By Jacob Passy
Grumpy Cat leaves behind a beloved legacy and a profitable business.
Feline celebrity Grumpy Cat, whose real name was Tardar Sauce, died last week due to complications from a urinary-tract infection, her owners shared Friday. The cat, who was 7 years old, first rose to fame after a photo of her went viral via Reddit in 2012.
In the intervening years she has become one of the most recognizable animals in the world. As a result, she’s had marketing deals with companies ranging from Honey Nut Cheerios /zigman2/quotes/206659526/composite GIS +1.36% and Friskies /zigman2/quotes/210131093/delayed NSRGY +1.60% cat food and starred in a television film where she was voiced by actress Aubrey Plaza. Her likeness was emblazoned on hundreds of products sold through her online shop , and she was a popular figure at fan conventions.
While her sour-puss appearance brought joy to millions of fans across the globe, her death will bring more than just heartache for her owner, Tabatha Bundesen. It will also represent a major financial setback.
Pet life insurance exists, but it’s a rarely offered product and would be of little help to the owners of a famous pooch or kitty. It’s not designed to cover lost financial opportunities related to pets who double as income generators for their owners.
“It’s going to be very hard,” said Loni Edwards, a lawyer and founder of The Dog Agency , a New York City–based management agency that represents pet influencers. “As these pet influencers die, there’s little you can do.”
Bundesen remained tight-lipped about Grumpy Cat’s net worth over the years, aside from disputing reports that claimed the feline was worth $99.5 million.
Grumpy Cat’s owners, however, were awarded more than $700,000 after winning a lawsuit against a coffee company that breached a licensing agreement by using the cat’s likeness on more than one of its products.
Even a less popular pet influencer can earn between $3,000 and $15,000 for a sponsored post on social media if they have more than 100,000 followers, according to Edwards . Grumpy Cat had amassed millions of followers across Twitter /zigman2/quotes/203180645/composite TWTR +1.15% and Instagram /zigman2/quotes/205064656/composite FB -0.13% .
“They can’t do new campaigns or promote new products,” Edwards said. “It’s similar to what would happen if a human celebrity was killed. You can license their likeness, but, in terms of doing new movies and new deals, that has been closed up.”
(MarketWatch reached out to Bundesen and Grumpy Cat’s agent for comment, but did not receive a response.)
Pet life insurance won’t help you if your fur baby becomes famous
Pet life insurance works nothing like its human equivalent. Rather than cover a loss of income, it simply covers the value of the animal and what it would cost to replace the pet. There’s good reason: Pet cats live an average of 13 to 17 years, according to the ASPCA, while pet dogs can be expected to live an average of 10 to 15 years or more, depending on breed and size.
Upon a pet’s death, the pet-life-insurance policy would only pay out the amount the owner would need to spend to get a new animal based on either the price paid in the first place or the current cost of the breed, according to insurance website TrustedChoice . It may also cover funeral or cremation expenses, depending on the policy.
Pet life insurance only covers the cost to replace an animal, not the loss of associated income.
This is because the law treats pets as property. “Your dog is essentially treated like a table under the law,” Edwards said. “That’s insane — they’re living, breathing creatures. The law has not caught up with their role in society and how we view them.”
As such, pet life insurance is better suited to situations involving service animals than celebrity pets or animals bred for show, and the average pet owner should steer clear.
Moreover, pet life insurance can have many exclusions, according to insurance website Policygenius . It won’t cover losses that arise from a dog’s dying of old age or a hereditary disease; instead, it would only apply in situations such as accidents, theft or sudden illnesses.
How consumers can protect their finances if their pet becomes a celebrity
Edwards has gone through what Grumpy Cat’s owners will soon face herself. Her beloved miniature French bulldog Chloe died in 2017 allegedly as a result of an error by a veterinarian.
Before passing, Chloe had attracted more than 178,000 followers on Instagram. Edwards is still in the process of pursuing a claim against the veterinary clinic and could not reveal how much money she earned thanks to Chloe.
‘They’re living, breathing creatures. The law has not caught up with their role in society and how we view them.’
Loni Edwards, The Dog Agency
However, because adequate insurance does not exist, she has had to explore recouping her losses as if this were a business loss. That involved hiring an economist to produce a report calculating Chloe’s lost future income based on her earnings at the time of her death and her expected life span based on her health and breed.
With her clients, which include Chihuahua mix Tuna and pit-bull rescue Chase , Edwards advises they get pet health insurance to cover the cost of vet visits and medical procedures. And TrustedChoice advises setting up a savings account rather than investing in pet life insurance.
Additionally, Edwards is working with the Animal Legal Defense Fund on a grass-roots initiative to persuade lawmakers to pursue legislation that would classify these animals as something other than property.
“These pets have personalities and distinct characteristics that allowed them to be loved by millions of people,” Edwards said. “You couldn’t replace a human with another human.”