Manny @ Chicago Suntimes June 24 2014
To grasp the “So cute I could just eat you!” feeling that Manny the Frenchie inspires among some of his nearly 500,000 Instagram followers, consider the recent wedding invitation the canine received from a couple in Miami.
A quirk of their courtship involved regular amounts of gushing over the French Bulldog from Chicago that wears bow ties and sleeps in a sink, so why not have him at the wedding?
But Manny’s owners, instead of immediately celebrating the request as a newly reached height of endearment, were a bit perplexed by the invite.
Amber Chavez, 31, and Jon Huang, 36, are fairly new to the world of celebrity pets. There is no online class. Trial and error has guided them.
A crash course occurred at the United Center a few months back when the Bulls invited Manny to a game.
“When the Bulls invite you to the game, it’s like ‘Oh, awesome!’ But we don’t know what we’re gonna do. . . . Do we have a sign? Do we take pictures? Do we stand there with the dog?” Huang recalled.
Manny sat on a table in the concourse. Bulls fans, some a bit tipsy, picked him up. The couple repeatedly explained: He’s the world’s most famous French Bulldog attending a Bulls game. And security guards, thinking the couple secreted the pup into the stadium, stopped the trio.
Fast forward a few games to find Manny fans in an orderly line waiting for pictures with the pooch, his fame clearly marked on a sign. Picking Manny up was now a no-no. And they left at halftime, walking past stadium staffers who waved.
It’s an odd learning curve.
Huang recently found himself calling insurance agencies to take out a policy on Manny. He was met with: “You want to insure what?”
The couple looked into hiring an agent but decided against it. Agents mostly live in Hollywood and deal with pets who work on a daily basis with film studios.
The pets-flung-to-fame-on-the-Internet niche belongs to agent Ben Lashes. His biggest client is Grumpy Cat, a scowling feline that’s made over a million dollars through various media ventures. Maybe you caught Grumpy on “American Idol” on Wednesday night? Grumpy’s owner quit waitressing at Red Lobster to work full time with her cat.
Lashes hadn’t heard of Manny the Frenchie when contacted Thursday, but he offered the pup and his owners a bit of advice.
“Keep it true to why people liked the dog in the first place, don’t stray from that, no pun intended,” Lashes said. “It’s exactly like punk rock; the minute the Ramones aren’t wearing jeans and T-shirts . . .”
Stan Oles, former owner of the now-deceased celebrity party dog Spuds MacKenzie, offered this: “Don’t lose your day job. When the flash in the pan is over with, you need something else.”
Oles, who lives in the western suburbs, never received any royalties from Spuds’ fame, but he has no regrets. “I was able to put my kids through college.”
Manny mushroomed about 16 months ago when Huang created an Instagram account to appease friends and family who wanted to see the dog. Thousands of strangers tuned in too.
Making Manny the most popular dog on Instagram became Huang’s obsession. He got an assist from the bathroom sink. Manny took a nap in it. The photo melted hearts and drew more fans.
“He was in my way so I put him on the counter, and he walked into the sink by himself,” Chavez said. “He absolutely loves it.”
Companies also noticed the eyeball power Manny commanded.
Now he has deals with GNC Pets, Beggin and Evanger’s Natural Dog Food. Manny merchandise is online. A digital Manny chases bacon on a mobile app.
He just returned from charity events in California, including one with “Glee” star Jenna Ushkowitz. TV appearances are in the works.
The couple are also getting Manny trained as a therapy dog to visit hospitals.
The couple declined to discuss Manny’s income but said they are in the black.
Chavez quit her job working reception at the spa at the Peninsula hotel to focus on Manny. “It was a substantial pay cut. But who wouldn’t want to work full time for their dog,” she said. Her duties include answering fan mail, mothering Manny, and working with one other marketing employee. None of the partners that Huang took on when he formed a limited liability company around Manny have seen a return yet, but Manny fans are multiplying, so they are hopeful.
“It’s kind of strange because people absolutely love him like their own dogs,” Huang said.
The time is also right. The breed has seen a 323 percent jump in registrations since 2003, according to the American Kennel Club, though the majority of Manny followers are outside the United States.
The couple, who live near the United Center, created a circle of doggy pals around Manny under the name “Manny & Friends” that are gaining fame of their own.
Asked if they had a goal, Huang smiled and looked at Manny.
“A fun goal we all talked about was Manny making a million dollars,” he said.