Volleyball practice sessions are the same wherever they are held…even for the two-time champions, the Lady Eagles. The team rises with the sun at 5:30 a.m. for the required morning run, spends hours every day improving their game, perfecting their strengths, and mastering playing with a team.It is monotonous and tiring. There are days when the body is beaten down, refusing to strain for another hard push.

They end the day the same way: for three hours in the evening, they work to make sure no team is better than them. It therefore surprised no one that a few of them own dogs they cherish and adore just so they have warmth and comfort during the few times they are allowed to go home in a year.

Coming to the Barn

They call my house the Barn. They enjoyed coming to the house two summers ago and looking at various pets. Eventually, some took puppies, and surprisingly, a few took home two. A far cry from their lives as student athletes, they are Ateneo’s winning Lady Eagles Womens Volleyball team! It was not hard to give them several puppies. Preferences were purely personal as some took to toy dogs while others, like 5’1” Ella, took to the large German Shepherd.

I have bred dogs for over thirty-five years now and continue to do so without looking at financial returns like most breeders. To me, the love of pets is an important part of my family life. My two daughters love dogs, and my other children have fun showing their friends around “the barn.” It was very easy for me to share my love for pets with these fastidious and hard working athletes considering the schedule they keep. Of course, it didn’t come as a surprise that when I got to meet their families, they were just as enamored with pets as the girls.

It all started when I struck up a conversation with Jia, the setter. “Does your family like dogs?” And almost immediately I took out my phone containing the hundreds of pictures of my dogs, tortoises, birds, and arowanas. “Oh wow,” was the reply and almost immediately her batchmates (then sophomores) Kim, Mitch, Jamie, and their new freshie Bea were curiously going through the pictures.

It helped a lot that Bea’s family lived in the same village I did, not very far from the Ateneo. Both Bea’s father and I were ringneck keepers from eight years back. In fact it was a chance encounter during the 76th season of the UAAP between him and me that triggered Bea’s joining the Ateneo Women’s volleyball team.

Eventually, the four friends as well as their other teammates found their way to my place as we were then writing the manuscript of the book, “Heartstrong Lady Eagles” about the miracle run of a Cinderella team to that famous journey beating their equally famous rivals in a thrice to beat finals round.

By then I found out that the Morado family were avid dog keepers, that Aerielle and her Mom were looking forward to a having a pet dog. All the way from Lipa City, Jhojo’s family were longing for a German Shepherd to keep and at the same time guard their home. Each of the girls had their wish list and in turn I asked them to wait until there were enough puppies to go around.

Summer came around and the team was starting to train for season 77! But what about Coach Tai—did he share the same passion his girls did? As word got out that the girls were taking home their dogs, he came to the house one day to have lunch and find out for himself what The Barn looked like. That started a friendship that lasted, and is characterized by many common interests.

Unfortunately, pet keeping was not one of them. But he was amazed by the menagerie of reptiles and fish he’d only seen at Chatuchak Market. He himself is scared of dogs, having been bitten when he was a young boy. Obviously, the trauma never left him. But he soon made weekly visits to the house to rest as well as eat. By then, he stopped asking if any of the dogs were on the loose. He doesn’t even mind Jessey, our resident beagle, who would grab his unattended food and test his agility by racing for food on his plate while Tai made his rounds of the family room.

The Resident Expert

As the girls found my passion for pets amusing and interesting, they also turned to me to look for specific breeds. Whether it was for themselves, their boyfriends, or their siblings, I would simply get a text and be asked about certain breeds. By now it was becoming a fact that I was the resident pet lover in the team. Whether it be diet, housing, medicine, and behavioral questions, they did not hesitate to ask me about it. Those who lived in far away provinces made me promise that upon graduation, they would bring home a puppy.They say keeping pets helps form character and mold one’s values.

I have never seen anything form character more than the rigorous training these girls go through. Three hours each training session, twice a day, six times a week. No amount of blood, sweat, and tears can develop the competitiveness and discipline as well as these girls did. By now, everyone in the volleyball community knew they were the best in collegiate volleyball. Their love for their pets is infectious. I have made sure their friends and family found the dog breeds they have long been looking for.

I am currently working on a puppy for Bea, a Welsh Corgi that will be weaned from his mother next month.Cooper, Ace, Coco, Riley, and Channel: they are only a few of the dogs the Lady Eagles keep. They make sure their mistress’ very few days of staying at home are happy and filled with fun! Magis, Excellence, and Cura personalis may be the names of the dogs they will take home in the future, along with Happy, Unity, and Heart Strong. Be that as it may, this is the Ateneo way: the Heart Strong Dog Lovers’ way!

This appeared in Animal Scene’s November 2015 issue.