“Ace” Leake – December 1, 1996 – November 28, 2010
Like many pet owners who have lost a great friend – I honestly think I had the best dog there ever was. I suppose there is really no way to judge who has the “best” dog, but anyone who knew my relationship with my Chocolate Labrador, Ace, would agree we had a very special bond –more unique than most.
Ace entered my life as a seven-week-old puppy when I was nineteen years old. His life mirrored my evolution from adolescence to adulthood and eventually, at the time of his death, as a husband and father of two children. He was my companion through the most carefree years of a young man’s life – worrying about not much more than where the mallards were roosting and where the gas money was coming from. As my responsibility with business and family intensified, and the leisure time we once had evaporated, so too did his life wind down.
As a freshman at UT in Austin, Ace received his first swimming lesson when the girls at the Hardin House dropped him, newly weaned, into the pool on a rare subfreezing day (early training for the frozen ponds of Canada). It did not slow him down as a few months later my roommates had him opening the refrigerator and fetching beers – a trick he could still pull off on command late in life. We spent countless carefree hours training, fetching bumpers, water skiing, partying, and enjoying the college lifestyle in Austin. He was a guest at nearly every party and could always be seen with his head out the window of my old Suburban.
There was the time Ace disappeared for more than a week. While he was eventually returned by some greedy Westlake kids seeking a reward, it was not before my poor mother hired “Sherlock Bones – Pet Recovery Service” to help recover him (Not joking). The pet detective and reward money were just the beginning of Ace’s financial burden. Ace’s largest benefactor was actually my mother. He went through the destructive puppy years with particularly expensive behavior, and had 5-6 surgeries to repair athletic and geriatric injuries. My mom says he was priceless as a friend, but was actually valued at over $30,000. “Worth every penny” she always said. Thanks Mom.
After some roughshod estimates from looking at the old hunting logs, I have calculated that Ace picked up more than 2,500 ducks and geese – and we logged more than 200,000 miles on the road together from West Texas to the prairies for Saskatchewan. He was my companion and shadow at home, in the truck, at the office, in the duck blind, on the bass pond or wading the trout stream, and by the baby’s crib. Self-employment allowed Ace to stick around as my wingman as Shop Dog – and not many days have passed without his presence by my side. When I began traveling, he would sit in the driveway waiting reliably for my return. He helped to teach me compassion, care, and the dedication required to be a good parent. He would be most proud to know he will be remembered as an incredible duck dog and a tremendous friend.
Despite all the separation anxiety we both always mutually suffered, Ace gave in to Cancer over Thanksgiving and is no longer following me around. It is strange to not feel his presence at my feet, nor his head wedged between the armrest and the front seat of the truck. It is a feeling like I have forgotten something but not really knowing what it is it is I left behind. Nearly six months since his death I realize that although time helps to heal, the spirit of a best companion never completely vanishes.
My three year old daughter often asks, rhetorically, where Ace is – even though I am certain she understands he is gone. When I tell her he is in heaven, she anxiously responds with the follow up question, “Is he picking up ducks?” I like to think that is the case and we will certainly meet again soon. He is no doubt reliably waiting for me.