Pageants have become part of Filipino culture. With the inspiring triumph of Catriona Gray as Miss Universe 2018, 2019 is the proverbial year the cats, especially with Pet Express’ Pawsome Pets Batch 4 unleashing the inner Catriona in everyone.

And the winners are

Butterfly
Vorovajka
Princess

Finalists

BP
Hennessy
Mio
Martini
Kitty Purry
Yujin
Siopao
Tico
Sky

The Pet Express Dog and Cat Expo is an annual event of massive proportions. It is a two-day event, usually on a July weekend, where pet lovers get to shop to their hearts’ content, bring their companion animals with them, enjoy contests, and learn from talks. I never missed it since I started going in 2015. It became a yearly tradition for me to happily bump into friends and meet new ones.

This year was also my second one to do the lifestyle photoshoot of the Pawsome Pets finalists – photo appeal and model potential made up 40% of the total criteria, apart from physical build, skin and coat, and store vote.

The pageant started a month before the expo. A Php 1,000 single receipt purchase of items from contest sponsors was required for human companions to receive an application form. They then had to submit updated vaccination records and visit a Pet Express vet to ensure the contestant was of optimum health.

Next, participants had to drop by selected Pet Express stores for the studio-style photo caravan. The finalists were then announced on social media so that they could campaign for their pets. A Php 300 single receipt purchase was needed for each vote.

A week before the expo, the lifestyle photoshoot was scheduled with me, and Pet Express chose pictures to display on the big screen onstage during the judging.

For our photoshoot, we were given only ten minutes each cat to ham it up. And if you have taken pictures of your pets, you know how challenging that could be! Some were shy while others breezed through the shoot.

What challenged me to do my best was the dedication of these furbabies’ parents. Each came armed with a bag filled with essentials: treats, toys, crinkly things to attract attention, styling products – the works! It was also quite a family affair for some as family members cheered on for their cat. It had a totally different energy compared to the usual pageants which were more focused on the best in costume or which lasted for only a day. It was more like Survivor – and all the cat parents wanted to win.

In some ways, the contest provided a sense of pride and showcased a different level of human-to-animal connection. It promoted good health because a healthy pet was a beautiful pet, and a happy and loved pet was always a treat to the eyes. You just knew that the finalists were living their best lives and the pageant was done in the spirit of good fun.

What I found admirable was the bond that formed among the pet parents, who ended up supporting even the dog finalists. It was still a competition with their efforts evident in their social media campaigns, but since cats were involved, there was an air of unpredictability while the friendly atmosphere was still maintained throughout. Joanna Gamotia, digital marketing manager of Toy Kingdom and Pet Express, shared that the Dog and Cat Expo was a massive event but since pets were involved, the crowd was usually made of people with pleasant personalities. Being responsible and dedicated parents to a companion animal evidently made us better humans since it improved our patience and agreeableness. And at the expo, we couldn’t help but smile to be surrounded by so many pets.

 It was a memorable experience. Finalists comprised of both purebred and puspin (domestic shorthair) cats. Some joined because they hoped their cats could adjust to the outdoors. Others were seasoned contest enthusiasts whom I had seen in the past.

Win or lose, all the cats were winners in my book because they were loved and well cared for. It was all about them and not the costumes, and there was no need for a compelling speech about world peace. To me, compassion for animals was already a huge step in achieving it.

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

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