The hard men of the NFL are not exactly renowned for their softer sides and compassionate natures. However, when Baltimore Ravens offensive linesman Ronnie Stanley visited a local pet shelter in summer 2016, he proved that his heart is every bit as big as his frame. Here’s a closer look at how Stanley has earned the respect of gridiron fans – and now animal lovers – everywhere.
Born in Las Vegas on March 18, 1994, Ronnie Stanley studied at the city’s Bishop Gorman High School, where he marked himself out as a highly promising offensive tackle player. Then, in 2011 he signed up to play college football at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. And while Stanley made just two appearances in his debut season, he started all of his sophomore games in the right tackle position.
Stanley also played in all of Notre Dame’s games when he switched over to left tackle in his junior year – allowing just one sack. Then, after completing his senior season, Stanley announced he would be entering the 2016 NFL Draft; he would also be the highest-ranking offensive lineman in that year’s college player selection process. The Baltimore Ravens subsequently signed him to a four-year contract worth in excess of $20 million.
Stanley ultimately started 12 games in his first season with the Maryland team and assisted quarterback Joe Flacco to a Ravens record in passing yards. Then, in his sophomore season, Stanley played 17 games – during which he allowed just 18 total pressures. He was also ranked ninth among tackles, earning the respect of fans with his pass-blocking grade of 75.
But it was Stanley’s actions off the field that garnered him more admiration and made headlines in June 2016. And, thankfully, it was for all the right reasons. Indeed, Stanley melted animal lovers’ hearts when he and his girlfriend, Emily, visited the Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter. The couple were looking to make a difference to not only their lives but also that of an unfortunate animal.
The shelter – also humorously known as BARCS – takes in over 11,000 abused, stray and neglected animals every year. Alongside domestic pets, the facility accepts wildlife and exotic creatures, too. As a result, BARCS has reportedly become the biggest pet adoption and open-to-all animal shelter in the state of Maryland.
But while the majority of visitors to the shelter may hope to take an adorable puppy home, Stanley and his partner were specifically looking for something else. As a matter of fact, he actually asked BARCS for a dog that was “not so adoptable.” Thus staff followed his lead and pointed him in the direction of a six-year-old named Winter. The retriever-terrier mix had already been at the shelter for about a month.
The then 22-year-old NFL star told The Baltimore Sun newspaper that one look at Winter told him the dog would likely have difficulty getting adopted. According to Stanley, the cross was “not a very good-looking dog per se,” partly due to what BARCS referred to as her “long, hanging belly.” Shelter staff believed that overbreeding was the most likely cause of the animal’s abnormality.
And BARCS also informed the adoptive couple about the canine’s harrowing backstory. A spokesperson for the shelter later wrote about the situation in an update on the shelter’s official Facebook page. “Beautiful Winter is a dog who has spent most of her six years of life falling into sad, unfortunate situations,” the post read. “She was found on a vacant property on a hot day with no electricity or open windows. She was dehydrated and extremely frightened.”
The shelter also admitted that Winter’s overhanging belly would never tighten up due to her age. But these issues didn’t deter the girl from forming an instant bond with Stanley and his partner. Heidi Kreitzburg, a manager at BARCS, told The Baltimore Sun about the first meeting, saying, “[Winter] goes straight to him, he hunkers down [and] she gives him a big, wet kiss.”
In the same report, life-long pet lover Stanley told the newspaper why he felt Winter was the perfect dog for him. “[Winter] was pretty old as well, so I felt like [she] was a great pet for me,” the Ravens player said. “[She’s] very loving and very protective and… a great addition to the family.”
Then, after taking Winter home, Stanley made her new start official by renaming her Lola. He also signed her up for a week’s training at the Downtown Dog Resort and Spa in Baltimore. However, the NFL star told The Baltimore Sun that Lola initially suffered from separation anxiety. He said, “She’s an angel when I’m around, or even someone’s around, but when you leave, she claws up the door… She’s a loving animal. She just wants to be loved.”
Stanley went on to admit that although balancing his NFL duties with caring for his new charge would be difficult, he felt up to the challenge. He said, “I feel like having an animal for a pet builds character and really forces you to be responsible for more than yourself at that point. Especially when you care about the animal to that extent.”
Following this local press coverage, though, Stanley’s act of canine kindness went national. That’s because he appeared on cable channel Animal Planet’s Stars to the Rescue show. He told the cameras, “To be able to help a dog in need, I always had planned on doing [that]. Some of my teammates – I told them I was looking to adopt a dog, and BARCS was the place they suggested.”
And staff at the shelter were understandably delighted about the great example that Stanley had set. BARCS’ Bailey Deacon told The Baltimore Sun, for example, how much of an important difference the NFL star’s choice of dog could make. She said that Stanley had made “giving love to an imperfectly perfect dog a ‘manly’ thing to do.” Jen Brause, BARCS executive director, added that having such a high-profile figure raise awareness about overlooked animals was priceless.
Brause went on to praise Stanley’s selection of a less-attractive animal. She added, “That just shows how big of a heart he has and how great of a person he is. And he picked a great one.” But Stanley was not done there. Indeed, less than a year later he returned to add yet another neglected canine to his family.
This time around, in May 2017, Stanley noticed a blond male brindle pit pup named Zappa. The young dog had almost died at birth, although he had thankfully managed to pull through after the woman who had taken his pregnant mother in had given him CPR. According to BARCS, when Stanley first heard the story on meeting Zappa, he told the pup, “You’re a miracle baby! Now you’re even more special to me.”
Stanley has now become a proud patron of the animal shelter. In fact, it was at fundraising event Pawject Runway – run by BARCS in conjunction with animal campaign group Show Your Soft Side – that he met Zappa. But the football star also generously offered to match donations to the shelter’s Frankly Fund in August 2017. This money was intended to help out with some of BARCS’ more costly vet bills.
But Stanley is by no means the only Baltimore Ravens star to display his softer side. The team’s former wide receiver Torrey Smith also donated a huge sum of money at the Pawject Runway fundraiser. And Alex Lewis, Carl Davis and Lawrence Guy were just a few of the other Ravens who attended the event.
Stanley and his girlfriend have since renamed Zappa and christened him Rico. And nowadays he is settling in nicely at home with his companion Lola. Both dogs are regularly in the spotlight and shown off on the NFL star’s Instagram feed. In fact, one of Stanley’s most popular recent posts was a picture of Lola showing her true colors; she sported a Baltimore Ravens football shirt. After all, there is no animal more loyal than man’s best friend.