The Straits Times
Monday, Aug 26, 2013
Meet Pancake, Singapore's most popular pet.
It weighs a mere 3.5kg and is 20cm-tall on its bare paws, but the grey munchkin with saucer-like eyes has pulled in 11,000 Likes on Facebook.
That is a respectable number even for a local celebrity: actress Fann Wong's official Facebook page has 135,023 Likes, while actress-host Belinda Lee's has 3,035.
"What's not to like?" asks Pancake follower Rena Law, 27. "Its fluffy body, big round eyes, short little legs. It's super cute, the whole package.
Adds Ms Law, a dental hygienist who started tracking Pancake on its Facebook page about a year ago: "Pancake is like a cat version of the fluffy dog Boo."
Yet, Pancake's Facebook fame is just a drop in the ocean compared to that of the Internet's most famous pets: Boo, unofficially declared "the World's Cutest Dog" by American media, and Maru the Cat.
Boo became an Internet sensation in 2010, after singer Ke$ha and reality TV star Khloe Kardashian tweeted about the pint-sized pup.
The seven-year-old pomeranian has 7.3 million Likes on its Facebook page. Its owner - revealed last year as Facebook finance executive Irene Ahn - has been posting pictures of Boo and his older brother, Buddy, also a pomeranian, since 2009.
The photos, which are posted a couple times a week, show the dogs going about their daily lives at home or on excursions around San Francisco, where they are based.
Boo is so popular that it has three picture books about it titled Boo: The Life Of The World's Cutest Dog (2011); Boo: Little Dog In The Big City (2012); and Boo ABC: A To Z With The World's Cutest Dog (2013), all published by Chronicle Books. They cost from S$12.77 to S$13.15 on Amazon.com.
It also has plush toys and paper dolls in its image, and has appeared in a fashion spread for Lucky fashion magazine. Last year, it was appointed the official "spokesdog" for Virgin America airline.
Maru the Cat became famous because of videos of its household antics. These show it jumping into cardboard boxes, among other things, on the YouTube channel mugumogu.
Videos of the six-year-old Scottish Fold cat, who lives in Japan, have attracted 200 million views since 2008. Maru has been featured in commercials for Fresh Step cat litter, and has two books and two DVDs in its name.
Despite capitalising on their pets' fame for fortune, the pets' owners prefer to stay in the background and remain anonymous.
For example, Pancake's owner - a marketing executive in her early 30s - does not want to reveal her name because she does not want to be harassed by fans who want to meet Pancake.
"I created its page for fun and so that my friends could see its pictures, not to get famous or anything," she says in a telephone interview, after Life! contacted her via Facebook.
She created Pancake's Facebook page (www.facebook.com/i.m.pancake) in April last year, so that she would not fill her friend's news feeds with pictures of her newly purchased cat, now 21 months.
"I didn't want to bother people who didn't care, who weren't cat people," she says.
She was surprised when friends of friends started sharing the page. By June that year, she had 200 Likes. But things really took off around August last year when people suddenly started Liking the page in the thousands. She thinks that someone, she is not sure who, posted Pancake's picture on another website.
"I was really surprised. I wasn't expecting it at all. But I'm glad that people like Pancake and that it makes them happy. I wish Pancake could understand human language, so I could tell him how much people adore him," she says.
In an attempt to capture Pancake's personality, its owner tries to take its picture every day, and posts them about once a week with a fun, descriptive caption. A post in April of the cat looking crestfallen has the caption, "Flat Pancake mode today", while other pictures had it donning a baseball cap, jersey or balancing a little bean bag on its head.
"I would do it, even if there were no fans," she says.
Fans, on the other hand, say they appreciate the effort that owners put into their pets' profiles. "The captions make the photos even cuter because they are funny or interesting," says Pancake fan, Ms Law. "They are an insight into the owner's and the pet's life and personality. You want to know more about their relationship and what the pet is doing every day.
"It's an escape. The animals are innocent and they make you happy when you look at them, more so than looking at photos of people."
While Mr Ricky Yeo, 45, president of Action for Singapore Dogs, does not follow celebrity pets himself, he does occasionally get sent links to their pages and understands their appeal.
"They're cute and they make you smile. In life, we have a lot of heavy stuff to deal with and they perk you up. It's a break from the serious side of things," he says.
Still, he hopes that the pet owners will use their popularity for a good cause and to help animals in need - such as by galvanising public support for an animal rights cause, organising fund-raisers or promoting animal rescue merchandise.
Pancake's image, for example, was printed on pancake-shaped key chains. These were sold for $3, alongside key chains featuring other cats, at Purrzaar, a charity event held at The Arts House earlier this month. All proceeds of nearly 50 key chains went to the Cat Welfare Society.
"Most people will stop at the fun, glam blogging stage of getting attention. But, sometimes, maybe one out of 100 bloggers will involve themselves in more serious causes," he says.
"They realise they are in a position of power, that when they write people will listen, and that they can do more to publicise a cause and energise other people to do more."