Los Angeles is full of famous fat cats with even fatter pockets, and we mean this literally. Meet-and-greets with L.A.-based celebrity felines such as Shrampton, Waverly McTinybeans, Sir Thomas Trueheart and 9Lives icon Morris the Cat are not cheap. At CatCon, the annual cat-lovers convention held at the Pasadena Convention Center last week, admission was $35 but to meet (or even see) a famous cat, fans had to shell out quite a bit more.
There was an endless supply of cat-related merchandise at the event — everything from Meowtallica T-shirts to high-tech litter boxes that look like spaceships — but getting up close and personal (we're resisting the urge to say "purr-sonal") with a famous furry one was where the real excitement was. Tickets to meet Lil BUB, who has nearly 2 million Instagram followers, were $100, and on Saturday, they sold out. Most were more affordable at $25, and several of those sold out, too. A portion of meet-and-greet fees was donated to cat-related charities.
So what do these kitties do to pull in so much dough? Mostly, they pose for Instagram photos and connect with fans. Despite their reputations for being aloof or self-absorbed creatures who care about nothing, these little guys and their owners give back to the community, and not just with sandpaper kisses. For a peek inside the lives of the most famous felines in L.A., we turned to their human family members for the scoop.
Fashion designer Leilani Shimoda has raised Shrampton (50.8k Instagram followers) and his sister, Bunni, since they were 8 weeks old. As Shrampton grew up, he started "flopping" — relaxing in a position that Shimoda calls “his signature sit-flop.” The odd way of sitting, in which the cat resembles a slouching human, is relatively common in Scottish Folds like Shrampton and Bunni, but his sister doesn’t do it. Shimoda says Bunni is shy and prefers to stay out of the spotlight. Now 7 years old, Shrampton looked quite comfortable amid the hubbub of CatCon. Shimoda says, “As long as he has his area, he trusts me, and we’re a really good team.”
At one of their first public events, people tried to pull Shrampton out of her arms without permission, but Shimoda says most of their fan interactions have been positive. “When we lived in New York, a nice young man asked if I’d be willing to surprise his girlfriend for Valentine’s Day with Shrampton. He hired us, so I put Shrampton in a tuxedo, brought her a rose, and we surprised her. She was so happy. It was the best gift," she says.
Shrampton has become known for his cocktail attire and dapper accessories, and he's used to having a camera in his face, but ultimately he's a pretty normal cat, Shimoda says. "Shrampton spends 95 percent of his life sleeping or flopping." He loves interacting with outdoor cats through the windows, and his favorite treat is what Shimoda calls "kitty crack” — bonito fish flakes, which are used in Japanese cooking.
Michele Hoffman first connected with Sir Thomas Trueheart (50.9k Instagram followers) about two years ago when someone tagged Milo’s Sanctuary, her special-needs cat rescue, in a social media post. Half of Trueheart's face, including his right eye, had been burned off with acid. With Hoffman’s help, he found a good vet and got treatment. After two skin grafts and plenty of time in the hospital, he went home with her, and became an official “spokescat” for Milo’s Sanctuary.
Hoffman opened an Instagram for Sir Thomas Trueheart before CatCon 2017, because he was in the running for the “Biggest Newcomer” award, and voting took place on social media. His profile exploded, and he won the award. This year, fans from as far away as Italy came to CatCon to meet him. (Local fans can meet Trueheart at one of the rescue's monthly open houses in Palmdale.) Hoffman says, “We’re lucky, because he’s very good with the public. It’s really funny — when people come to the sanctuary to meet him, he has a couch. He sits on the couch, and we call it ‘holding court.'" When Trueheart isn't working, Hoffman says, "He likes to sleep, eat and flirt with Daisy, his girlfriend."
A little over a year ago, Evelyn Jensen was taking a walk with a friend when she saw a dog pull something from under a bush. In the dog’s mouth was a tiny, flea-covered kitten. When she took the kitten home and bathed it, she realized its back legs didn’t work at all. Jensen volunteers with Kitten Rescue L.A., and had medical supplies at her house, so she began caring for the kitten, who became Waverly McTinybeans (30.6k Instagram followers). Jensen’s vet told her that McTinybeans would never walk but introduced her to Dr. Conrad of the Paw Project, an organization that rehabilitates lions that have been declawed. After repeated treatments including acupuncture and physical therapy, McTinybeans is able to move around on her own. Jensen says, "She can walk. She tips over a lot, but she can move. She scooches around the apartment and she’s as happy as can be.”
After the Paw Project shared a few photos of Waverly McTinybeans on its Instagram, a friend of Jensen’s suggested she make the cat a profile of her own. It took off, and Jensen now spends an hour or two a day updating McTinybeans’ followers about her life. Jensen travels frequently as part of her work with the YMCA, and she takes McTinybeans along — the cat has even been recognized in an airport. Jensen says, “She just chills in the hotel. I put her carrier down on the floor and she checks it out, scooches all around. She’s got her routine down.” McTinybeans is still in physical therapy, but to Jensen, people who leave comments saying "Poor baby" are missing the point. "She’s a champion, and even when she was a tiny kitten, she didn’t know she was any different. She’s super happy. For a special-needs cat, unless they’re in pain, no frowny faces! They’re just as happy as regular cats."
It's been 50 years since 9Lives trained a rescue cat named Morris to be the brand's official spokescat. "All the Morrises from 50 years ago to the present have been rescued by a shelter and saved by 9Lives, so they’ve all been adopted," says Rose Ordile, "cat mom" to the current Morris, who stepped into the iconic role in 2000. Morris inherited much of his fame from the pre-Instagram Morrises of television commercials, but he is using the platform to build on their work.
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Morris celebrated his 50th adoptiversary by sponsoring CatCon’s adoption village. In addition to promoting 9Lives and advocating for pet adoption, Morris is certified as a therapy animal. Ordile says, "We sometimes visit special-needs children and the elderly. One time, we went into a facility, and the nurse asked if we could see a patient in a particular room. I placed Morris on her chest, and she raised her head and gave him a kiss. The nurses went crazy, because she had had a stroke, and they’d had no response from her in two weeks."
While Morris was plucked from obscurity and cast in a starring role, most celebrity cats have to work harder to attract public attention. Think your cat has what it takes to be a star? Leilani Shimoda suggests, “Tap into your pet's true personality and voice and have fun with it.”
If you don’t have a cat, but want to get one in hopes of internet fame, Michele Hoffman says, “One great way to start is to rescue a cat with an interesting story and work with the rescue group. That way, you can take them to adoption events. That’s how we started with Tommy.”
Evelyn Jensen says, “Know your story and your niche, and be an advocate for other cats. We’re not really competition. You’re your own cat. There’s room in this space for everybody.”