drug house when the animals were only a few months old. They have bonded and share the same enclosure in the 250-acre sanctuary.

A Noah’s Ark photo
BLT — Baloo, Leo and Shere Khan — were rescued from the basement of an Atlanta drug house when the animals were only a few months old. They have bonded and share the same enclosure in the 250-acre sanctuary.

Perhaps the sanctuary’s most famous trio is BLT – Baloo the black bear, Leo the African lion and Shere Khan the Bengal tiger. The three were brought to Noah’s Ark in 2001 by Georgia Department of Natural Resources personnel after they were discovered by police during a drug raid in the basement of an Atlanta home.  The animals were only a few months old at the time and not well-taken care of.

At the sanctuary, the three are inseparable. As Baloo came down from the “clubhouse” inside the animals’ expansive enclosure, Shere Khan simply couldn’t bear the thought of Baloo having divided loyalties. The 700-pound bear took a position under a tree and “low and behold, the tiger … here he comes, trottin’ over to mark his bear” by chuffing, or a slight grunting noise.

“They’re in a 2-acre cage and yet, you’ll never find them more than a few yards from each other,” Emanuel said. “They hang out together all the time.”

Noah’s Ark was founded in 1978 and remains a family-owned and operated nonprofit on a 250-acre parcel. There is no admission fee to see the animals, but donations are accepted.

The money goes back to the animals. It costs approximately $33,000 each month to feed all the lions, tigers, bears, birds, foxes, wolves, primates and more.

The sanctuary does not breed any animal; each is spayed or neutered as soon as its health permits.

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  • Kandi Diane Barr Allen

    This pseudo sanctuary also has what they call a “children’s care home” where supposedly they take in abused, abandoned or medical emergency children. However in responses to discovery in a recent lawsuit, the owner and director, Jama Hedgecoth admits there have been no children at this home for approximately 5 years. Yet in that time, the non-profit’s 990s show a tremendous amount of expenditures to be paid out of donor funds to include salaries, groceries, travel expenses and educational expenses. Why are there expenses when there are/were no children? In fact, employees are coached to evade the questions posed about how many children are in the home. They are coached to ask only for money. However, if a donor persists that they wish to give a more tangible item, they are then directed to give the sizes of clothing for Jama’s adopted children and their gift wish lists. This gross abuse of their non-profit status must stop. The lists of abuses in regards to the animals are too numerous to mention. However, one is of particular note. Jama carries a “popper” when she enters an enclosure with a large animal. If they come too close, she hits them about the face and head with this “popper”. I have witnessed this behavior. This place is no more than a “for profit” roadside zoo that scams donors so that the owner can go on luxury cruises, purchase expensive items, etc.

    • Dianne

      Weren’t you an employee of Noah’s Ark at one time? Obviously, something happened that you left on bad terms. What I , and my friends, have witnessed on our visits there are quite different from your description.

      • Kandi Diane Barr Allen

        Yes, I was. A visit is very different from working there day to day and seeing behind the scenes stuff that visitors are not privy to. Facts are facts. There are no foster children and haven’t been, yet donations keep pouring in and disappearing according to tax forms they file. Hard to explain that one away.

        • Dianne

          Well, I went there to take the bowling balls for the animals. They are my interest. I know nothing about the children and have never followed that part of their organization. They are not even mentioned here. I am very distressed to hear this, since they have also received excellent ratings as a charity. I have never been asked for money…..only gifts for the animals. I do wish you had sent this response to me personally instead of posting it on the paper’s site. This has really soured our attempts to do something good, and our excitement over the article being posted.

          • Kandi Diane Barr Allen

            I am truly sorry about you feeling soured. Imagine my feelings after working for this place, and working closely with the director, for 16 months only to learn that the faith based portion is a sham and that the facility is nothing more than a money making scheme. Imagine my shock and dismay when I watched her hit Shere Khan in the face numerous times. There is so much more. Imagine my shock after working 60 and 80 hours a week, raising money for what I believed to be a good cause only to find they were squandering the money, telling untruths about an animal’s death and more. So when I went to a member of the board of directors with my proof and my concerns, the director fired me. She has since fired several others for questioning too closely. We are putting together a class action against her. She is being investigated, currently by several governmental agencies. I’m sure more will be in the news soon because a couple of agencies are working to expose her with my help and a few others. Wouldn’t you rather know now than much later after you’ve donated thousands of dollars to animals or children, only to find out she uses the money on luxury cruises, expensive electronics, purchasing swimming pools, or spending $25,000 a year to send her children to a private school? I’m trying to save those folks who are truly writing notes and sending in the only $5 they had left from their social security checks. Those notes will forever haunt me. People do not deserve to be scammed. Especially they do not deserve to be scammed in the name of God when God is not present in that place with so much deception and lies.

          • Kevin Spradlin

            Ms. Allen,

            Is your contention with the animal sanctuary at all? If not, I’m going to have to delete your comments as they are not in direct connection with the story as published.

            That doesn’t mean you can’t voice your concerns; you certainly would be welcomed to write a letter to the editor – – but it would be published as a separate element in the Opinion section on

            It’s 9:04 p.m. EST right now; please respond.


            Kevin Spradlin, managing editor
            301 E. Washington St.
            Rockingham, NC 28379


          • Kandi Diane Barr Allen

            Yes, my allegations have everything to do with the animal sanctuary as well. Funds are mishandled and commingled. Fraudulent activities occur during fundraisers and I have witnessed Ms Hedgecoth hit the animals with a rod. For instance it does not cost $33,000 a month to feed and care for the animals. They receive little to no vet care and the major portion of their food is donated. As an aside, they have a major, well known donor that wires $50,000 a month cash into their accounts to cover all costs. They purchase animals which is against USDA regulations and the list goes on. There should be major headline news soon regarding all these allegations.

          • Kevin Spradlin

            The problem here is that you are accusing, in an open (but privately owned and maintained) forum of these individuals abusing animals and of potential other crimes.

            Now, without proof, that’s a problem. It’s potentially libel, and in this publicly viewable format, you’ll stand alone in defense should anyone from Noah’s Ark take issue with your comments.

            Of course, if you have proof – photos, reports, copies of complaints submitted to USDA or other governing agencies, etc. – then by all means, please publish links to said evidence or email relevant documents to me at

            Otherwise, I’ll be deleting your comments by the end of the evening because of a concern of their libelous nature, notwithstanding the fact the comments don’t relate strictly to the story. Again, you’re more than welcome to address your concerns via a Letter to the Editor, at the email address I’ve provided, for consideration for publication.

            – Kevin

  • Birds of a feather

    Hey Kandi,
    Kevin will be taking down your comments because they hit too close to home. Taking donations for one purpose and using them for another is hunky dory by the Pee Dee Post. Ask him about his second car he bought days after his online fundraiser…

    • Kevin Spradlin

      Yo birds, you’re off base. Get a clue. My fancy second family vehicle is a 2000 Ford Ranger with 267,000 miles and counting and it was purchased entirely with private funds. It’s called spending a tax refund, dude. Get over it and move on with your life.

      And even if I’d used the voluntarily contributed funds to the PDP to buy the truck, it still would have been business-connected; after all, I can’t cover a story if I can’t get there.

      Get a life. Moving on …

      – Kevin

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