Most 10-year-old boys spend their free time playing sports or video games, but Ken Amante is very different. He spends his free time rescuing stray animals within a remote area of the Philippines where he lives. The high-spirited boy first gained worldwide attention and admiration when pictures of him feeding local strays went viral. Soon afterward, he was flooded with donations from concerned animal lovers all over the world. As a result, he was able to accomplish his dream of creating a no-kill animal shelter that rescues dogs and cats from a painful, difficult life on the streets.
Dubbed the Happy Animals Club, the shelter aims to rescue animals from both the streets and from the local city pound, where unclaimed animals are usually killed off.
"I'm just a kid who loves animals," said Amante, who spoke exclusively to HNGN Pets Happy Zone via video conference.
Now, a year into the shelter's operation, Amante talks about his lifeling fascination with animals, the challenges he faces since his shelter opened, and his vision for the shelter's future.
HNGN: When were you first drawn to animals?
Amante: Actually, I always loved animals, even when I was young. I was fond of them even when I was small. My parents told me that before I could even talk, I was already sleeping with my dad's cat, Hajime-kun. Hajime-kun is 14 now, and he's still here.
You became an internet sensation after pictures of you feeding stray dogs went viral. How long had you been feeding the three stray puppies before you were discovered by your dad?
Weeks, actually. I was walking my dog when I came across them. I saw Blackie first, but Whitey was the one who came close. Brownie and Blackie were very cautious, so I had to step backward after I give them food. Eventually, I found that Whitey can do tricks. And it all started there.
How long did it take for Blackie and Brownie to feel comfortable around you?
A long time, I guess. Maybe after a month and a half, Brownie and Blackie trusted me enough to let me pet them. I felt sorry for them because they were sick, skinny and they had mange, a skin infection. I felt like I wanted to help them. Sometimes, strays have owners, but they are not really being taken care of. When I can, I try to persuade the owners to take care of them more.
How old were you when you decided that you wanted to start an animal shelter?
I think I was about 6 or 7 years old. When I was young, I thought anything could be possible.
You still go to school and do a lot of extracurricular activities. How do you balance it all?
We did hire staff to take care of the animals. When I have soccer sessions, I always schedule them on Saturdays only. I actually stopped my soccer practices for now so I can focus more on the animals. I take the animals to the park during weekends, so they can run and play.
When the photos of you went viral last year, you became something of a celebrity. Did your teachers or friends at school treat you differently after that?
My teachers treat me the same. Everyone knows about the shelter, but for my friends, I'm still Ken. Just Ken.
Among all the animals that you have taken care of so far, which was the one that touched you the most?
This is a difficult question. Right now, we are taking care of 30 dogs and 17 cats. I'm actually fond of all the animals. I'm fond of them equally. After all, each animal has his or her own story. For example, Whitey touched not only me, but other people too.
Have there been any challenges running the Happy Animals Club so far?
Our main problem right now is finding the people to donate so we can keep going - so we can buy more dog food. Right now we are feeding them dry food. We would like to feed them wet food too, but those are more expensive. We're planning on splitting the lot too, since we're running out of space in the shelter. At the moment, it really is about funding. Before though, it was hard to find people who wanted to adopt the animals too.
If you had one wish for the animals in the shelter right now, what would it be?
To find them good homes and to give them a long and happy life. Just like my dad's cat, Hajime-kun, who is already 14 years old. He's actually older than me.
Where do you see the shelter in 10 years?
A big shelter that will have branches around the world, with lots of animals in them and lots of people adopting them. I want people to see mongrels and pedigrees as equal. Most people choose pedigrees because they think they are better, so they get their pets from pet stores.
Are you thinking of making this into a career in the future? As a veterinarian, maybe?
I actually don't want to be a veterinarian. Vets take care of sick animals and that's great for me, but there are times when they also need to put animals down. I don't think I can do that. I just want to do what I'm doing right now. I own the shelter, and I want that to be my career.
How long do you plan to run the Happy Animals Club?
This is a lifetime thing. I want other people to take my place if I pass away. I want this to go on forever.
What is the one thing that the Happy Animals Club stands for?
To help the animals. To make them have better lives and to make them have good homes. After all, it's called Happy Animals Club.
The Happy Animals Club is located in Davao City, Mindanao, which is found on the southern islands of the Philippines. Being a non-profit organization, the shelter is fully run by Ken and his staff, which includes volunteers and a kitchen helper, who cooks for the animals. The shelter is run solely on PayPal and bank donations, and now that the initial buzz has died off, finding a set of long-term patrons has become the shelter's primary challenge.
If you'd like to make a donation, or even better, to commit to supporting the Happy Animals Club long-term, click here.