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story.lead_photo.caption Patrick Vest and Grace Townsend were married on June 27, 2015. (They met seven years before in a dog park where they were hanging out with their dogs, Jake and Rascal.) Patrick hid Grace’s engagement ring in Jake’s dog food container. “He’s kind of our symbol of our entire relationship,” says Grace, who was happy to have Jake included in their wedding proposal.

Grace Townsend adopted a dog from a shelter and that dog led her almost directly to the love of her life.

Grace, then 19, had just moved back home after a year at the University of Mississippi at Oxford in 2009. Late that summer, she took her dog, Rascal, to Paws Park at Murray Park in Little Rock for some exercise.

The first time I saw my future spouse

She says: “I thought he was handsome.”

He says: “I thought she was too young.”

On our wedding day:

She says: “I remember being beyond nervous. I remember my hands would not stop sweating and I remember that had never happened before.”

He says: “She was accidentally the first person I saw. I was going to the hospitality room to get a Gatorade and she was coming out of her room, which was right next-door, to take Jake outside.”

My advice for a happy marriage:

She says: “Don’t think you have to win every battle. And put God first.”

He says: “Don’t go to bed mad at each other. And don’t be afraid to say you’re sorry.”

Patrick Vest and his big, lazy yellow Labrador, Jake, were regulars there.

"I used to take Jake to the dog park a lot because at least he would trot around down there," Patrick says.

While their dogs frolicked, Patrick and Grace got to know each other.

"I was like, 'Oh, that's a cute girl,'" says Patrick, about how it all began. "We started talking about football and sports and stuff. I was taken by this cute little girl who knows her sports and stuff."

But upon hearing that she was a freshman, Patrick, then 28, decided she wasn't the right girl for him and relegated her to the role of friend.

"When she told me that, I was like, 'Oh, man, she's way too young,'" he says.

They saw each other at the dog park every couple of weeks.

"I had figured out which car was his and I knew he would be there," Grace says.

There were other incidental meetings around town, too -- at baseball games, bars and concerts, including one featuring a band she had introduced him to -- and each encounter gave Grace a thrill but also posed a challenge.

"He told me his name the first time we met, but I forgot it completely and I was too embarrassed to ask him again what it was because he always called me by my name," she says.

She was usually with friends when she saw him out and about, and since he and Grace always talked when they ran into each other, her friends were curious.

"I would just say, 'Oh, that's 'Dog Park Boyfriend,'" she says.

Grace is not only a sports fan; she once considered sports writing as a career possibility. She wrote a column for footballnation.com. Patrick followed her on Twitter, where she posted her articles, and that made it possible for her to see his name.

Still, their occasional encounters went on for six years before she saw him at a Reckless Kelly concert and worked up the courage to put her number in his phone.

"At that point I thought, 'Well, OK, I guess I'm not too old for her,'" Patrick says.

He called her a couple of weeks later to ask for a date.

He made her dinner that first night.

"I was mad at myself because I overcooked the filets," he says.

Grace didn't mind, though, and he hoped he would have plenty of chances to get those filets right for future meals.

Around that time, Rascal had gone to stay with Grace's father while she looked for a new place to live because her landlord had suddenly decided dogs were no longer allowed. Her dad's beloved dog died while Rascal was there and, though it was a difficult decision, Grace felt the right one would be to let Rascal stay with her dad.

Grace still sees Rascal -- and her dad -- about once a week.

Jake was with them all along.

On Monday, Dec. 15, 2014, Grace went running and then picked up groceries. Patrick was in the kitchen when she brought them in, and much to her annoyance, he asked if she could feed Jake.

"She was really busy," Patrick says. "She said, 'Why can't you feed Jake?'"

Grace opened the dog food container anyway and the first thing she saw was a ring box Patrick had tucked inside.

"I didn't know what to say. I was kind of in awe. I turned around and he was down on one knee," Grace says. "Jake was just standing there like, 'Are you going to feed me?'"

Grace and Patrick were married on June 27, 2015, nine months after their long-awaited first date, at the Red Apple Inn in Heber Springs.

Jake was in the wedding.

"He walked down the aisle with my niece," Patrick says.

Jake stayed with Grace's mother while they honeymooned in Nassau, Bahamas.

"He was the only one we FaceTimed that week," Grace says.

Jake died last year, and, of course, Grace and Patrick miss him.

They are now the parents of a 16-month-old son, Townsend. They also have two rescued dogs -- Champ, a beagle, and Norma, a chocolate Lab.

Patrick is an Allstate insurance agent. Grace, who graduated from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock with a bachelor's degree in mass communication in 2015, is a marketing coordinator for Team SI. She is also the author of a book, Home Sweet Home: Arkansas Rescue Dogs and Their Stories. She gives a portion of the proceeds from the sale to animal rescue groups.

Grace loves that Jake was key to Patrick's marriage proposal.

"It was kind of neat that he tied that back around and that he did it with Jake," she says. "He's kind of our symbol of our entire relationship."

If you have an interesting how-we-met story or if you know someone who does, please call (501) 425-7228 or email

kdishongh@sbcglobal.net.

Photo by Special to the Democrat-Gazette
Patrick and Grace Vest have a son, Townsend, 16 months old. Patrick’s father died in 2014, and even through his grief Patrick knew Grace was the one for him. “I knew a couple of months after that because of her demeanor and the way she took care of me and her big heart that I wasn’t letting this one go,” he says.

High Profile on 11/12/2017

Print Headline: It took 6 years to leash him after they met at a dog park

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