GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) — The red pandas at the Greensboro Science Center have been a special part of our relationship for years.

Allison DeBusk and I started dating back in November of 2014 when we were both students at Guilford College, and one of the first things I learned about her was how much she loved red pandas.

Usha at the Greensboro Science Center (Photo by Justyn Melrose)

For our first Valentine’s Day together, I remember sneaking off to the Greensboro Science Center because I knew they sold stuffed red pandas in their gift shop. I asked at the admissions counter if I could just pop into the store to get it, but they said I needed a ticket to go in. I had already made it that far, so I bought a ticket. To get my money’s worth, I speed-walked through the exhibits before buying the present and heading back to campus barely in time for class.

She named it “Benedict” after Benedict Cumberbatch because we had just seen the movie “The Imitation Game.”

While I had been to the Greensboro Science Center a few times at that point, I later learned that she never had the chance to go despite growing up in Davidson County just 45 minutes away. That also meant she had never actually gotten to see her favorite animal in person. For Valentine’s Day 2019, we fixed that. We spent the day exploring the center and got to see Tai and Usha for the first time (This was back in their old enclosure near the gibbons). She was ecstatic.

And then in July 2021, we went back—this time with my parents—and got to see their new enclosure at Revolution Ridge.

Usha at the Greensboro Science Center (Photo by Justyn Melrose)

When I learned that the Greensboro Science Center offered “VIP experiences,” I knew I had to get one for her. For her birthday last year, we got all the details, but we didn’t have a chance to take the center up on it until Nov. 19, 2022.

At 9:30 a.m. on the day of, we met the zookeeper, Lizzie, in the lobby, and she took us back to Revolution Ridge. We first got to meet Tai and Usha through the bars of their indoor enclosure and feed them grapes. Allison says Tai even licked her hand.

Then, we went outside. As the zookeeper told us about the pair, we watched the two red pandas scamper around, scaling the wooden beams that fill their outdoor space.

When Tai was near the ground, I asked the zookeeper to take our picture. I secretly set my phone to video and handed it over to the zookeeper (who knew exactly what was about to happen).

As we got in position, I fumbled through my words to tell her, “So, also, there’s another reason we’re here,” before getting down on one knee.

Justyn Melrose gets down on one knee to propose to Allison DeBusk inside the red panda enclosure at the Greensboro Science Center (Thank you to Zookeeper Lizzie for her help capturing this moment!)

“WHAT,” she said as she looked down at me and covered her face with her hands.

“Will you marry me?” I asked.

At first, all she could do was nod her head before she was able to muster a “yes.”

Allison DeBusk meets the red pandas at the Greensboro Science Center (Photos by Justyn Melrose)

The rest of the experience we spent holding hands and taking photos of these incredible animals that had been there through so much of our relationship. We even got to meet Tai and Usha’s baby Ravi—he was just born a few months ago—albeit from a safe distance (Apparently, they’re trying to ween him off of human contact).

Ravi the red panda at the Greensboro Science Center (Photos by Justyn Melrose)

Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that Tai, Usha and Ravi will make it onto the guest list, but I have no doubt we’ll be back to visit them again before long. But next time we see them, it will likely be as a married couple.