The world wide expanding web has given rise to some unusual celebrities: an unimpressed gymnast, an overly attached girlfriend, a “successful kid” baby, Scumbag Steve, and cats. Litters and litters of cats. If any of these names are foreign to you, you are obviously not trolling the Internet hard enough. Just go on Reddit and play catch up, I’ll wait.

But perhaps the most unsuspecting genre of fame online is personality pets—The Internet rains cats and dogs, and cats and dogs reign the internet. YouTube has propelled Justin Bieber-like fame for the every day domesticated animal and meme generators works in tandem to maintain that spotlight. Boo, the Pomeranian teddy deemed the “world’s cutest dog,” has melted over four million Youtubers’ hearts to garner 6.8 million “likes” on Facebook. Grumpy Cat collected 25,300 votes on Reddit within 24 hours his sourpuss face had surfaced. These unsuspecting household pets become household names overnight—literally. While viral activity is an unending network-to-network wildfire, the birth of online fame always has a parent.

As much as we’d like to believe the New Yorker cartoon that animals are capable of using technology, they can’t. Lolcats and “Boo” would not be in our viral vocabulary if someone had not conceived of it, and nine times out of ten the source of a pet’s impromptu fame is their owner. These parents—or, rather “authors”—become unlikely managers and PR personnel, tweeting photos, sharing videos, and lining up press junkets for their little loved ones.

But what inspires someone to select carefully edited photos and videos of their cats? Was fame always the end goal, or merely an opportunity sitting amid a silly obsession? As serendipitous as instant internet fame may seem, the level of celebrity upkeep requires anything but luck.

Mike Bridavsky, the 32-year-old owner of Lil Bub, the internet’s favorite underdog kitty and star of her own VICE documentary, allocates roughly 4 hours each day to maintaining her superstardom. “I love this cat, and I want her to be perceived in the way she deserves to be perceived,” he says in rationalizing his daily duties like updating social media channels, answering Bub’s fanmail, and corresponding with the media (like me) to schedule future press appearances.

“It’s a job at this point; I definitely have work. We have trademarking, I spend a lot of time on the photos to make sure it looks good, and coming up with taglines takes some time to try to make it funny,” said Bridavsky, who also owns and operates a local music studio in Bloomington, Indiana. “I’m sort of a micromanager when it comes to my cat.”

But posting photos and writing captions only make up a smidgen of time for Bub’s budding career. The wide-eyed “perma-kitten” first rose to the scene less than a year ago when her owner reluctantly posted some photos to his Tumblr page after a few nudges from friends. Within weeks, Bub garnered a cult following and her images were picked up by Reddit and Buzzfeed. “Good Morning America” was quick to jump on the rising star, flying the Midwestern-bred kitty to New York City and touting her as “The Cutest Cat in the World.”

The pet-owner duo jetsets frequently from Indiana to New York City, but the most time-consuming business has been their Penguin book deal. That’s right, folks, Lil Bub has a book deal before you do. When Bridavsky received their advance—an amount he’d rather not disclose—he began pulling 14-hour weekdays for two months, selecting images from an archive of 15,000 photos and scheduling ongoing shoots with professional photographers.  Although he admits his business is slowing down, Bub’s new ventures have come at a “refreshing” time in his life. “I’m really excited to do this,” he says of penning a high-profile book. “I’ve always loved photography with writing. It’s a really good foot in the door, and it’s because of Bub and people like her message. It’s opened up a lot of opportunities for me.”

But Bub’s dude wants to ensure that these opportunities don’t overshadow the spotlight hovering on his beloved pet.  Despite their inevitable partnership since, lo-and-behold, the cat can’t speak for herself.   “I always want it to be about Bub, but as it started up I’ve been a character in her story. Me and Bub—we’re a team, but I want to keep myself out of it,” Bridavsky said, noting that his face is rarely in the posted photos.  “It’s about Bub’s message, I’m doing it for Bub.”

While animal owners may argue that their deeds are emphatically selfless, their presentation of their pets is really a presentation of themselves. At least that’s what Laura Portwood-Stacer, an NYU visiting professor of “Social Media Networking,” speculates. Portwood-Stacer likens these pet owners to adoring parents who only want to share the joy of their pudgy babies to the rest of Facebook, but they start to take on another role when they’ve branded a voice onto their little’uns. “[Bridalsky] may not be trying to get the adoration for himself, but it’s still about what message he thinks is important to put out into the world,” she said. “Like any producer, he has a narrative. He has selected what we see, even if he’s aware of it or not.”

This sentiment is echoed by Patrick Davison, a former writer for Know Your Meme now pursuing a doctorate at NYU with a thesis in “textual practices online.” “Similar in the way that Hollywood came up, you start to get stage moms, or the idea of parents wanting their kids to be stars,” the 29-year-old explained. “Lil Bub and Grumpy Cat’s owners both have a desire and facility for following the potential publicity of their animals ‘cause their animals aren’t making choices for their media or anything like that.”

Like Bridalvsky, other famous online narrators are channeling some profound personality they believe their pets to possess. But some are a little more forthcoming than others.

There was no doubt in Anne Marie Avey’s mind that Colonel Meow was a caricature of himself when she adopted the crazy-looking cat that had been abandoned on the side of a road. Avey, who freelances as a comedienne/commercial writer in L.A., took one look at her Himalayan Persian and conceived a pretty ludicrous storyline: “I have the purr of an angel and the roar of beast,” she says (in character as Colonel). “I am a descendant of Chuck Norris and Genghis Kahn. I drink, as well as bathe, in the sweet nectar known as scotch. I sleep with both eyes open. I read AND tweet. I am afraid of nothing, but birds can go to hell. “Game of Thrones” theme song plays every time I shit in a box. I don’t care what you think of me, I enjoy my butt scratched. And I don’t beg for food, I demand it.”

In August 2012, the 29-year-old took her act straight to the Internet, creating Colonel’s official Facebook page, which currently holds 161,000 “likes” and followers (or, whom Colonel prefers to call his “minions.”) Within two months, the furiously fluffy kitty was scouted by viral aggregators I Can Haz Cheezburger?, BuzzFeed, and Reddit. In September, Colonel scheduled appearances on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and “Anderson Live. “

As savvy and crafty as Avey appears, the self-proclaimed “starving artist” did not see her career panning out this way. “I had no idea that people would follow a cat. I did it for friends and family as well as a way for me to write,” she says. “But I just knew that people would like him—even my friends who hate cats knew that people would like him.”

Avey not only harnessed a platform to write, but a newfound passion for social media. Colonel’s press camp is comprised of just Avey and her boyfriend, who makes his living as a full-time photographer. Between the two, the couple spends four to five hours a day surreptitiously taking photos and videos of their cranky cat, editorializing, and uploading them to all their online outlets. “My boyfriend manages all the technical aspects, but I always see myself as the artist or master,” Avey says giggling. “But I’m learning way more about social media.”

The former theatre grad from University of Washington shot and shared a video of disgruntled Colonel perusing through Facebook and flaming his arch-nemesis Boo. “F***in hipster,” the crude cat commented on the pup’s pic. The video gained over 392,000 views, 2,070 likes and one top comment from a devoted follower: “Yep. Boo sucks sh*t.”

Prof. Portwood-Stacer says bizarre cat videos are the nexus of feel-good media texts. “It’s about having something to sit outside of all the other crap we have in the world and in our lives,” she explains. “It’s not political, it’s not going to offend your family with a cat video. It’s an easy cultural currency to help you form social links with people.”

Avey, who’s met and worked with Bridalvsky on Lil Bub’s book (yes, Colonel and Bub met in real life and yes, it was epic), believes the virtual world is an online dog park for cat owners. “You can’t walk your cat on a leash, so the internet allows your cats to be comfortable,” she says. “There are those crazy moments when you can expose them, and you share it around the world. I can show people how cool my cat is.”

The online playpen has championed real camaraderie among pet people, but cats clearly rule this playground. Jack Shepherd, resident “beastmaster” slash senior editor at BuzzFeed, believes the real life rivalry between cat and dog owners are also translated onto the Internet —and the nation remains divided.   “Cats and dogs do well on the internet because everyone has one, but cats have a little bit of an edge,” Shepherd says. “There are unproven theories that there’s something about cats that work for this content a little better than dogs; maybe their innate aloofness. Dogs are trying a little too hard.”

Sure, dogs may not be as aloof and sexy as their feline competitors, but their charmingly overeager and-seemingly dopey demeanor has not gone unnoticed by the Internet.

Corgnelius, arguably the cutest corgi to hit the ‘net, is nowhere near Grumpy Cat fame, but has garnered a cult following since a video surfaced earlier this year of the stubby-legged pup sizing up to a large German Shepherd.  More than 406,000 people sat through the 50-second clip.

The YouTube hit was videotaped and uploaded by Susie, Corgnelius’ quiet owner and stage mom. But Susie prefers to keep her identity under wraps for a fear that her boss might find out she’s been editing and posting pictures of her dog on her company computer. The 28-year-old Bay Area resident sincerely wants no part of her dog’s escalating fame. “I don’t want any information about me or where I work out there,” the soft-spoken and self-professing “corgi addict” made clear.

Corgnelius, whose rise to fame sprung from a photo Susie posted of her puppy in a Legends of Zelda costume, was the result of a random and naïve gesture that was quickly picked up and plastered on the front web pages of BuzzFeed and Imager, and in an editorial spread in Marie Claire. “I didn’t know it would get viral,” Susie laughed at the question. “I just like dressing him up ‘cause he’s so cute in little clothes! He’s really good with wearing clothes.” Susie since has been feeling pressured by friends to “build up” Corgnelius’ fanbase and online presence. But with a little under 7,000 Facebook friends and half-a-million Youtube hits, his owner has no long-term vision for superstardom. Amazing “They keep telling me to ‘beat Boo,’” she says of her friends. “But it’s nothing like that; I have no set agenda. Even if he loses all of his followers, I wouldn’t care. I’d still keep posting pictures of him.”

Meanwhile, for some A-lister cats, there is no near end in sight. Lil Bub’s acting debut in the feature documentary “Lil Bub & Friendz” nabbed her a Best Feature Film nod by viewers of the online Tribeca Film Festival. Since then, she’s rubbed furry elbows with some of her hot human Hollywood colleagues like Robert De Niro, Tom Selleck, and Whoopi Goldberg.

On the heels of their über successful film, Bub and Bridalvsky are currently running the last leg of their press tour and penning the final edits for their novel. Their days start at the yawn of dawn and don’t end until the last email is responded to—no catnaps in between. On this particular spring morning, Bridalvsky brings a breakfast sandwich up to his hotel room at the ACE Hotel, one of Manhattan’s trendiest four-star inns that VICE has conveniently arranged for their movie’s costars.  Lil Bub is crouched over her tin water bowl, a tiny tongue drooping over her underdeveloped jaw.  Her green bug eyes curiously spring open when her owner walks through the door. Bridalvsky checks the itinerary with their main PR dude, a friend who flew over with them from Indiana: “What do we have? Rolling Stone and what—Fox News?”


Bridalvsky leaves his plated sandwich bits on the bed as he brushes some crumbs off his button-down T-shirt, gearing up to take on a day of Q&As and photo shoots.

But that’s all in the fun of vicariously riding along Bub’s accidental fame. “If we wake up tomorrow and don’t get any emails, I’m fine with it,” he said. “I can go back to making records or working on my band. But it hasn’t stopped, and I’m okay with it too.”