What the Hell Happens at a Convention for Pet Influencers?

What the Hell Happens at a Convention for Pet Influencers?
Photo: Cierra Miller.

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When I first heard there was going to be a convention for famous pets in downtown LA, my first three thoughts were “I’m going to that,” “I’m going to that,” and “I’m definitely going to that.” I sent The Dog Agency a request for Los Angeles PetCon press passes so quickly I almost sprained my wrist. This was to be their first LA-based PetCon, following two incredibly successful events in New York.

And then came the hard part: I had to wait a month before the actual event would unfold. During that month I languished. “What would it be like?! This convention of veritable pet influencers can’t possibly be as incredible as I’m picturing, can it?” Short answer: it absolutely can.

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Ralph and George (@ralphthecorgi) on the red carpet. Courtesy of author.

Who Let the Dogs Out?

From the moment I arrived—9 a.m. on the dot for the PetCon Talent-VIP-Press breakfast—I knew this was going to be one for the books. I started seeing dogs in designer shirts before we even crossed the threshold.

The first thing I saw was a booth for Duke, the Bush’s Baked Bean star of stage and screen, who was celebrating the launch of his new Instagram channel. “Oh my god, the bean dog is here,” I whisper-shouted at my roommate, Coreena, who was already forsaking me for the large Adoption Garden in the center of the venue. (There, adoptable pups played with volunteers wearing “SERVICE HUMAN” shirts.)

A spread of complimentary Spindrift seltzer and Ellenos Greek yogurt—both event sponsors—was set up next to the Get Caked booth, where flapjack portraits of the furry guests were being served. I saw an absolute plethora of dogs chowing down on ice cream for dogs, courtesy of a booth from The Bear And The Rat, a specialty dog creamery. (Yes, that is a real thing that exists.)

As this was all about the pet influencers, there were a number of photo opps—all of which were dog-sized. The dog bed company, Molecule, sponsored a slow-mo photo booth where dogs could wear leis and pose in front of a tropical backdrop in the “breeze” (the breeze, in this case, being a stream of air provided by what looked like a mini leaf blower). Out back was a a full red carpet (naturally), as well as a balloon recreation of those angel wings that pervade Instagram mural culture. (The balloon wings were, of course, scaled down for the pup attendees.)

The biggest photo opp of all (quite literally) was a Ferrari set up in front of a green screen, which promoted the upcoming release of Fox’s The Art of Racing in the Rain. The venerable golden retriever from the movie—a good boy in real life who plays an equally good boy on screen—was on deck as the event’s resident movie star. We probably heard Milo Ventimiglia deliver his trailer lines 26 times as we watched owners and pooches fake-drive down a pastoral wooded road. A slow-mo glam cam (that I’m positive came from the Oscars red carpet) craned around them to capture all the fake driving, as a wind machine blew in their direction to give pups and owners, alike, a glamorous windswept look.

I am not exaggerating when I say I spent about an hour rounding up and watching every one of the videos that satisfied attendees posted to their Instagrams, but I doubt my editor will let me include them all so here’s a taste. Just know they’re out there, and they are spectacular.

Paws with a Cause

After a brief misunderstanding that led to me having to scramble to scratch my name off a list for FREE PET TATTOOS (which I extremely incorrectly assumed were temporary), we got to catch up with the woman behind PetCon, Loni Edwards. She also founded The Dog Agency (the “only agency” that represents animal influencers, per Loni) in 2015.

Some of The Dog Agency’s first clients are Instagram’s brightest (and furriest) stars: Harlow and Sage (@harlowandsage) and Tuna Melts My Heart (@tunameltsmyheart), both of whom have around 2 million followers on Instagram (and both of whom appeared at the event). To say Loni is content with her extremely specific career choice would be an understatement. “I used to be an intellectual property lawyer,” she told me. “I just walked by one of our old offices on my way over here. I can’t believe I get to be doing what I’m doing.”

When Loni started an Instagram account for her mini French bulldog, Chloe, she started meeting other pet influencers who wanted her legal insight for their own pets’ careers—thus, The Dog Agency was born.

We talked about all the luggage tags we could see on pet carriers—some came as far as Canada and Hawaii to be at PetCon. “It’s so cool to see how far folks are coming from,” Loni said. For her, PetCon isn’t just for fun—a portion of profits are going to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, a group dedicated to giving animals desperately needed protection under the law.

The cause is close to Loni’s heart—after losing Chloe to a medical error at an animal hospital, she learned there was no way to fight for fair legal compensation. “I was shocked to learn that their value under the law is ‘replacement cost’—just like a table—because pets are seen as property under the law,” she said. “Pets are family, not property. So we’re working closely with the ALDF in Chloe’s memory to fight for a change by raising awareness and money for them.”

This PetCon, Loni and her team were able to raise over $8,000 for the ALDF. I asked her if she had a favorite among the event’s talent, and she responded, emphatically, “I love them all!” I couldn’t blame her. I loved them all too.

The Sweetest Clone You’ll Ever Meet

After talking to Loni, I found myself gravitating to what appeared to be the only cat in the building, aside from the adorable kittens the ASPCA had up for adoption. It was only after approaching that I realized the cat was there representing ViaGen, the company that cloned Barbara Streisand’s dog. The cat, an extremely chill and gorgeous Bengal named Benji (@HoldTheClone), is a 1-year-old clone of a 4-year-old cat named Prestige.

Melain, Benji’s handler and a ViaGen client service manager, explained that a lot of pet owners get samples of their pets now in the hopes that the cost of cloning (currently $30,000-$40,000 for cats and dogs) will become more affordable. She said she herself has a sample of her late dog in case she decides to clone him someday. “It actually gives me some comfort just to know a piece of him is alive.”

When I asked if Benji’s extremely relaxed demeanor was a clone thing, she said “kind of.” The cat Benji was cloned from (Benji Prime, if you will—or The Original, if you won’t) has the same demeanor. Melain said that’s common. Benji has one littermate, also a clone, and he’s just as calm. “They all have a very similar temperament—very sweet and easy-going, love to be held.” Even though all three cats have a similar face shape, ear placement, and even the same spots on their toes, their markings are very slightly different. The other difference? “He’s a little thicker,” she said, covering Benji’s ears furtively. “That’s not the cloning—that’s my fault. Food doesn’t equal love.”

Before we wrapped up and I gave Benji a handful of goodbye pets, Melain handed me Benji’s card, which was the norm here. Almost every animal influencer I met was passing out cards with their handle and email. These cards almost never included the names of the owners, just the pets, which really gave the impression that if you wrote in, a  Corgi/Pomeranian/Elderly Chihuahua would be the one responding to your query.

Gucci for the Poochies

Something I can’t stress enough is how many of these animals were dressed better than I will ever be dressed even once in my entire life. I expected this of Remix (@remixthedog), a mini schnauzer whose posts often features better ensembles than what the majority of men I’ve met have been able to throw together—and he didn’t disappoint.

What I didn’t expect was for literally every animal there to be completely and unrestrainedly flexing on the proceedings. I saw a Pomeranian wearing a black hoodie with TOM FURD emblazoned on the back. Every French bulldog was inexplicably wearing a luxurious sweater and a chain necklace, perhaps emulating Two Chainz’s famous Frenchie, Trappy S. Goyard (@trappygoyard), who had his own booth (because of course he did).

We stepped onto the back patio, where the red carpet was, and immediately saw a corgi (@supercorgi_jojo) wearing a peach sequined tuxedo jacket. When Coreena asked for a photo, Jojo’s mom, holding a pancake with her furbaby’s face on it, said, “Wait, let me get him to smile for you.” She pulled out a little black device and clicked it. “He’s laser-motivated,” she said—a thing I had never heard of. But sure enough, Jojo started grinning.

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Down the stairs was a shih tzu was wearing a full taffeta ballgown with her handle (@athena_the_shih_tzu) stitched into the train. Athena’s mom, Mandana, told me she got the gown from a dog-only designer called Blessing Babies and the jewelry from Paws Deluxe. Mandana said she recognized a lot of faces (human and dog) from the previous New York PetCons and mentioned that a bunch of them had breakfast plans for the next morning. I’ll say this about the pet crowd—they have each other’s backs.

No Stans Like Dog Stans

Outside, the meet-and-greets were in full swing—talent would be stationed at one of three booths for about an hour at a time. All of the pets were popular—and exceptionally good at photo-opps—but one pup, in particular, had a queue that stretched out past the entrance to the venue. Crusoe the Daschund (@crusoe_dachschund), who’s famous for his videos, has 2 million followers on Instagram and is technically a published author, had fans traveling from all over just to meet him. For the entire day I saw his merch—mostly pretty teal T-shirts that said “CRU’S CREW” on the back—heavily represented.

I asked one woman, wearing a wonderful shirt that said “CRUSOE IS MY CRUSH,” how long she’d been following Crusoe. “Since before his surgery,” she responded. I chatted with a couple of the literal horde of fans waiting to meet their weenie hero. One couple, Melissa and John from LA, said their favorite thing about Crusoe is how obedient he is. “He’s just such a good dog.” Melissa has dachshunds herself—one of them is with her in line—and is impressed at what Crusoe’s owners have been able to do with him. “Dachshunds are big dogs in little bodies,” she says. “Crusoe represents all the love we have for their spunky personality.”

Two women I talked to, Emily and Laura, had driven up from Huntington Beach so Emily could meet Crusoe after having followed him for years. “She sends me his videos all the time,” Laura told me. Emily said she loved how smart Crusoe was. “He seems to light up whatever room he’s in.” I asked if anyone in line owned Crusoe’s book—”I have both!” Emily interjected.

A couple from San Diego, Brandie and Daniel, have been Crusoe fans for five years. “He’s much smaller in person!” Brandie told me. They’ve got dachshunds at home as well. As I looked down the line, there were more than a few dachshunds standing alongside owners.

At 2 p.m., the much-anticipated Trappy, 2 Chainz’ best friend and cohost of Most Expensivist, was escorted to his booth by a handler wearing a black tuxedo with a pink tie. A line just slightly shorter than Crusoe’s formed as Trappy, clad in a huge gold chain leash got his bearings. (The chain felt a bit excessive for a dog that appeared to be about 8 pounds, but also completely on the mark for a member of a rapper’s entourage.) Coreena remarked to his staff that he looked nervous. “He’s just a true professional,” his handler responded. When Coreena asked if she could hold him, another member of Trappy’s crew told her, “He’s actually so muscular it’s like picking up a rock.” (I guess I was wrong about my 8-pound estimate.)

Trappy is truly a legend—his Instagram is full of celebrity cameos and top-tier events. Trappy even made the list for Kanye West’s Wyoming listening party for his album Ye. I watched as a couple had just their pugs pose with Trappy. There’s something inexplicably funny about watching a non-famous dog take a photo with a famous dog, because neither one of them even remotely understand what’s happening.

Heaven Is a Place on Earth (and That Place Is PetCon)

I kept expecting the law of diminishing returns to kick in—to become somehow less charmed by the surroundings and less excited by each additional dog-in-clothes I came across—but this descent absolutely never happened. I met Jem (@Jemandthemisfits), who explained her mission of promoting elderly dog adoptions (while an extremely old and incredibly cute chihuahua slumbered in a sling across her chest). “We’ve got another dog here,” she said, “but Cornelio is taking some time to himself for a bit.”

I almost tripped over the smallest dogs I’ve ever seen, a pair of Yorkies, one of whom was wearing a shirt that said “SECURITY” on it. It turns out “some of the smallest full-grown Yorkies you’ve ever seen” is literally on Franky’s Mini Yorkies business card.

I complimented a woman on her extremely cute shih tzu and, when she handed me a sticker, asked her how long she’d been managing her dog’s account. “Actually, Ralphie’s the one with the following,” she said, gesturing behind us as, on cue, a second shih tzu (@ralphie_the_sith_tzu) was rolled over to us in a carrier courtesy of her husband.

Full of joy, seltzer and yogurt, my friends and I adjourned to the speaker room next door, where rolling presentations were being given all day. We got to hear about optimal pop nutrition, the ethics of pets as property and what it’s like to make a television show starring pets.

We took a few more turns around the convention space, trying to soak in enough dog joy to last a lifetime. On the way out I snapped a pic of a chihuahua wearing a banana suit. Incredible.

I looked through the probably triple digit trove of pictures I’d taken as soon as I got home, and honestly, more than a week later, I am still fully riding the high from the simple and absolute joy of meeting a bunch of dogs in shirts and glasses. My advice to you, my dearest reader, is to absolutely go to a pet influencer event if it ever presents itself to you. In my humble opinion, pets are maybe the best heroes you can have, because you absolutely can—and should—meet them.