Just when you thought the world had gone to the dogs, along comes Rover the cat, the internet’s newest fashion icon.
Rover was adopted as a kitten in 2015 from the West Columbia Gorge Humane Society in Washougal. Angelina Kayyalaynen, Rover’s caretaker, attended an adoption event at a local PetSmart.
“When he saw me, he reached out with his little paw through the cage, and I just thought that was the cutest thing,” said Kayyalaynen, a Brush Prairie resident.
She and her partner, Sergey Shlyakhtich, were looking for an “adventure cat and buddy for Athena,” their miniature American Eskimo dog. Rover confirmed that he was ready to explore as soon as he was let out of his cage.
“I held him for about three seconds, long enough to take his picture, and then he made a run for it,” Kayyalaynen said. “He was certainly mischievous from the beginning.”
Rover indeed had a thirst for new experiences, joining Athena, Kayyalaynen and Shlyakhtich on camping trips and scenic hikes from the comfort of a special cat backpack. The couple created an Instagram page, @rover_thecat, to document Rover’s adorable exploits. He was an eager traveler, sticking his nose out the car window just like a dog, or trotting along the trail with a leash and harness. On snowy hikes, Rover kept cozy in a cat-sized coat. It may have been then, Kayyalaynen suspects, that Rover got a taste for fashion.
For a lark, Kayyalaynen made Rover a necklace of stitched-together cat toys — a fetching garland of tiny stuffed mice. She put the necklace on him and was preparing to take his photo, treats at the ready. But why save a treat for later when you can have it now?
“He got tired of waiting for the treats and he got up and walked straight across the room and we caught all of that on video,” Kayyalaynen said.
She noticed that Rover had real “cattitude,” striding with confidence toward his goal, unhindered by his mousy ensemble. As they say in the fashion industry, he owned it.
Kayyalaynen posted the video online, where it got enough attention that she made more fashion-forward cat costumes. She took inspiration from pop culture (“Black Panther” and “Game of Thrones”) and whatever she had on hand (an old robe, a pillowcase).
Rover starred in a few feline fashion shows and might have lingered in semi-obscurity if COVID-19 hadn’t pushed everyone indoors to surf the web for cute cat videos. One of Rover’s fashion shows was shared on Reddit, and that’s when this lucky black cat skyrocketed to stardom. Rover’s YouTube channel, www.youtube.com/c/RoverTheCat, now has 1,440 subscribers, and that’s not counting his other social media accounts. He has 143,000 followers on Instagram, 82,995 on Facebook and 545,000 on TikTok. Rover indubitably has what Kayyalaynen calls “an online presence.”
This presence was enough to make Vogue Taiwan and “Access Hollywood” take notice. Rover was featured on Vogue Taiwan’s website on Aug. 18 with photos, a video and his own faux Vogue cover. As if that weren’t prestigious enough, Rover was also featured in a segment of “Access Hollywood” on Aug. 19, making Rover a bona fide star.
Kayyalaynen, though thrilled by Rover’s newfound fame, considers Rover’s fashion passion a hobby and isn’t about to give up her job as an analyst at Daimler Trucks North America. She acknowledged that Rover has received some offers and there are “some pending collaborations,” but Rover’s “meow-deling” isn’t a source of income. Should there be any profit in the future, she said, it would be used to benefit all their “fur babies” — Rover, Athena and Minnie, a shy gray tabby found as a malnourished stray and adopted after a brief stay in a Hillsboro, Ore., shelter.
Furthermore, Kayyalaynen is careful not to make Rover wear anything that bothers him, no matter how much effort she has put into creating it.
“He definitely has non-favorite outfits — that’s anything that makes him uncomfortable,” said Kayyalaynen. “He likes outfits that don’t restrain his movements. We don’t use outfits that would cause any kind of stress. There was an idea to make him a ‘Lion King’ sort of mane, and he said, ‘No thank you.’ So there’s some failed ideas for sure.”
What does Rover make of all this?
“I think he has an understanding of what’s happening, because if you look at some of the videos, he’s looking directly into the camera,” Kayyalaynen said. She noted that even while she’s getting set up for a shoot, Rover comes over to check things out, signaling his eagerness to get on the catwalk. One glance at Rover’s video footage shows a cat who’s clearly at ease, sashaying toward the camera with his tail held high. Kayyalaynen isn’t oblivious to Rover’s other motivations, however.
“Food is obviously very important to him,” said Kayyalaynen. “He would sell his soul for some treats.”