Thank you, year 2016, Welcome 2017! I face every coming year with excitement, knowing of new things to explore in the hobby. This is the decade during which I can say the number of new products for pets, new breeds, and strains are coming. Product innovations are becoming a norm. Competition and pets shows are a regular sight. There are more business opportunities, such as:

• Pet shops

• Pet grooming

• Online accessory sales

• Feeder production,

• Importation of live pets and related accessories

• Pet hotels

• Cat cafés

• Pet clothes

Why did these trends grow so fast? What or who are the factors which make the pet hobby so popular? Perhaps the best persons to answer this would be my co-hobbyists and myself.

I love pets, ventured in many pet businesses, and can call myself a self-proclaimed pet ambassador. I will promote the hobby every chance I get. I owe my great interest in pets to those I call our Pet Influencers. Who are they?

1. Family and other relatives: There is always a high possibility that people will be born into families with a pet hobbyist.

  • My uncle Alfonso Sun gave my first dog and cat to me. He also shared to me some dog breeding tips. I always looked forward to visiting his place to playing with the puppies he was breeding then.
  •  My first tropical fish were given to me my uncle Teodoro Sun. I can recall batches of angelfish and black mollies handed to me in packed plastics. My excitement was unexplainable. When I visited his residence, I would spend hours looking at his three 10 gallon aquariums.
  • My mother supported me with my hobby, so even with our small apartment and a tight budget, she let me have a 35-gallon aquarium. The gift paved the way for me to move forward in the fish hobby. I remember how she helped me by checking on my pets while I was at school and continuing to do so even when I was already working. She would patiently accompany me to visit pet shops every now and then.
  • My wife Suzie has influenced me in the way I look at a Pomeranian dog. I am now considering having one.
  • My son Aaron introduced me to bearded dragons, and is convincing me to have New Zealand rabbits. I do not know if he is the one enjoying this more, or me.
  • My daughter Jamie is so persuasive that I was motivated to acquire guinea pigs, hamsters, and recently, a Scottish fold cat.

2. Friends and classmates – In the neighborhood where I spent my elementary and high school days, racing pigeons on the roofs of houses were a common sight. Every afternoon, the owners would send their pigeons flying, trying to capture others’ birds. It was a form of street games.

  • My classmate Edward influenced me in raising pigeons. We would spend time after school climbing to their roof, where his small loft was located, and spend hours observing them.
  • My neighbor Mac Mac, Terry, and Abe shared their experiences in pigeon flying and street racing.
  • My longtime friend Butch De los Santos, the guru of guppies, rekindled my interest in guppies by giving me a few pairs of his personalized strains. Pets and friendship go hand in hand.
  • Johnny Filart makes me appreciate arowanas on a new level
  • Maestro Tommy De Vera is an icon in the hobby of pigeon racing. He lives a few blocks away from my place and generously shared his time by answering the questions we asked of him. Presently, he shares even more to the hobby with his generosity when it comes to advice.

3. Home-based and street sellers – There were pigeon sellers during my elementary and high school days, when we could walk from home to school to save money. After class, I would hurry out because they were just outside our school. On a side street was a tropical fish peddler, and I would stay there for a while just watching the fish. Until now, I can vividly remember the face of the man who sold fish. Going home, base fish sellers were plentiful. I would save my allowance to buy feed, fish, and accessories from them. These were where they were located:

  • Garage – One car garage was converted into sections where multi-racks of aquariums are placed. They would also display tank accessories.
  • Front yard – Traditional apartments are designed with small front yards. Sellers would create ponds there and place small tanks on top. They were very popular for kids starting the hobby.
  • Garden – Some sellers used their gardens to showcase their pets. They would also make over a small section of their garden and sell aquarium fish and small birds.
  • Living room – I can clearly recall sellers whose living rooms had aquariums, small birds inside cages, and puppies in playpens for sale. Some of their cabinets served as display racks for pet accessories on sale.

4. Stand-alone pet shops –  The excitement of entering pet shops has stayed with me to this day. I am glad that some of the shops I grew with are still operating and have become landmarks in the hobby.

  • The Northpole pet shop on Narra Street in Recto. The store has closed down but the owner is still in the industry. I will always remember Northpole because it was at this shop where my mother bought me my first 35-gallon full set-up aquarium.
  • Chinatown and the Tetra pet shop in the Ongpin area. I was a working student at my uncles’s store in Ongpin, Manila. Every time I went home, I always visited these two shops as a motivation for my long trip home. Sadly, these two shops are already closed.
  • Quiapo area – As my college was in Intramuros, I need to pass by Quiapo on the way home. I never missed the chance to enter the two pet shops in Quiapo to check their fish. Both shops have also stopped operating.
  • Pet shops in Sta Mesa – Three pet shops there were a hobbyist haven. They had to close down as they are where SM Sta Mesa is now located.
  • Robert’s pet shop in Araneta Avenue, Quezon City sells a wide variety of cichlids. This fish store was my biggest influence in the cichlid hobby.
  • Nueva Pet shop – From a small alley house, this was converted to a small fish store. Now they are one of the industry pillars, located in Alvarado Street in Manila. The story of this pet store is an inspiration to hear. I literally grew up with the Nueva pet shop.
  • Manila Aquatic – Popular because of its aquarium quality, Manila Aquatic in the Blumentritt area is still very active. I often see them with their booths in fish shows.
  • Sam’s Lagoon – Owner Toto, as he is popularly called, started with a small space that you could easily miss when passing by. Now, a hobbyist cannot help but enjoy Sam’s Lagoon because of its bigger store and wide variety of pet selections.

5. Special destinations – These places serve as one-stop shops and a place for get-togethers for hobbyist because they are multiple shops clustered together.

  • Arranque market – Located along Recto Street in Manila, it is the place for pigeon enthusiasts; there are numerous stores selling both fancy and racing pigeons. There are stores even in small alleys. Every Sunday is pigeon day; hobbyists can meet to buy and sell their pigeons in front of the market. Arranque market is also known for selling Chinese chickens, ducks, rabbits, and other farm animals for human consumption.
  • Cartimar – Located near Buendia in Pasay City, it was renovated a few years ago and more stores for pets were added. This place is the heart of pet trade of the country, equivalent to Chatuchak of Thailand but smaller in size.
  • Tiendesitas – Located at the corner of Ortigas Avenue and E. Rodriguez in Pasig, it caters more to the high-end market. They recently made renovations and have numerous dog grooming salons and cat accessories for sale. Almost every week, after attending the church located beside Tiendesitas, I walk around to observe.

Internet information, social media groups, and local and international shows all help a hobby grow. However, the greatest influencers of all time for me are the pets themselves. Stray dogs and cats, pigeons on the roof and wild small birds already catch our attention. The charisma and uniqueness of each pet displayed behind the glass doors of pet shops makes us stop to be mesmerized by them.

God loves us so much that He gave us the chance to see how wonderful His pet creations are. This should inspire us to take care of them and influence more people to see how beautiful these pets are that can touch our lives.

This story appeared in Animal Scene’s January 2017 issue.