The life of a professional athlete, on the surface at least, seems pretty nice. Kids are enamored with you, people yell your name during games, and fans clamor for autographs. But to a dog, a professional athlete doesn’t compute—they really have no idea, and they really don’t care.
Can you imagine being Russell Wilson and after you’ve just made the magical pass that wins the game, answered all of the press questions, drive from CenturyLink field to your home where all you want to do is relax but when you walk in your front door and are greeted by Prince and Naomi, Wilson’s two Great Danes, all they want is for you to chase them around the backyard. Yup, all that sports hero status goes out the door—dog’s have a way of humbling a person. Or, should we say, keeping one grounded.
Also, professional athletes are real people, not reduced to the one-dimensional role most of us see on the field or on the court. And they love their dogs just as much as we do. We should know because we recently spent some quality time with a few of the hottest Pacific Northwest professional athletes and their dogs, and trust us, they have to pick up their dog’s ‘doo’ just like we do. What was so charming about meeting these professional athletes is the way each of them gushed about how unique and wonderful their dogs are. “To Rufus and Winston I’m no sports hero, I’m just dad,” quipped Zarek Valentin, a defender with the Portland Timbers soccer team.
Valentin makes time in his grueling professional American League Soccer career to care for Rufus and Winston, who are three-and-a-half-year-old Frenchton (half Frenchie and half Boston terrier) brothers. Valentin found his pups through an ad where he “went for one pup and they were the last two of the litter, and there was no chance I could separate them. They were best friends from the beginning!” Playing in 34 games per season and traveling quite a bit for his career, Valentin is very thankful for his fiance’s willingness to take care of ‘the boys’ when he’s away, and if needed their veterinary technician pal steps in to make sure Rufus and Winston are well cared for.
“I find a sitter for Sly,” adds Alysha Clark, a guard with the 2018 WNBA champions Seattle Storm. “I will take him the night before we leave (for a game) so he doesn’t see me packing. He gets anxiety when he sees the suitcase.” Sly Santiago Clark—Sly for short—is a seven-and-a-half year-old male Chihuahua.
“My older sister had Sly’s parents and asked if I wanted one of their puppies from the litter. He was the chubby one so I picked him!” Clark happily explained. Being on the road and playing for the title keeps Clark busy, and that is exactly why she loves her little Sly. “He’s helped me learn to time manage better. Literally everything I do revolves around his bathroom schedule and I’ve learned how to take time out of my days accordingly,” Clark effused. “He’s also helped me let go of things a lot quicker and continue to give love through everything. Like after a bad game or a tough practice, Sly doesn’t care about any of that. All he cares about is being petted, playing with his toy, snuggling and being loved. It’s pretty awesome!”
Unlike Clark and Valentin, Beverly ‘Bev’ Yanez has built-in ready-to-help care for her dog Avocado. “My husband takes care of Avo when we travel. They have grown a special bond, as they have spent plenty of time together during the season. I love getting FaceTime calls on away trips to see their faces. It brings me so much joy!”
Yanez is a National Women’s Soccer League forward and midfielder with the Seattle Reign. Avocado (Avo for short) is an eight-month-old, female, blue nose Pitbull who was being rehomed when Yanez got her when Avo was about eight-weeks-old. Yanez shares her thoughts about being a Pitbull owner, “Avo’s the sweetest, and enjoys cuddling. She honestly has the biggest heart and we just have so much love for her. We have seen firsthand the bad rap that Pitbulls get and we have come to the realization that it’s the owners. I believe dogs aren’t born vicious. We spend so much time socializing Avo with humans and other dogs as we know she will grow to be a big strong dog. Our goal is for her to be a gentle giant and to love people and other dogs as we love her.”
Clark can relate, and likely sees the humor in the sizing up, or down in this case, Yanez’s Pitbull to her Chihuahua, “My Sly has a fun personality! He’s very playful and very intelligent. Almost too smart for his own good. He has this trashcan addiction where he just has to rip into it. I’ve tried everything, even opening cabinet doors to block the area. He’s figured out how to close them and unblock the area. I came home to a shredded trash bag and trash all over my kitchen floor. But aside from that, he’s so sweet and has been such an amazing little companion.”
“My dogs are lazy,” Valentin contrasts. “I take them for walks but after about a block and a half, they’re completely gassed. They’re cuddle dogs 110 percent!”
And, just like when we come home after a bad day at the office, for these professional athletes coming home after a less than stellar game, or even a really brutal but challenging win, has them seeking out the comfort of their fuzzy buddies. “They give me immediate kisses which is my favorite,” Valentin smiles and he shares how Rufus and Winston cheer him up. “They sense my mood and lay all over me. This is the best welcome I could get after a taxing game.”
Yanez adds, “Walking through the door and seeing Avo’s wagging tail puts things into perspective for me. I could have the worst game and seeing how much love she has for me reminds me that I’m human and sometimes I’m going to fail. She gives me strength to want to keep going because she loves me and sees no wrong in me.”
As all dog lovers know, giving your heart to such a sweet, innocent creature sure has a way of changing you—and it does for professional athletes as well. Valentin was quick to respond when asked how his dogs have changed him for the better, “Responsibility. No matter what I’m doing, I’m thinking about getting home and taking care of my pups. By no means are they like children but they are my kids,” laughed Valentin. “I always want to take care of them, make sure they’re comfortable and happy. It’s also taught me patience. Dogs don’t understand things like humans do so being patient is important when it comes to pups.” Yanez is quick to add, “Avo has changed my husband’s and my life because our days are centered around making sure she is taken care of. When something solely relies on you to have a good day, I take that very seriously. We absolutely love camping with her and showing her all the Pacific Northwest has to offer!”
For Yanez, this season has been magical, being able to play alongside her Seattle Reign colleagues who are growing stronger as a team. So we had to ask, what does Avo make of all of it? “I don’t think she understands I play soccer for a living, but I do think she recognizes the sport now. When we are out walking she will stop and watch soccer. My husband used to play professionally. He no longer does but he plays in a Monday night league with some friends. Avo and I love going and she will rest on the blanket and watch the entire game. When we watch EPL (English Premier League) on the weekends she sits with us and stares at the TV. We love how much she loves the game too!”
Yanez really stands out when talking about her dog because she wasn’t always a dog person. “I used to not really be a dog person. Several of my Reign teammates are and my family members are as well. I never really connected with dogs or had a want or need to spend time with them. I often got annoyed when people would talk baby talk to their animals. I’m the complete opposite now and I totally get it! It all makes sense now and I feel terrible for ever feeling that way. I stop to pet other people’s dogs all the time because I think they just love their dog like we love Avo! I have so much respect for good pet owners working hard to create a good life for their animals.”
See, professional athletes are just like us! Well, no, no they’re not really, but we do have a few things in common; a love for dogs and a desire to talk about all of the things that makes our pups truly special.