A Missouri man enlisted the help of a tall and spotted friend to help in a special proposal for his giraffe-loving sweetheart.
Cody Hall took his girlfriend, Makayla Blakey, on a behind-the-scenes tour of the giraffe enclosures at Dickerson Park Zoo in Springfield, Missouri, on September 24. What Blakey didn’t know, though, was that Hall and zoo officials had been working together for weeks on a surprise proposal that incorporated Mili, one of the park’s giraffes.
“Giraffes are her favorite animals, and I really wanted to give her an experience she wouldn’t forget,” Hall, 24, from Willard, Missouri, tells PEOPLE. “I figured I only get to propose once in my life, so I might as well make it count!”
Zookeepers hung Hall’s engagement ring from a lanyard around Mili’s neck, which was hidden out of sight just behind her enclosure’s gate. As Blakey, 19, fed Mili leaves off of a branch, Hall removed the ring from the lanyard (after a few nerve-racking tugs), and dropped down on one knee.
“I was really more excited than anything. I knew she was going to say yes, so I wasn’t worried about her saying no,” Hall says. “In fact, I knew I was getting ready to make the best decision of my life—I was just ready to get there.”
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That’s when Hall admitted to Blakey he hadn’t been completely honest with the reason they were there.
“She started tearing up, and I told her that I loved her and that I have no doubt in my mind that I was going to spend the rest of my life with her,” Hall recalls. “I got down on one knee and I asked her to marry me, and she said yes.”
As Hall was on his knee, Mili the giraffe craned her neck over the enclosure’s gate and gave Blakey a kiss on the head. If the moment wasn’t remarkable enough already, hearing Blakey say yes—even if he had expected it—was even more special to Hall than he initially expected.
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“Even though I knew she was going to say yes, it’s a completely different feeling when I actually heard her say it. I don’t really have the word to describe it because perfect doesn’t even do it justice,” he explains. “She’s my better half, she really is. She’s going to be something I’m thankful for every day.”
The couple met at Rose Hill Baptist Church in Willard and started talking in October 2016 after they caught themselves stealing glances at each other every Sunday. They made their relationship official in February and started talking about marriage in July. Now that it’s official, Hall says they plan to wed in spring 2018.
While Mili might not be able to make it to the ceremony, she was able to give Blakey a special gift commemorating the occasion: a painting she made by stroking a canvas with paint just after the proposal.
“Makayla got a painting from Mili, so not only is she our honorary ring bearer,” Hall says, “but she’s also going to be the next Picasso!”