Paw stars at Pet Expo this weekend

Singapore's furry social media stars will be in the spotlight at this year's Pet Expo. The Straits Times highlights five of them

Surrender to a breed of social media stars who are four-legged, furry and devastatingly cute.

With impressive followings ranging from 10,000 to more than 60,000, some pets are flooding Instagram with adorable pictures of themselves, despite, well, probably not knowing what Instagram is.

For that, thank their dedicated owners who are all too happy to share their pets' aww-inducing antics.

At this year's Pet Expo, which starts today and runs till Sunday at Singapore Expo Hall 7, visitors can meet seven famous pets from Singapore.

They are shih tzu Muffin (@muffincan), bunnies Eskimo and Kiwi (@eskimoloaf), French bulldog Plato (@helloplato_the_frenchie), corgis Coby (@cobythecorgi) and Smallie (@smalliepillar), as well as cat KingKing (@fantastic_kingdom).

All the furballs will be present at a meet-and-greet session tomorrow from 4 to 5pm.

  • BOOK IT / PET EXPO

  • WHERE: Singapore Expo Hall 7, 1 Expo Drive

    WHEN: Today to Sunday, 11am to 8pm

    ADMISSION: $5 for a one-day pass, $12 for a three-day pass, free entry for children below 12 years old

    INFO: petexposg.com

The six pet accounts were selected based on their popularity and interaction with followers, says Ms See Lay Eng, Pet Expo's project director. The event is organised by events company MP Singapore.

She adds: "Pet Expo wishes to be a catalyst to bring the online community to a physical location and allow the pet Instagrammers, fans, pet owners and pet lovers to come together to interact and share their experiences."

In its fourth edition, the Pet Expo is one of the major pet-dedicated events in the Singapore calendar.

Last year, 28,000 visitors and 8,400 pets attended the three-day affair.

There will be more than 80 exhibitors selling items such as pet food and accessories, free pet health check-ups by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA), workshops and competitions.

A returning favourite is the speed-dating dog adoption scheme by AVA and other animal welfare groups.

At the speed-dating event, would-be pet owners get to spend some time with a pet before adopting one.

Cats and rabbits will also be part of the more than 30 animals available for adoption this year.

Marine creatures will be making a splash at the Pet Expo for the first time. Attendees can visit an interactive aqua zone and check out tropical species such as betta fish, luohan or flowerhorn fish.


MUFFIN THE SHIH TZU

Instagram account: @muffincan

Number of followers: 63,300


Ms Can Zhi Ying regularly dresses Muffin up in props she finds at Japanese budget store Daiso. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

On this eight-year-old shih tzu's Instagram account, you can see pictures of the dog dressed up for Halloween, having a snack in front of a fan, as well as its blissful expression while getting a belly scratch.

This little ball of well-groomed brown and white fur called Muffin was introduced to the Internet when its owner Can Zhi Ying, 28, an art teacher, started a dedicated Instagram account called @muffincan in 2013.

Within six months, the account reached 10,000 followers and kept growing. Now, every Muffin photo has an average of 2,000 likes.

"I would regularly dress Muffin up in accessories such as sunnies and random props I find at Japanese budget store Daiso and online," Ms Can says.

Muffin lives with Ms Can's parents, younger brother and sister-in-law in a five-room-flat, while Ms Can lives with her in-laws.

For a time, she made Muffin merchandise such as T-shirts, tote bags and stickers with the shih tzu's face on it. Prices started at $1 for a sticker and the items were sold on online platform Etsy.

She sold about 20 of the items in total - primarily to customers in the United States - and stopped last year because she does not have the time to produce more.

Muffin's large following had also attracted the attention of businesses, which had asked for Muffin to pose with their products in exchange for free items. The items ranged from pet food to non-pet items such as earphones and watches.

Muffin's grooming sessions are sponsored by a local pet groomer.

Ms Can estimates that the products can cost up to $200 and her pet typically gets four to five such offers a year.

But she "never intends to make a living out of Muffin".

"He is my happy pill and it makes me even more happy when I see followers leave positive comments."


ESKIMO AND KIWI THE RABBITS

Instagram account: @eskimoloaf

Number of followers: 32,100

This dedicated rabbit account started because friends started telling the owner that she was spamming their Instagram feed with too many bunny pictures on her personal account.

So, in 2014, Ms Angel Liew, 21, who provides training in e-commerce, started a separate account for her beloved Eskimo, a pale orange Holland Lop Dutch mix.

Eskimo gained a modest following of about 1,000 followers and, a year later, she adopted Kiwi, a chestnut-hued Netherland Dwarf. She had read that it was recommended that bunnies have a companion as they are sociable creatures.

The all-round squeal-worthiness of the pictures exploded, as did the account's following. In the account, the bunnies can be seen munching on their favourite food, cilantro, or doing a binky, in which the animals jump for joy.

Other rabbits regularly make appearances on the page as Ms Liew meets other bunny owners. She has even made friends with people as far as the United States and Germany.

Once, a fan from Switzerland who was flying to Singapore for holiday requested to meet, but she declined as she felt it was unsafe.

She says the Instagram page is a way for people to learn about rabbits and understand that they are not dull pets.

She lives in a five-room flat with her parents and older brother, who enjoy feeding the bunnies occasionally.

"People think they are not as interactive as dogs, but rabbits also have personalities, quirks and habits. They run to me each time I come home."


PLATO THE FRENCH BULLDOG

Instagram account: @helloplato_the_frenchie

Number of followers: 20,500

Ms Can Zhi Ying regularly dresses Muffin up in props she finds at Japanese budget store Daiso. Ms Seet Mingli started her pet's Instagram account in 2013 and posted four to five photos a week. Ms Celine Tan started the Instagram account in 2010 for h
Ms Celine Tan started the Instagram account in 2010 for herself, but later made it one about Plato, when she realised photos of her pet were more popular. PHOTO: COURTESY OF CELINE TAN

French bulldog Plato is not just the star of one of the earliest pet Instagram accounts, @helloplato_ the_frenchie. It is also the protagonist in a children's book written by owner Celine Tan, a magazine editor.

The book, Plato And The Missing Bed, is a passion project by Ms Tan, 38, who had long harboured dreams of writing a children's book.

"At first, I thought why not write about dogs and that eventually led to featuring Plato as he is real and visible on Instagram," she says.

The book, a heartwarming tale of Plato learning to be kind to an abandoned dog, was self-published last September and has sold about 400 copies at select places such as local retailer Naiise and online (tinyurl.com/l7phas3). It retails at $16.

With its adorable smooshy mug, upright ears and puppy-dog eyes, it is easy to see why people would buy the book or follow the seven-year- old canine on the account.

Ms Tan, whose husband is self-employed, started the Instagram account in 2010 for herself before turning it into one about Plato after realising that the photos of her pet "were way more popular than anything else".

Calling Plato her "practice" child before daughter Amber came along in 2011 and son Brennan joined the family last year, she said the account eventually began to include doubly cute photos of the dog playing with its human brother and sister.

"There would be strangers coming up to Amber and asking her 'Where's Plato?'" says Ms Tan with a laugh.

Although Ms Tan admits that she initially wanted to grow the account's following and would post twice a day, she has since slowed down and now posts every three or four days.

"At one point, it was my mission to hit 10,000, then 20,000... but then, so what? It wasn't like I was making money out of this," she says.

Instead, she sees the account as a visual diary of the antics her children get up to.

"It's more like a daily record that I can look back on years later and reminisce over," she says.


COBY THE CORGI

Instagram account: @cobythecorgi

Number of followers: 17,500

Coby the corgi is an accidental social media star. When its owner first got it as a puppy, she was an 18-year-old who took "way too many photos" of her newfound love.

Ms Can Zhi Ying regularly dresses Muffin up in props she finds at Japanese budget store Daiso. Ms Seet Mingli started her pet's Instagram account in 2013 and posted four to five photos a week. Ms Celine Tan started the Instagram account in 2010 for h
Ms Seet Mingli started her pet’s Instagram account in 2013 and posted four to five photos a week. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Ms Seet Mingli, 22, now a fashion media student at Lasalle College of the Arts, realised she could channel her obsession into Instagram and started the account @cobythecorgi in 2013, posting smartphone pictures of her "baby" four to five times a week.

With its stubby legs, fluffy booty and foxy face that looks like the Pembroke Welsh corgi is perpetually smiling, Coby is irresistible. On the account, it can be seen trotting around in parks or cheekily playing hide-and-seek with the camera.

Slowly but surely, the number of Instagram followers grew - even without Ms Seet consistently adding hashtags or increasing the frequency of posts.

"I never thought the account would surpass a 1,000 followers, let alone 10,000," she says.

Ms Seet lives in a penthouse and her mother helps to take care of the dog when Ms Seet is not around.

At some point, pet businesses started knocking on her door offering monetary opportunities, but Ms Seet declined.

Besides "being too busy with school" to research on the products, she says the account was never meant to make money.

"Some pet Instagram pages are focused on money-making and might neglect the pet. Followers will be able to tell," she says.

"I just want to share Coby with everyone as I think people will enjoy the photos on their social media feed."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 14, 2017, with the headline 'Animal charm'. Print Edition | Subscribe