Four years ago, I found myself standing by the side of our car, waiting for a man to hand me a two-month-old standard-sized American Bully. My dad had told my siblings and I a few weeks before that he’d ordered a puppy, that it was low maintenance—don’t worry—and that it was solely my responsibility to care for it.
“Caring for another living thing is a rite of passage to adulthood,” he said.
No matter what he said, I knew not to get too optimistic because I was the worst possible pet owner there could ever be. Over the last few years, I’ve contributed to the death of three goldfish, one frog, and one snake plant.
The goldfish were my first pets, and I treated them like guinea pigs. Thinking that they were beyond bored, 11-year-old me was hell-bent on giving them something to be excited about despite my siblings’ cries of warning: a mini Charybdis.
This whirlpool I made went on for a minute, a time I thought then was good enough for them to get their hearts racing after spending two weeks in their boring little bowl. I thought of it as exercise—good for their health. The next day, they wound up floating at the water’s surface, dead.
The frog’s death, on the other hand, resulted from a ninth-grade science experiment. Its death was slow and torturous, spanned for an hour as our class dissected its body. It wasn’t a one-man act. Nonetheless, eagerly participating in the laboratory dissection instead of sitting it out like some of my animal-loving classmates did should have been a red flag for my well-meaning father.
As for the snake plant—it’s supposed to be as tough as cacti. So for me to kill one simply makes me a horrible caretaker. Caring for a pretty expensive dog was out of the question, yet I found myself still waiting by the curb for my first dog, Ace Boston.
Ace stands for the fact that I wanted him to be a winner: ace all the training that I planned on giving him, ace dog shows and competitions I planned on bringing him to. I wanted him to be my dog version.
On the other hand, Boston was a way to remember the month I spent in the United States for my 18th birthday. I went city- and state-hopping, but my favorite city of them all was Boston. It simply is the most beautiful and orderly city that I have ever seen.
Holding him for the first time was traumatizing for a neat freak like me. He smelled like poop and was wet with what I suspected was urine. What made it worse was that he was so small, so I had to hold him between my hands tightly. If you ask me if it was love at first sight or if love for a dog came naturally, the answer would be an easy no.
The first few months weren’t a walk in the park. I dreaded early mornings because that meant cleaning up after he pooped, wiping up the mess he made with his bowl of water, and even getting bitten by the hand, albeit playfully.
He’d wail and whimper whenever I had to go to school, which annoyed people at home. Then, on weekends every few weeks, I had to bring him to the vet and use my hard-earned savings for his immunizations and vitamins. Worst of all, thanks to his rat-chasing and plant-peeing habits, he has killed over 10 different plants that my grandaunt cultivated.
He embodied everything I despised then, yet I never really got mad at him and hated him. Four years and 12 puppies later, I’ve transformed into a dog-loving “I’d do anything for my dog” pawrent-dog grandma, really. And I must admit, having Ace as my responsibility also did me good.
Since he’s grown to be a pretty big dog at 70 pounds—only 30 pounds lighter than me—I began working out consistently. I’d walk him so he’d lose weight and would be easier to manage, and then after our hour-long walks, I’d work on my arms so I’d be strong enough to handle him. Since he’s used to going out of his dog house early in the morning, I’d developed a morning routine that involved waking up before he’d bark like crazy, which began before sunrise.
Perhaps, most important of all, he has made me braver. Although I consider myself pretty gutsy, I never imagined that I’d be walking a gigantic dog alone, with a leash in one hand and a stick in the other. And yet, I’ve done that many times, even after being countlessly wounded after he’d suddenly run off and pull me along with him. I’ve always been iffy about going out on unknown streets and roads, yet I take that risk because his tail seems to wag more whenever we explore a new location.
I’ve always considered myself hell-bent on the rules and values I’ve imposed on myself and, to some extent, on others, and yet Ace has always been an exception. I was someone who thought it was crazy to think a walk would make or break my dog’s love for me, but I’d walk him for at least a mile and spend time with him anyway.
Because I am here. Because someday I would not be. Because Ace is my boy.
Leah Cioco, 22, is a BS in Applied Math student at the University of the Philippines and is one of the country’s two representatives for the $100,000 Global Student Prize.
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