Alia & Zack

A day in the garden with this outdoorsy couple and Paco the pup!

By the Get Leashed Doggy Style team


Drive west from Toronto for about an hour and you’ll find a town built on farmland with people still connected to that lifestyle. Guelph is more relaxed than a metropolis but still holds onto a lot of what makes a big city great. Live music, restaurants and bars and a little bit of shopping all mix together with what makes a small town great: calm, quiet, and a connection to nature.

Alia and Zack epitomize this small town lifestyle. They both work with gardens and fresh, local food which they also bring home and into their backyard. When they’re not working, they’re playing outdoors and enjoying what the land has to offer.

Paco was adopted by Alia before Zack came into the picture but as she mentions below, the dog quickly became a bond between them. During Doggy Style shoots, we refer to group photos (such as the above) as family shots. This made Alia and Zack laugh because nobody had referred to them as a family before. We like to think, though, that once a couple cares for a dog together, a family is made.

Alia and Zack will tell you a bit more about life in the country and Paco the pup…

Tell us about yourselves:

Alia: I’m fortunate to be in a new position with the City of Guelph as the Community Gardens Coordinator. I help people to grow fresh, local food through urban community food gardens. I enjoy being able to help make this happen while tackling food insecurity and contributing to an alternative way of living and eating. I also run my own business, Typerighters, an editing and writing service. This job allows me to apply my critical thinking and analysis skills by helping individuals and businesses to produce writing that they are proud of. In my free time, I love doing yoga, reading, and biking.

I also volunteer as Co-Chair of Guelph’s Local Immigration Partnership where I help to guide and develop policy and programming that will help immigrants to integrate and feel welcomed in this community. Most importantly, my heart is with elephants and animals in need. I spend a lot of my free time advocating on behalf of various organizations that are currently working to save elephants from abuse and extinction, promoting the adoption of pets from animal shelters, and trying to end animal abuse. In 2008, I volunteered at the Elephant Nature Park in Thailand, working directly with elephants that have been very badly abused and rescued from the trekking and tourism industry. This experience changed my life forever and I highly recommend that everyone try to visit this place at some point in their lifetime if they are able to do so.

Zack: I’m an Ecologist with Dougan & Associates, a small ecological consulting company in Guelph. What I enjoy about my job is that I get to spend lots of time outside enjoying nature, and I’m also intellectually challenged and passionate about what I do. I love botany and my job allows me to connect work with my passion.

Dog bum!

A bit about your pet:

Paco de Lucia is a mutt and I have no idea what breed he is. He’s just like me (Alia): equal parts chill and an intense spazz. I always say that if Paco was a human, he’d be the ultimate fighting champion of the world. His body is so jacked and his legs are nimble, and you should see him carve circles when he runs; he can outrun any dog and hold his own against the big ones. I found him at the Guelph Humane Society in 2010, when he was only four months old. The first day I arrived, Paco was dropped off by a young couple who wanted nothing to do with him (and admitted to abusing him) because he didn’t look as ‘intimidating’ as the breeder had promised. I took Paco for a walk and we immediately connected. I couldn’t believe that after being abused and neglected, he would be so trusting of me right away. Given his weak condition, I couldn’t handle the thought of anyone else having him (and possibly not giving him the love he needed) so I visited every day for a week until he was released for adoption (to me!).

When I took him home, he was afraid of everything for the first three months. He wouldn’t go in a basement (the former owners kept him in one) or in and out of a doorway. He still backs away when people go near him. I took him to a local dog park in Guelph every day and brought him with me everywhere I went, and he very quickly became very fond of people and still is. He’s the love of my life and my mom calls him her “grandson.” On my first date with Zack in 2012, he asked me (with disappointment on his face) why I didn’t bring my dog along for the walk. I thought that this was a good sign in a man. Later that evening, he mentioned again that he would like to meet Paco, so we went back to my place for some whiskey and vinyls and the two met. Paco looked at Zack as if he was saying, “Yes, I could use a man in my life.” The two have been in serious love ever since.

What does your ideal weekend look like?

A typical weekend involves us being outside and being active. In the winters, we cross-country ski with our friends in one of the city’s many forests or at Guelph Lake. In the warm weather, we are usually hiking or riding our mountain bikes on any trail we can find. We love to get out of town to the lakes. The Bruce Peninsula and The Kawarthas are some of our favorite spots and we recently got back from a five-day back-country canoe trip in Algonquin which was glorious. Most often, weekends involve ending the night with whiskey (straight up).

Describe your style:

I’ve never thought about how to describe my style. Elastic waist bands are key, as they are great for after eating. I love colors and patterns – baggy sweaters, dresses, and scarves are staples of mine, but I’m also quite happy in jeans, Birks, and a t-shirt. I need to be able to breathe in my clothing. For Zack, it’s always jeans and plaid. Everything goes with a beard, so it’s easy for him.

Paco the mutt

What inspires you?

Alia: 1) Traveling and 2) My incredible mother. I love to explore this country and I also love to leave it as often as I can. Asia is my favorite region of the world. When I traveled to Laos, I befriended a local family in the rural south who spoke no English and I didn’t leave their home for one month. After a few years working in Asia, I was able to save up enough money to fly my mom to Thailand where we backpacked for two weeks. My mom is my true hero in life and she has been through so much. Starting life in Canada as an immigrant at the age of 16, she has always had to work so hard (especially when she became a single mother). She was never able to travel until this trip with me. She has taught her daughters to be strong, independent women and she is a large part of who I am.

Zack: Being on a bike. Whether it is mountain-biking or road riding, to me, a bike is freedom.

How would you describe the look and feel of your home?

Cozy, bright, warm, and comfortable. We both love to cook, mainly Thai, Korean, and Vietnamese food, and we love to host. We have the best friends who come over for board games, beers, and (sometimes, if we’re lucky) dance parties. Our home is a place where friends and family can feel like they can stay awhile.

A story about your pet:

Paco is such a trooper. A few years ago, when I lived in downtown Guelph in an apartment above a hair salon, I went for a walk in the evening with a friend and his dog. We were in a part of town that Paco had never been in, about a 30 minute walk from my home at the time. My friend and I decided to let the dogs run off leash. It was dark outside and this was a mistake. An animal jumped out from a bush and made a really loud sound, scaring Paco so badly that he popped out of his collar and took off. My friend and I immediately started looking for Paco and we were yelling so loud that people were coming out of their homes to help us look for him. We had a Paco search team of about 12 people at one point. I was frantic and feared for the worst, given that we were really close to a huge intersection and far from home.

After about 45 minutes, I got a phone call from a friend who was searching for him near my apartment. He told me to hurry home as Paco was sitting outside of my door and was very banged up. When I got home, his face was mangled, his jaw was broken, and his eyeball was barely hanging on. He had also lost most of his teeth in the front. I was absolutely heartbroken and also so grateful that he was alive. Paco had crossed six intersections, walked for 30 minutes, and somehow found his way home along a route he had never traveled before, all at nighttime. This dog is a miracle and he loves life. He’s been through a lot and he has never left my side, even in my worst times. My hope is that people who are considering adoption and are reading this article will visit a local animal shelter instead of a breeder. Rescue dogs make the best friends in the world.