Vikings cornerback Trae Waynes and his wife, Kyra, have always had a heart for adopting dogs.
When the two of them were students at Michigan State, Trae found their first dog, Ace – whom they later found out had been used as a bait dog in a pit bull fighting ring – and rescued him from the streets.
Now several years later, after re-homing Ace with a friend, the Waynes family has three dogs: Apollo, a 6-year-old pit bull-Labrador mix; Ares, a 4-year-old pit bull-boxer mix; and Roma, a 6-month-old Cane Corso. Both Apollo and Ares are adopted.
"[We just want to raise] awareness that there are so many dogs that don't have a home," said Kyra. "Ares was born at the shelter, and he was there until he was 16 months old. We had to teach him how to do stairs and even how to be part of a family – he didn't know any of it. If you go to any shelter, they're maxed out. They're all full. These poor dogs and cats, they have nowhere to go. All they know is this cubicle, really."
Trae, who annually represents animal shelters for the Vikings "My Cause, My Cleats" game, explained that Ares originally was from Mississippi.
"I asked why he got moved, and they said that he wasn't a problem dog, but they just ran out of room and had to relocate him," Trae said.
Having now owned multiple pit bulls, Trae and Kyra are aware of the stigma surrounding the breed but hope to lessen the anxiety around it.
One of the couple's close friends is a dog trainer in Michigan and has emphasized the responsibility of owners.
"With all the pit bulls we've had, we've never had any issues," Trae said. "If you raise them right, in the right environment, they're really great family dogs."
Trae and Kyra have a 3-year-old daughter, Layla, who loves on the pups constantly and raves about Apollo's cuddles. They also are expecting another baby this spring.
"They're really protective over Layla," Trae explained. "And even when she was growing up, you know how kids are really handsy with dogs and stuff like that, we never had an issue with any of the dogs and her."
One-of-a-kind puppy personalities
Each one of the Waynes dogs has a different personality.
There's sweet Apollo, with a gentle nature but never-ending motor and desire to play fetch all hours of the day.
"He loves swimming and playing with the ball," Trae said. "He's also really emotional. If Kyra's upset or Layla's upset, he's upset. He's a really good support dog."
Ares, the most-muscular of the three with a handsome white coat dotted by almost-transparent spots, is the "daddy's boy" in the house.
Sharing Trae's mellow demeanor, Ares is the one who "really doesn't do much" outside of wrestling with his "siblings," which is difficult to turn down.
Asked for a story that stands out about him, Trae laughed and recalled a summer day on the lake when Ares unexpectedly jumped into the water.
"We'd expect it from Apollo, but Ares is not a swimmer," Trae said. "I … had to go in there and pick him up – we both did – because he's so heavy. We had to fish him out."
While Ares mirrors Trae's disposition, we asked the cornerback to compare current Vikings teammates to his other two pups.
He first matched Apollo to linebacker Eric Kendricks.
"Eric just loves the game of football, and that's how Apollo is when you play fetch with him," Trae said. "He's just nonstop. Always energetic, always on the go."
And as for Roma, the little sister?
Trae pondered for a moment before cracking a smile.
"I'd have to say Kris Boyd," he laughed, poking fun at his rookie teammate. "Just because hearing from Everson [Griffen] and Anthony Barr, I always hear them jokingly say, 'You're so annoying. You're the most annoying human I know.' So, I would say that. They're both pretty loud."
While Kyra and Trae always said they wouldn't go through a breeder for a dog, they broke their rule for Roma, whom they selected in Barcelona, Spain, on their honeymoon.
Trae always has had his eye on a purebred Cane Corso and for a long time had followed the Spanish breeder.
"When we were in Spain, we were looking for stuff to do, and I was like, 'Hey, let's go to an animal shelter and check out the puppies,' " explained Trae, who said they didn't have any luck there. "For some reason it dawned on me, 'Wait. This breeder that I followed, he's somewhere in Spain.' "
Interjected Kyra with a playful eye-roll: " 'By chance,' he says."
Kyra initially said "no" to the third dog, but the couple eventually reached an agreement, and Roma became part of the family this summer.
As little ones sometimes do, though, she's already put her parents through some scares.
Roma has a tendency to chew on and try eating things – from drywall to door frames to Xbox controllers – and at just 4 months old, she swallowed an 8-inch piece of tree branch, puncturing her esophagus and stomach.
The veterinarian gave Roma a 50-50 chance at survival, but after multiple surgeries and recovery time, she is back to her spunky self.
"That was eventful and expensive. But she's finally good," Trae said, reaching over to pat her head. "We have to monitor her sometimes when she goes outside, just to make sure she doesn't eat any more sticks. And we started feeding her more to hopefully fill her appetite so she doesn't feel like she has to eat everything she sees."
And although Kyra initially didn't vote in favor of bringing Roma home, the newest addition connected with Apollo and Ares and has rapidly become a part of the Waynes family.
"She became a momma's girl really quick," Kyra said with a smile. "Now Trae says she's my favorite."