What could be better than getting a professional photo of your fur baby, spending a little outdoor time with fun people, and knowing it’s all for a great cause?
Since 2020, Pet Pics in the Park has been raising funds for Avenue 360’s Omega House, Houston’s HIV/AIDS nonprofit hospice that has been in operation since 1986. Tanner Williams and his partner, Christopher Cerda, founded Pet Pics in the Park when they heard that Omega House needed a new roof. The event was so popular that they made it an annual fundraiser. This year, the March 25 event at the Buffalo Bayou Dog Park is being sponsored by Cerda’s real-estate company, Chris Christopher Properties. Cerda has been in real estate for two decades and is an active member of the LGBTQ Victory Fund and the Executive and Professional Association of Houston. Becoming a proud puppy parent sparked the idea for Pet Pics in the Park.
“We were driving by a dog park back when COVID was still big, and I thought that would be a safe place to have an event,” he recalls.
Cerda and Williams have two dogs—Mishka and Sasha—and a cat named Sparkles. The couple became best friends eight years ago, and romantic partners for the past three years.
But Cerda’s journey to find his authentic self has been long and difficult. “I shouldn’t even be here right now,” he says. “I grew up in a bad part of the Second Ward. I was always afraid my grandmother’s house (where he lived) would get shot in a drive-by. Basically, I joined a gang to protect us.”
Cerda was jumped by rival gang members before he finally got out of that life—just about the time he began dealing with his sexuality.
“I started going to the bars,” Cerda says. “But then I saw what was happening with HIV and AIDS.” He wound up marrying a woman, having a daughter, and starting a successful real-estate company. But the marriage wasn’t happy, and after 15 years it ended. “I just gave up. I decided I was going to be me.”
Today, Cerda and Williams own a home near his ex-wife and their daughter, and they all see each other regularly and celebrate holidays as a family. Cerda likes to say that he “went from hood to good.”
And one of those good things is his passion for raising money for Omega House. Founded at the height of the AIDS crisis by retired Montessori school teacher Eleanor Munger, Omega House was the first residential hospice for terminally ill AIDS patients in Texas. In 2016, it became part of the nonprofit Avenue 360 Health and Wellness, a Federally Qualified Health Center dedicated to providing health care to underserved populations.
Cerda is hoping for a turnout of about 100 at the Pet Pics in the Park event this year. They had about 75 folks attend a recent kickoff party.
If you attend and make a donation of your choosing, you’ll get a professional photo session with Jill Garrett. She began photographing pets at age eight and has experience with horses, dogs, cats, and even lizards. She says she’s “truly honored to be helping this year’s Pet Pics in the Park,” and encourages pets and people to join her for a good time.
And it isn’t just fur babies that Garrett can photograph. Pets with fins, feathers, or scales are also welcome—as are folks who don’t have a pet. If you can’t make it, you can use the Donate button on the website to make a personal donation to Omega House. You can also subscribe to receive updates on the event at petpicsinthepark.org.
The photos will be available for download within two days of the event. A QR code and instructions on where to download your photos will be provided after the photoshoot. A link to access photos will also be on the Pet Pics in the Park website.
What: Pet Pics in the Park
When: March 25, 10:00 a.m.–2:00 p.m.
Where: Nau Family Pavilion at Eleanor Tinsley Park, 3600 Allen Parkway