Toki Poki Pet Trading Cards for a Cause
By René A. Guzman
SAN ANTONIO — Emma the Lhasa Apso was all the rage at the Child Life Activity Center at Children’s Hospital of San Antonio. And with her teeny purple cape and cute little under bite, it’s easy to see why.
“I think she’s sassy,” said Lyzae Torres, 10, who, for the moment, forgot about her stomach infection.
And Emma’s ability to vanish at the mere drop of bath water? Another young hospital patient sure could relate.
“Sounds like me,” said Gwenyth Rodriguez, 8, who momentarily lost sight of her own ailment, a severe amoxicillin reaction.
Alyssa Salazar, right, 9, of San Antonio looks at Toki Poki cards Thursday May 29, 2014 at Children’s Hospital of San Antonio with her father Jorge Salazar, left, during an event for patients.
Emma was one of several superhero-themed pet cards given to Lyzae, Gwenyth and other child patients gathered for some bingo and unexpected pet card ownership.
“People come together because of their pets,” said Christy Myhre, a local Web designer who created TokiPoki.com and its cards. “It’s a celebration of their pets.”
Toki Poki’s free online hub lets pet lovers showcase their beloved animals and raise awareness of various causes and organizations. The trading cards feature Toki Poki pets with cutesy bios and themes, from the “Howl-o-ween” charm of Sophie the Shih Tzu mix in her shiny orange pumpkin costume to the “snuggle power” of the caped pug Mondu the Magnificent.
Myhre created Toki Poki in 2010 to celebrate her own super pet — a 14-year-old Boston terrier named Toki, who continues to fight mast cell cancer after more than seven years and even more surgeries.
It’s a literal pet project, one that comes out of Myhre’s heart as much as her own wallet.
While Myhre does sell Toki Poki cards for $5 per pack of 10 or more, she’s also donated around 120,000 cards to various children’s hospitals around the nation, from Children’s Hospital of San Antonio and Methodist Children’s Hospital to the Children’s Hospital of Orange County in California and Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Rhode Island.
“What it’s turned into over the years is probably to bring joy and smiles to people,” Myhre said.
Myhre and Toki first shared that joy in 2010 with a cross-country road trip to promote the Toki Poki trading cards and website. Their travels from their previous home in Los Angeles took them to various pet stores and pet parks, in major cities from California to Rhode Island.
Myhre got the idea to donate cards to children’s hospitals that same year from Ryan Agnew, then an 11-year-old liver transplant recipient in Warwick, Rhode Island.
Ryan’s mother Connie Agnew had met Myhre earlier in New York City and signed up her dog Bailey and her rescue bunny Foster to Toki Poki. Ryan loved the trading cards so much, he and his older sister Mary Kate promoted them in their neighborhood, recruiting more than 60 members.
That’s when Ryan suggested giving the cards to kids in the hospital to cheer them up.
“It’s just all about sharing,” said Ryan, now 15. “If you’re a pet lover and making this card it means that you’re bringing a smile to a child’s face who probably hasn’t smiled in awhile.”
“I can’t say enough about how this is such an amazing outlet for the kids, to take their mind off the medical end of it,” said Ryan’s mother Connie Agnew. “It’s just incredible.”
A view certainly shared at Children’s Hospital in San Antonio.
“The idea I think is awesome,” said Christina Ojeda, whose 6-year-old son Oceans Alejandra beamed a gap-toothed smile at his favorite card — Toki in a cape and mask. Oceans (in the photo shown here) had his appendix removed a few days earlier.
“His comfort is the main thing while we’re here,” Ojeda said.
Patty Penet, child life specialist at Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center, said the Toki Poki cards make great icebreakers to help young patients overcome shyness and maybe even talk about their own pets at home.
“And for kids who can’t have candy, it comes in handy to have things like this to hand out,” Penet said.
Naturally, there’s a story behind every card. Some highlight their owner’s businesses, like the one with the cat trio of Sophie, Josie and Roxie that promotes Michelle Romano’s local pet-sitting service, Waggs & Purrs.
Then there are those pets that help their humans on a whole other level. Take Jennifer Cullen and her Chihuahua named Cooper. As Toki Poki member No. 307, Cooper has graced so many cards he’s second only to Toki herself.
Cullen said handing out those cards also helped her tackle her agoraphobia to “get out of her anxiety shell.”
“I’ve never once given out his card and not gotten a smile,” said Cullen, who lives in Los Angeles.
Tammy Acklen from San Antonio, TX is making packs of Superhero Pet Trading Cards for the hospital deliveries.
Myhre has likewise experienced a boost from her pet cards. Besides mustering the courage to walk up to strangers in Central Park to hand them out, she found working on Toki Poki cards helped take her mind off her own bodily woes while recovering from major neck surgery in 2012.
Since moving back to San Antonio three years ago, Myhre has expanded her cottage empire to include Toki Poki Motorsports, her fiancé Steve Tyo’s off-road racing team that rolls with the more aggressive moniker TPM Racing.
Myhre hopes to get nonprofit status for Toki Poki this year. She’s also toying with promoting the cards to pet-related organizations for their own fundraising.
“I would say that that’s kind of what the hope is — that we can grow our member database and continue to bring smiles to kids and adults,” Myhre said.
At the very least, the funny cards with the funny name have a knack for saving the day in their own little way.
“They’re weird,” Lyzae said with a smile. “And I like weird.”