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Memphis man and dogs displaced after devastating fire; find comfort at Big Cypress Lodge

Posted Jun 24, 2024

Thousands of travelers make their way to Big Cypress Lodge in Memphis, Tennessee each year, typically staying a few nights on average. But for one hotel guest, that stay has been extended after a fire destroyed his home, leaving him and his two dogs stranded. Jimmy Birkholz, who has called Memphis home his entire life, shared his journey after a now 47-day stay in the iconic Memphis Pyramid, marking the longest stay by one guest in the lodge’s history. 

Jimmy, Evie, and Mongo enjoying a walk around Big Cypress Lodge

In the early morning hours of May 10, a fire broke out at a bar in downtown Memphis, severely damaging Birkholz’s apartment above. Thanks to the quick actions of the Memphis Fire Department, Birkholz’s two dogs were rescued. 

Jimmy, who was not home at the time of the fire, got a call from a friend asking if he was alive. “’I’m alive as I’ll ever be,’ thinking it must be an emergency at that hour,” he recounted. “Then he sent me a news article about a fire, and I saw my dogs being rescued.” 

Mongo being rescued by Memphis firefighters

Returning to find his apartment half-burned and the rest smoke-damaged, Jimmy was relieved to find his dogs safe on the patio but quickly realized he had no place to go. Jimmy immediately began searching for a temporary place to stay that could accommodate his dogs, Evie, a 115-pound part black lab, part Great Dane with a bad leg, and Mongo, a 15-pound Boston Terrier.

Birkholz says finding a hotel that would accept his dogs, especially one as large as Evie, was challenging. He called at least 15 different hotels searching for a place to stay and says the only place that could meet his accommodations was Big Cypress Lodge.

Birkholz says the staff at Big Cypress Lodge provided not just a place to stay but a supportive community during this challenging time in his life. “The staff has been great—they’ve really taken a liking to my dogs. We’ve been here for 47 days now, and it feels like family. Even the dogs have nicknames: Mongo is ‘Mr. Attitude,’ the favorite of the hotel.”

The Big Cypress Lodge team were happy to welcome Birkholz and his dogs to the hotel and understand that pets are part of the family. “Our priority is making sure our guests feel safe and comfortable, especially in difficult times like these,” said Big Cypress Lodge Marketing Manager Renita Wilkerson.

Despite the initial apprehension about living in a hotel with two dogs, Jimmy found comfort in the spacious rooms, the daily elevator rides in the pyramid, and the accommodating staff. It is nice to know when I come back to the hotel I’ll have my dogs, a clean room, and I’m not going to smell smoke or anything. Big Cypress has been very accommodating.”

Birkholz will be moving out on June 26th and while his journey is far from over, with temporary housing lined up and plans to move back into his fixed apartment by November 1st, he remains optimistic. “You can either accept the situation and make a better future or spend time mourning the past and I’m just not going to do that.”

He expressed his gratitude for the support he received from his community and encouraged others facing tough times to remain hopeful. “You have to be the perpetuity of progress. Look to the future and the brighter side of things, there’s always a silver lining no matter how dark the chapter you are in is.”

Mongo and Evie exploring Big Cypress Lodge


About Big Cypress Lodge

Located in the heart of Memphis, Tennessee is a one-of-a-kind rustic retreat inspired by the great outdoors known as Big Cypress Lodge. Inside of the 535,000-square-foot pyramid, this destination features 103 guest rooms, 100-foot-tall trees, a swamp with live alligators and a variety of fish, the nation’s tallest freestanding elevator, numerous dining options, Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid and many additional attractions. Learn more about the pet friendly hotel here.