LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Patients from Children’s Hospital Los Angeles on Friday got a chance to meet animals at the LA Zoo, and the animals had a special connection to the kids.

CBS2’s Amy Johnson was there when introductions were made.

Natalia Juanero, 6, was treated to a special introduction to Rhonda the Rhino.

“It’s just cool to see her out here having fun,” said her dad Kevin.

His daughter and Grace Bumstead, 5, also got to feed Rhonda.

Natalia thought Rhonda felt like a lizard. Grace, on the other hand, thought she “felt all wet.”

They might have differed on their encounter with the large mammal, but the young girls share something in common.

Both girls are battling cancer. And Rhonda, who went through radiation and chemotherapy, is a cancer survivor.

“I think it’s really significant to see that kids have a hard fight against cancer, and so do the animals,” said Grace’s mom Melissa.

The children and their parents got a behind-the-scenes look at the zoo, a preview of Dream Night.

On that night, cancer survivor and CHLA ambassador Vivian Bui explains the zoo opens exclusively to the patients.

“We raise money for Dream Night,” says Bui, “so that the patients can go and forget about their diagnosis. Forget about their illness. Just for one night to have fun with family with friends and family. ”

Charlie Pope, 2, has hydrocephalus and he got to meet a seal with vision problems just like he’s had.

“The pressure from his brain caused nerve damage in his eye.  And apparently the seals have that, too — vision problems. He’s had three brain surgeries and one eye surgery,” says his father Matt.

Charlie’s family looks forward to Dream Night.

“He’s becoming a normal toddler. And he talks about the seals, and the lions and the elephants. It’s a ton of fun,” says Charlie’s mom Jennifer.

Dream Night is celebrated internationally on the first Friday of June.

This year, more than 1100 guests are expected at the LA Zoo.


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