Online star Grumpy Cat is now worth €75m, with a book deal and a movie in the works
Despite his success, should we think twice about pimping out our pets?
Back in 1998, my Dad won the lottery. His prize was enough to keep him in champagne and fast cars for about 15 or 20 seconds – as part of his work syndicate, he scooped a massive, life changing €450.
As a harassed working father, the opportunities for him to treat himself were rare, so he was hoping for a small spree. He mentally shopped for some nice new clothes, or perhaps a smarter camera, as he drove home from the office. As he stepped through the front door, he was greeted by the family cat, Humphrey, looking sulky and bandaged. Humphrey had just gone through an emergency kidney operation. The cost? €450.
Cats are costly, and my father is not the only pet owner who believes he is owed some pay back. Perhaps this is why savvy cat lovers are exploiting their animals' viral potential and putting them online. Recorded cats can pick up hundreds of millions of YouTube views, product ranges, and, in the case of Grumpy Cat, €75m, a two-book deal and a movie. Grumpy Cat is managed by Ben Lashes, a "meme manager" who has translated the public's thirst for videos of animals doing daft things into merchandise sales of millions of pounds. Basically, he's Simon Fuller to Grumpy's Posh Spice. (It's hard to say which one has the biggest pout.)
Wikipedia describes Grumpy Cat (real name Tardar Sauce) as "a cat and internet celebrity". Her perpetually peed off expression is, according to owner Tabatha Bundesen, a result of feline dwarfism. She's "actually really nice", even though she gives her readers advice on "attaining true grumpiness", and is billed as the master of the bad attitude.
Some of Grumpy Cat's most famous memes include images with captions such as "A little bird told me it was your birthday. I ate him," and "There are two kinds of people in this world. And I don't like them." Bundesen ended up quitting her day job as a waitress to manage Grumpy Cat's schedule.
Bundesen maintains that the two of them stumbled upon this career category by accident, but an increasing number of cat owners believe that they are a whisker away from fame. Grumpy has inspired hundreds of, erm, copycats. Last week, the RSPCA reported that 70 per cent of abandoned cats are black, or black and white, because "they don't look as good in selfies". It appears that we only want internet ready, photogenic felines.
Making money from your moggy is nothing new. Old school ailurophiles will already be planning to head to Birmingham at the end of November, for The Supreme Show Of The Governing Council Of The Cat Fancy, which sounds like an event worth attending for the name alone. It's Crufts for cats, and there's money to be made, whether you're a trader and can sell cat-themed products, or you're a breeder who can sell your prize-winning cat's kittens for thousands of pounds.
In a way, the internet has levelled the playing field for all cat enthusiasts. If you were serious about the cat business, you'd plump for a pedigree and take them to shows, but you could only be part of that world if you were able to invest a serious amount of cash in your cat in the first place. Now felines and owners of all stripes have a shot, as long as they have a camera, and an eye for cuteness. Or curtness, in the case of Grumpy Cat.
Perhaps it is a little cold blooded to capitalise on a cat, although some owners maintain that their animals love the attention. However, no matter whether the cat bags you 60 "likes" or a €75m fortune, you would do well to remember it will always have its own interests at heart.
New York City coroner Judy Melinek offers some chilling but compelling evidence in her book Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner as to what would happen if you were to die in your flat with only your beloved pet for company. "Your faithful golden retriever might sit next to your dead body for days, starving – but the tabby won't," she writes. "Your pet cat will eat you right away, with no qualms at all. I've seen the result."
Remember, your cat might make a great internet meme, but it's not the internet that makes your cat mean.