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8:08 am
Tue April 1, 2014

Scratch That: One Cat's Struggle With Internet Stardom

No matter what the market's doing, a certain breed of entrepreneur tends to come out on top — or should we say, breeds? Domestic short hair, Persian, Siamese — if you have the right breed of cat, or at least one with a certain look, you may be feeding kitty treats to a potential gold mine.

Luckily, there's a road map to feline stardom — published Tuesday, it's called How to Make Your Cat an Internet Celebrity: A Guide to Financial Freedom.

But not every cat has what it takes, and trying to claw your way to the top can leave a few scratches. Like, 19 or so — that's how many my cat Bruiser inflicted during a trip to the groomer.

For years my husband and I have been taking photos of Bruiser wearing hats. And Chapter 1 of How to Make Your Cat an Internet Celebrity is titled "Grooming Your Star," so our first stop was Bonnie's Dog and Cat Grooming in Washington, D.C.'s Capitol Hill neighborhood. Turns out a lot of big-name pets go there.

"You know, we did Ben Bernanke's dog for years, and now he's retired, Tinker Bernanke," says business owner Bonnie Peregoy. "It's hard to break into the Internet cat business because there's a lot of cats trying to do it now."

One man who has found success — and considerable financial freedom — is Ben Huh, founder and CEO of the multimillion-dollar cat media company Cheezburger.

"I think what we see here is the rise of the Internet cat industrial complex," he says. "I go to a meeting or a conference, and all of a sudden people are, you know, I've got iPhones in my face filled with cat photos and, you know, it's not like I can make it happen."

Truly, one can do only so much to make it happen. Back at the groomer, things quickly went south. Bruiser was not happy, and I began to doubt that I had what it takes to be a kitty stage mom. We went home and calmed Bruiser down with some organic catnip.

Once Bruiser was high on catnip, he got a reusable grocery bag stuck on his head. Purrrrfect! But I struggled to take photos of the action with my iPhone.

"The cameras on them are sometimes just not fast enough," says Dustin Fenstermacher, the photographer behind How to Make Your Cat an Internet Celebrity. "They'll just appear to be a blur." If you really want to make your cat a celebrity, he suggests, you've got to invest in a good camera. "It's also another tax write-off, too."

Cheezburger's Huh says my money would be better spent on the right accessories. "The problem here isn't your cat. It's your choice of hats that you need to work on." He says cat photos need to be extreme to get attention — and that's why he saw an opportunity to partner with online clothing community Betabrand. They're launching a new clothing line Tuesday.

"Humans wear cat prints on their clothing. We thought we would reverse that," Huh says. "And so you could have a hooded sweater for your cat that makes it look like the cat is a very hairy-chested man ... with nipples."

Facebook, meanwhile, is telling me my money should go to advertising Bruiser's page. And How to Make Your Cat an Internet Celebrity promises, "You don't have to be a financial genius like Jimmy Buffett." You just have to have a cute cat — and maybe some heavy gloves.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And let's hear now about a certain breed of entrepreneur. If you have the right breed of cat, or at least one with a certain look, you might be feeding kitty treats to a potential goldmine. A new book out claims it can help. It's called "How to Make Your Cat an Internet Celebrity: A Guide to Financial Freedom." As NPR's Renita Jablonski found out, trying to claw your way to the top can leave a lot of scratches.

RENITA JABLONSKI, BYLINE: Nineteen scratches, give or take.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAT MEOWING)

JABLONSKI: That's my cat Bruiser, on the way to the groomers. For years, my husband and I have been taking photos of him wearing hats. Chapter one of "How to Make Your Cat an Internet Celebrity" is titled "Grooming Your Star." We are pulling up to Bonnie's Dog and Cat Grooming, pretty well-known here on Capitol Hill. I wonder if some, like, fancy congressional dogs and cats go here.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRYER BLOWING)

BONNIE PEREGOY: You know, we did Ben Bernanke's dog for years, and now he's retired - Tinker Bernanke.

JABLONSKI: Bonnie Peregoy is the owner of Bonnie's Dog and Cat Grooming.

PEREGOY: It's hard to break into the Internet cat business, because there's a lot of cats trying to do it now.

BEN HUH: So, I think what we see here is the rise of the Internet cat industrial complex.

JABLONSKI: Ben Huh is the founder and CEO of Cheezburger, a multimillion-dollar media company that specializes in cats.

HUH: I go to a meeting or a conference, and all of a sudden, people are, you know, I've got iPhones in my face filled with cat photos and, you know, it's not like I can make it happen.

JABLONSKI: Truly, one can do only so much to make it happen.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOG BARKING)

JABLONSKI: Back at the groomers, things quickly went south.

PEREGOY: He is not happy.

JABLONSKI: He's not happy.

PEREGOY: Bruiser.

JABLONSKI: I'm feeling so guilty already.

PEREGOY: Don't you want to be famous?

(SOUNDBITE OF CAT SCREECHING)

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR DOOR CLOSING)

JABLONSKI: OK. So, that didn't go well. So we're just going to go home and give Bruiser some treats and a little catnip. I've got some organic catnip. Once Bruiser was high on catnip, he got a reusable grocery bag stuck on his head. Perfect. I struggled, though, to take photos of the action with my iPhone. Dustin Fenstermacher is the photographer for "How to Make Your Cat an Internet Celebrity."

DUSTIN FENSTERMACHER: The cameras on them just sometimes are not fast enough. They'll just appear to be a blur.

JABLONSKI: So you're saying I would have to invest in, like, a nice camera.

FENSTERMACHER: If you're really serious about making your cat a celebrity, I would suggest that.

JABLONSKI: All right. So this is going to be another expense.

FENSTERMACHER: It's also another tax write-off, too.

JABLONSKI: Cheezburger's Ben Huh says my money would be better spent on the right accessories.

HUH: The problem here isn't the cat. I think it's your choice of hats that you need to work on.

JABLONSKI: He says cat photos need to be extreme to get attention. That's why he saw an opportunity to partner with online clothing community Betabrand. They're launching a new clothing line today.

HUH: Humans wear cat prints on their clothing. We thought we would reverse that. And so you could have a hooded sweater for your cat that makes it look like the cat is a very hairy-chested man with nipples.

JABLONSKI: That hoodie sells for $25. Facebook is telling me my money should go to advertising Bruiser's page. It sounds complicated, but the how-to book promises, quote, "You don't have to be a financial genius like Jimmy Buffett." Renita Jablonski, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.