Pet Celebrities: How Grumpy Cat Became a Household Name

These pet owners turned their dogs and cats into Internet sensations.

— -- A group of fans squealed with delight when they stopped one of their favorite stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. They asked if they could touch her and pose for photos, raising their phones up high to snap selfies.

This wasn’t Kim Kardashian West or Angelina Jolie they were fawning over. It was Grumpy Cat.

Brad Pitt could be walking down the street and I’ll be like, but Grumpy,” said one of the fans, laughing.

Grumpy Cat, whose real name is Tarder Sauce, became a household name and an Internet celebrity after her signature frown went viral three years ago.

“She was born a star,” said Grumpy Cat’s owner Tabatha Bundesen.

Bundesen, 30, quit her day job to focus all of her energy on promoting her 3-year-old cat.

“I’ve definitely been happy doing it the last couple of years. It beats waitressing, that’s for sure,” she said.

Grumpy suffers from feline dwarfism and only weighs 4 pounds and 3 ounces. An under-bite is the cause of her iconic frown.

“Grumpy Cat kind of makes being different OK,” Bundesen said.

Today, Grump Cat has 1.1 million followers on Instagram and more than 8 million Likes on Facebook. According to her owner, more than 250,000 Grumpy Cat calendars have been sold in the last two years. “Grumpy Cat: A Grumpy Book” has been translated into 15 languages. Grumpy Cat plush dolls are now one of the most sought-after toys of the holiday shopping season with 1.5 million sold to date. Grumpy even has a leading role in her own Lifetime movie.

Advertisers took notice of Grumpy Cat’s social media popularity and now the feline has signed deals with Friskies and Cheerios.

“I never thought I’d be managing a business around a cat,” said Brian Bundesen, Tabatha’s brother and manager. “It’s definitely fun and interesting.”

Brian is the man responsible for catapulting Grumpy Cat to Internet stardom. He uploaded a photo of the cat in 2012 – the same photo that became a meme sensation. Today, Brian is Grumpy Cat’s business manager.

“I used to work for a cable company and I left that about a year and half, two years ago, and this is my full-time gig now,” he said. “So it’s a lot of fun.”

Pets are big celebrities. They have their own version of the Oscars called The Golden Collar Awards, and have been used in advertising for years – like the Chihuahua in the Taco Bell commercials or the White Terrier in Target ads.

Social media is making it easier for pets to become instant stars, as Loni Edwards is starting to learn with her mini French Bulldog named Chloe.

“Her posts tend to make people smile and laugh and feel good, and I think translating that into a marketing initiative and a brand is powerful,” Edwards said.

Chloe was discovered on Instagram about six months ago and is rapidly gaining fame.

“We were getting brand requests every single week, everything from Vogue to Jimmy Chu to Dyson wanting to work with her, that it became a little more serious for her and now she has her own company,” Edwards said.

Chloe is half the size of a regular Frenchie and has almost 98,000 followers. Edwards said the more influence she has online, the more money these pets can make.

“It can be anything from a couple hundred dollars for a post to $30,000 for a post. It’s a wide range,” she said.

The demand for Chloe has grown so much that Edwards said she is launching her own pet modeling agency in January. Chloe, of course, will be her first client.

“It takes a lot of time,” she said. “That’s definitely one thing I think a lot of people might not realize, bringing her to all of these events and appearances and photo shoots, so you need to have the time to do it.”

As for tips for making your pet the next Internet star, Edwards said, “Think about content people want to share, so if something makes you laugh, makes you smile, you want to share it with whomever, like ‘Omg look what I saw.’”

Tabatha Bundesen declined to discuss how much money Grumpy Cat brings in, but one thing is certain: the feline phenomenon is far from over.