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Posted on Sat. Dec. 07, 2013 - 12:31 am EDT

Zoo’s beloved pony takes her final ride

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FORT WAYNE — For years, thousands of children visiting from near and far took time out of their visit to the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo for a ride on Cookie, a beloved pony.

The zoo’s family bid farewell to one of its oldest friends last month, the zoo announced Friday.

Cookie the pony died in late November at age 38.

Cookie had been working at the zoo for 22 years as part of a crew of ponies owned by the Hooley family, said Cheryl Piropato, the zoo’s education and communications director.

“We always put first-time riders on Cookie,” Byron Hooley, whose family has operated the zoo’s pony rides for nearly 40 years, said in a statement from the zoo. “She could sense if kids were a little scared and would take it nice and slow.”

Each pony at the zoo has a name tag on the bridle, and many of the zoo’s visitors get to know each pony’s personality, Piropato said. Often, visitors would ask for Cookie by name.

“She was a special girl,” Piropato said. “She really was the pony that was designated for our youngest riders.”

Cookie was semiretired last year but still visited the zoo occasionally, Piropato said.

Dozens of visitors left messages on the zoo’s Facebook and Twitter pages Friday, some sharing fond memories of the pony that had touched so many lives.

“Cookie was the first pony my daughter ever rode,” one woman wrote.

Another woman said that she remembered riding Cookie as a child and last year, took her son for his first ride.

“Everyone always asked for Cookie,” Hooley said. “There were so many parents who rode Cookie when they were kids, and wanted their children to have the same experience.”

Piropato said those stories and hundreds of others are what made Cookie such a special part of the zoo’s family.

“Cookie really exemplified everything we do here at the zoo with connecting kids and animals,” she said.

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