Peanut’s got a cushy life; he’s one of the lucky ones. His human companion, Marita, recalls being unsure of whether taking care of a dog was even a good idea, then changing her mind almost immediately when she got her first good look at the little Shih Tzu. Her heart, apparently, was sold on the idea.

“When we got him, he could fit inside his own bowl,” says the Fine Arts graduate, “[and he] just turned three this January.” If you say that image doesn’t make your heart do funny things, we’re pretty sure you’re lying!

Ma. Rita Alcazaren de Leon — Marita for short — is an artist who, in no uncertain terms, has directed her creativity into an arguably invaluable service. Keychains don’t sound like much; they’re rather ordinary objects that linger in the very vestiges of consciousness, and normally only come to the forefront of our minds when we’re on vacation and need something to bring back to our friends and coworkers.

But this is how Marita gave meaning to the mundane (and how Peanut helped).

Crafts and Cartoons

After graduating from the University of the Philippines, Marita went on to land a slew of different jobs: government work, a stint at a graphic design studio, then another in advertising. She had served as Art Director at Ogilvy & Mather and McCann Worldgroup — this woman’s resumé is not to be scoffed at.

“I also was and still am part of my family’s animation studio, Alcazaren Bros. Animation,” she tells Animal Scene, but after having quite enough of the advertising hours, she went the freelance route. “In the meantime, I had always been into crafts,” she continues, “so I took a workshop at Craft MNL to learn resin jewelry making.”

For her, this was a great new avenue for her creativity that also turned out to be profitable.

We “paws” to remember

She is asked if she ever receives orders or requests for the pets whose time has come. “Yes,” sheacquiesces, “I have had several requests.” Usually marked with a halo, these particular works becomepriceless to those human hearts that have been bent or broken by the loss of a pet. It could be an important step in the grieving process for some. Marita understands the need for this aspect of her work completely, stating, “We wouldn’t know what to do if we lost our Peanut.”

It seems as though her whole family would say that Peanut’s grand entrance into their lives made “love at first sight” a real thing for them, and that love had only grown with time and with the canine’s little quirks. “Peanut loves to twirl for treats,” Marita says, “[but unfortunately,] his pet peeve — pardon the pun — is when cats wander past our front door. He barks at them at the top of his lungs!”

But what does she like best about doing all this? “I love that I get to practice art, hone my craft, and make people happy.”

The strange and bazaar(s)

It all truly begins — as it always does — with a decision made offhand, a thought that just came waltzing through. “I started painting pets on wooden key chains fairly recently when I wanted something else to offer at bazaars aside from resin jewelry,” Marita says, “[and my] friend, Boy Luna, a painter and art teacher, coined the name ‘petraiture’ in a comment on my Facebook post.” If that wasn’t the cleverest!

While she ostensibly interacts primarily with pet lovers at these events, she says she also meets people who simply stop to praise her work, and rightly so: “…Being a pet owner myself, I really looked into that market. [It turns out] that pets make people happier than [some accessory would].”

This appeared in Animal Scene magazine’s April 2019 issue.