“This has been the most painful week of my life,” said singer Demi Lovato in an Instagram post earlier this month. The cause of this pain: the death of her puppy, Buddy, who was mauled by a coyote. In another post, Lovato said she will remember the snow-white Maltese (and/or Bichon Frisé?) for “how many smiles he brought to so many faces.” However heartfelt, Lovato’s social media tribute pales in comparison with Jennifer Aniston’s; several years ago, the actress memorialized her Welsh corgi-terrier Norman by having his name tattooed on her foot.
Even before Buddy’s well-publicized death, Brand Lovato was indelibly tied to her love of animals. The same goes for many of today’s celebrities who have discovered that trotting out their pooch has sweetened and softened their personas with a pet-obsessed American public. Forget personal branding; when a celebrity focuses instead on branding his or her dog, the reputation boost is perhaps even more powerful. Famously crass Chelsea Handler takes her dogs Chunk and Jax (and a newly introduced rescue, Tammy) everywhere with her—including on stage during her standup routines and into her private jets, where she lays bottles of champagne at their paws, per one Instagram post.
Instagram, apparently, has gone to the dogs. Andy Cohen started an Instagram account for his dog Wacha (now at 157,000 followers), adopted from Petfinder last year. Lady Gaga’s French bulldog, Miss Asia Kinney, has her own Instagram account, too (and 176,000 followers). But this is not unique to celebrities. I have a colleague whose dog has far more Instagram followers than his owner, and her use of the hashtags #dogsofinstagram, #cavachonsofinstagram and #dogsofnyc brings all the dog lovers to the yard. Surreally gorgeous photos of Maddie the coonhood perched atop things became a Web sensation through Tumblr and Instagram and inspired a book (and calendar), Maddie on Things. And another Instagram star, a pit bull named Scout who is famous for balancing assorted objects on his head, also has a book out: Lessons in Balance: A Dog’s Reflections on Life. Scout’s owner calls her social media presence and book a “journey to rebrand pit bulls.”
As for Cohen, Wacha is his first pet, but the dog quickly ingratiated himself to the 47-year-old talk show host. Cohen has proclaimed, “We are in love.” Having located a top dog walker through Sarah Jessica Parker, Cohen has bragged that his dog now enjoys playdates with Parker’s dog and Marc Jacobs’ dog. And not quite a year into his tenure as a pet owner, Cohen even served as grand marshal for a pet parade in his hometown of St. Louis. Handler, meanwhile, has co-founded a dog food company with Snoop Dogg, himself the owner of 11 dogs, that donates a bag of dog food for every bag purchased. “I feel like I’m pouring the whole world a bowl of dog food,” Snoop has said.
We’ve come a long way from pets as accessories, à la Paris Hilton (though some starlets—here’s looking at you, Kylie Jenner—are still scooping up designer dogs with alarming frequency). Instead, the rescue dog has emerged as the new teacup Chihuahua. George Clooney reportedly rubbed turkey meatballs on his shoes to convince his cocker spaniel mix to come home from the shelter with him, and Jessica Biel’s social media series #TuesdayswithTina features her decidedly untrendy breed, a pit bull named Tina.
The public is interested in celebrity pets—almost as much as they are in celebrity children—not only because they humanize our seemingly superhuman idols but also because we are simply bananas for pets, especially those with Cinderella stories. According to a recent survey of America’s pet retailers, the demand for rescue dogs is higher than ever. Just 24 percent of pet stores now sell animals, as compared with more than 40 percent only five years ago, and a growing number of pet retailers are partnering with rescue operations and local shelters. Americans are spending more on pets, demanding higher-quality foods, even valuing them more. Says Doug Poindexter, longtime president of the World Pet Association: “The pet industry is expanding due to the overall mental shift in pet owners seeing their pets as truly a member of their family. You see people refer to their pets as ‘fur babies’ much more often nowadays. They want to provide more for their pets, as they would for a child.”
The late Joan Rivers left her $150 million fortune to her daughter and grandson, but you better believe she also made certain that her four dogs would be well taken care of, too. “Only when you love dogs very much do you let them sit on $300-per-yard French fabric,” Rivers once said. “I am the Angelina Jolie of barkers.” Speaking of Jolie, perhaps what the star needs is a rescue dog to bring her sometimes stern and untouchable personal brand back to earth.