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This Is What Happens When Your Cat Becomes Insta-Famous

Photo: Blair Smith.
The Time Warner Cable guy hunched over my credenza, fishing around for the right wire — before it caught his eye: the framed photo that changed everything. “That your cat?” he asked. I nodded my head, pointing to the feline casually bathing himself on the sofa. “I think I know him,” he said with a puzzled look on his face.

When I adopted Rourke three long years ago, he was morbidly obese. His previous owner locked him in an empty apartment — dumping bags of cat food in there each week. Rourke arrived with six rotten teeth, two infected ears, and a heart murmur that appeared just frequently enough to warrant a trip to the cardiologist.

He was expensive — the kitty equivalent of an Hermès bag that I couldn’t afford in the first place. This roommate of mine was robbing me blind, but that wasn’t even the worst of it. Overly comfortable, he never hesitated to claim a pillow or the entire sofa for himself. My male suitors were greeted with a pile of cat vomit in the doorway to my bedroom. A treasured uniform of black clothing was coated in bristly white hairs. Lint rollers had nothing on Rourke.

Photo: Blair Smith.
And then, in a moment, everything changed. It happened fast. A quick, mid-bath-time pose, the snap of an iPhone, a few texts later, and he was ruling Reddit. The winning tagline? “Draw me like one of your French girls,” a movie quote made famous by Kate Winslet’s Rose as Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jack sketched her in the buff aboard the Titanic. BuzzFeed named him one of its “29 Cats That Have More Sex Appeal Than You,” as well as one of its “17 Cats Who Just Realized They’re The Pet.” I watched in disbelief as his page views climbed above the 750,000 mark. Given my career in media, I wondered: Was this something I could bring up in job interviews? Maybe. But what if they weren’t “cat people.” No, must get a grip. Do I make him a Twitter handle? Nah, Twitter’s over.

There is, however, a market for this sort of feline fame. According to The Washington Post, the ubiquitous Grumpy Cat made as much as $42,400 in 2014. Even more popular is Maru, a kitty in Japan that not only slides around in cardboard boxes, but also raked in something like $181,600. Taro the Cat earned $463,700 and even has his own line of yogawear. And then we have Rourke. No yoga, no invitations to Good Morning America. That’s fine; I’m not a morning person, anyway. And yoga is boring.

You might wonder what I learned from all this. True internet fame (the monetary kind, at least) requires a business plan — complete with PR, marketing, and maybe even an agent. In an age of pimping out our belongings, whether they’re apartments (Airbnb) or Honda sedans (UberX), perhaps I ought to keep this one for myself, and all the while do my best not to sound like a crazy cat lady on first dates. As for the Time Warner Cable guy — he received a perfect score on his customer satisfaction survey despite running an hour late. And Rourke? I’m pretty sure he never had a clue in the first place.