A couple living in Waco got engaged on Sunday at Cameron Park Zoo.
Ethan Lansford proposed to Cheyenne Dowdey during a behind the scenes tour they took where they had the chance to see tigers, rhinos, giraffes and elephants.
“It was like living a lifelong dream," Dowdey said.
Dowdey who loves elephants said she didn’t expect to have the opportunity to be close to one of them on Sunday.
“I didn’t know what we were doing, where we were going. Nothing about it. It was a complete surprise,” Dowdey said.
The 23-year-old recalls documenting every moment she spent with elephants at the zoo, which included petting one of them and even seeing it paint.
"I was so excited to be around elephants that I wanted to document it for myself so I could relive it,” Dowdey said.
The biggest surprise of the day came when zookeepers revealed the elephant’s painting, which included the words “Will you marry me?”
“As soon as I realized, it was not just the painting that was happening, I turned around and saw him. I turned my camera right off because I [thought] ‘wow, I did not realize that I was going to be accidentally filming my own proposal,'” Dowdey said.
The video the Texas A&M University graduate student recorded ended with Lansford on one knee.
“I’m really glad, I have that video too to look back on it,” Dowdey said.
Lansford who Dowdey remembers seemed nervous before they went into the zoo said the proposal went the way that he planned it.
Lansford recalls smiling when he proposed but he admits to almost crying.
“I remember asking her will you marry me and then putting her ring on and we stood up hugged. She told me I was perfect. She just squeezed me really tight” Lansford said.
The Texas State Technical College student originally from Wortham remembers looking around and seeing the zookeepers getting emotional during it.
“I was so excited to see the elephants. I get to marry my best friend,” Dowdey said. “It was a very exciting day.”
Dowdey’s fascination with elephants started her senior year of high school. She said at that time she was worried of not had been selected to play volleyball at the college level yet.
Her club volleyball coach gave her an elephant and mentioned the saying: 'you eat an elephant one bite at a time.' With that phrase, the coach meant to tell her to take things one day at a time.
Ultimately, Dowdey played volleyball at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and the coach's saying became her mantra.
“It has helped me settle down and realize that not everything has to be planned out or not everything has to be what in your mind it would have been as perfect,” Dowdey said. “Even now after the proposal it has taken into a different meaning as we are now going to be taking a step at a time every day.”
Now, the couple, who met at a two-step dance in Central Texas more than two years ago, is now looking forward to spending the rest of their lives together.
“I'm very lucky that I get to marry something as amazing as she is,” Lansford said.
Dowdey who grew up in Hallettsville said her now fiancé is more than what she hoped for in a partner for life.
“When you finally somebody you have been looking for, for a long time, it's like a completion,” Dowdey said.
They plan getting married in the spring of 2019, a year after Dowdey finishes her graduate program in education and Lansford finishes his second degree.
Dowdey and Lansford were able to do the behind the scenes tour at Cameron Park Zoo after Lansford adopted an elephant.
The money he gave to the Cameron Park Zoo will go toward enrichment programs for animals, such as painting for elephants.
Dowdey received a packet with an adoption certificate, a photo and a fact sheet of the adopted animal.
“The enrichment piece helps stimulate the animal’s mind,” Cameron Park Zoo director Jim Fleshman said. “With most of the enrichment, they are mimicking some type of behavior, they would do in the wild.”
If you are interested in learning more about adopting an animal at Cameron Park Zoo, click here.
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