Every day at the ASPCA, hopeful adopters meet their matches in the form of cuddly cats and devoted dogs. But for Sean Giffels of Manhattan, a three-month-old black Lab named Sadie also inspired another kind of match—one delivered in the form of a marriage proposal to his longtime girlfriend, Lesly Ayala.
A Man with a Plan
Sean and Lesly had fostered Sadie for nearly two months and were coming to the ASPCA Adoption Center on April 4 to process Sadie’s adoption with Lesly’s sister Yohanna. The plan had been for Yohanna to adopt Sadie. At least that’s what Lesly thought. As Polly Stein, ASPCA Manager of Admissions and Matchmaking, reviewed Sadie’s adoption paperwork with Lesly and Yohanna, Sean stood by anxiously. Nearby, a photographer waited behind a counter chatting with a videographer who pretended to enter data into a computer. Other staff—all in on Sean’s secret—went about their business.
The Big Moment Arrives
After Lesly and Yohanna chose a bone-shaped red name tag for Sadie, Polly retrieved Sadie and handed her to Lesly, who quickly spotted a note affixed to Sadie’s collar that read: “Will you keep me forever?” “Do you recognize that handwriting?” Sean asked, then delivered the first surprise: “It’s not your sister who is adopting Sadie. It’s you and me!” Lesly hugged Sean, and as tears welled up in her eyes she barely noticed the sudden presence of cameras. “I have another question,” Sean said. “We’ve been together for five years. Those have been the best five years of my life, and there’s no one I’d rather spend the rest of my life with than you.” Sean paused. Then he dropped to one knee. “So, Lesly, will you marry me?” More tears, and then a confident “yes” from Lesly. Sean produced a small box containing an emerald-cut solitaire diamond ring. Moments later, he turned and thanked the ASPCA staff, who cheered and clapped. “They’ve been in on this from the start,” he told Lesly, as more hugs, smiles and congratulations broke out.
A Pet Project
What prompted Sean’s choice to pop the question at the ASPCA? “I’d been mulling over proposal schemes for over a year,” says Sean. “Lesly loves dogs, and I wanted to propose in a memorable way that would be closest to her heart. That the ASPCA was so receptive to the idea and wanted to leverage it to further the foster and adoption causes just cemented it as the ideal strategy.” Sean recalls how Lesly’s elderly dog, Rocky, spent the last months of his life commuting with Lesly, a paralegal, to work every day so he wouldn’t have to be home alone.
“When Rocky died, we tried to fill the void by dog-sitting,” says Sean, who attended a foster class at the ASPCA with Lesly. “When we learned the ASPCA needed fosters for 10 pneumonia-stricken puppies, we couldn’t resist the opportunity.” The couple instantly fell in love with Sadie, who was transferred to the Adoption Center from Oktibbeha County Humane Society in Starkville, Mississippi—on Valentine’s Day—by the ASPCA’s Relocation Team. Once Sadie was medically cleared for adoption, Sean put his proposal wheels in motion.
For Sean and Yohanna, the hardest part of the plan was sticking to it. “When Sean told me he wanted to adopt Sadie and use her to propose, I went along with it—we all did,” says Yohanna, adding that her five-year-old and seven-year-old sons love Sadie, too.
“The ASPCA helped Sean pull off the best surprise of my life,” says Lesly. “It was fun to be a part of this, working as a team to get everything in place,” says Matthew Richards, ASPCA Manager of Foster Engagement, who kept in touch with the couple and kept Sean’s secret. “It’s gratifying that Sean put his faith in us.” In addition to Polly and Matthew, the behind-the-scenes team included Kelly DiCicco, ASPCA Manager of Adoptions Promotions, and Adrian Peña, ASPCA Senior Manager of Foster Care and Placement.
“It’s touching to think we’ll forever be a part of their special moment,” adds Kirstin Burdett, ASPCA Senior Manager of Admissions and Matchmaking. As an early wedding gift, the ASPCA paid Sadie’s adoption and licensing fees and sent her home with a decorated bag of supplies. While Sadie’s adoption was instantaneous, the wedding may be a year or more away. In the meantime, Sean credits the ASPCA with playing a “starring role” in his engagement. But the true star is Sadie, who brings more love and joy into Sean and Lesly’s relationship as she graduates from a temporary to permanent role in their happiness. Her playful nature is sure to keep the trio happily fur-ever engaged.
Photos by Dustin Brown and Video by Andre Lewis