‘Pet Stars’ Team Shines Light on Animal Influencer Industry
A typical day in the work lives of Pets on Q founder and president Colleen Wilson and COO Melissa May Curtis includes a lot of time spent behind a screen — answering emails, surfing social media, pulling algorithmic stats from their proprietary booking platform and looking through their roster of 1,000 animals to match the best animal for a production or marketing campaign. But the best days undoubtedly are when they get to accompany their animal clients to photo shoots, commercial sets, castings and special event. And these are the days their new Netflix series “Pet Stars” documents.
Produced by Irwin Entertainment, “Pet Stars” follows Wilson and Curtis, who also executive produce the show, on adventures to the World’s Ugliest Dog Contest in Petaluma, Calif. and the Animal Tracks sanctuary in Agua Dulce, Calif. The two are also seen successfully booking their clients into campaigns for CBD products and pet portraits, produce a commercial with Aaron Benitez of Aaron’s Animals and even visit a spa so Wilson’s foster dog can receive energy healing with sound and reiki.
More from Variety
“Originally it was supposed to be a show really about the animals, but then the producers got to know us and said it wasn’t just a show about the animals. The person I spoke to was like, ‘This is weird, you’re weird, this would make a great TV show.’ I took it as a compliment,” Wilson laughs.
After having worked together in the world of finance, Wilson and Curtis bonded over their love of animals, including the fact that they both had disabled dogs at the time and someday dreamed of opening animal sanctuaries themselves. Wilson began working on Pets on Q as a “side hustle,” but it soon turned into a full-time gig and leader in the animal agency space. In part, this is because of their booking platform, which runs an “algorithm on the value of the influencer,” she explains. (The animal is the influencer.) “The people that hire us are production and marketing firms and what they’re looking for are influencer animals that have a certain following. We brought the tech into it to make it easier for brands to find animals to work for them.”
The algorithm looks at overall follower count (Pets on Q doesn’t work with animals with fewer than 1,000 followers) but it also takes into consideration engagement on the page to determine the “quality” count. That’s to ensure they present animals that are the best fit for those who want to hire them, as well as that those hiring will get the best return on their investment.
“Brands may be very specific about wanting large breed dogs with a 5% engagement rate. But maybe they don’t know what they want and we can put a list together,” Curtis says.
The technology behind this business could be fodder for its own show, or at least an arc in a potential second season. The first season, consisting of five half-hour episodes, focused — and rightly so — on the wide array of animals Pets on Q works with, from dogs and cats to a parrot, a fox and a bearded dragon.
“They have such an interesting cross-section of animals that they represent and we wanted to capture the full breadth of it all. It’s not unlike when you get on Instagram: there are so many different animals that are newsworthy,” says executive producer John Irwin.
Pets on Q’s clients range from the micro-influencers with 1,000 followers all the way up to celebrity-level influencers with 1 million followers. But while some of the humans who run those account think the “golden ticket” is getting their animal in a movie, “not every animal is cut out for that,” Curtis says. At Pets on Q, they are also looking for animals who can be photographed, not just for sponsored ads on their accounts but also national campaigns and images that can be licensed to multiple places, such as greeting cards and calendars. And in order to build an animal’s account to such a level, it’s all about “what you want your voice and style to be and then being consistent with content,” she says.
Since social media is so important to Pets on Q, there was an intentional effort to “bring the Instagram experience to the show,” Irwin says. “We incorporated tons of graphics and we wanted it to feel like it was a blend, if you will. The animation definitely helped highlight some of the funnier moments and it allowed you to be more playful. We wanted to give the animals a voice.”
A key element to the production style was to treat filming like a “docu-soap,” he continues, and literally just follow the events, rather than ask the animals to do multiple takes of a trick or command. “We specifically went after a crew that knew how to really get things. There’s not a lot of long-lens beauty shots in there because the animals are moving so quick you have to use lenses that are forgiving and keep up with what’s going on.”
But even more essential was safety on set for the animals who, in some cases, such as the surf competition, were just in their natural environment, while in others they were there to do a job — all with a camera crew capturing their every adorable move. This did limit how much some animals could be featured on the show. Juniper, for example, is a wild fox, and there are limitations to what you can ask a wild animal to do.
Both Irwin and Curtis point out that animal safety is paramount to Wilson in particular, even when there are no cameras around.
“The main thing is, ‘Does your dog or cat or whatever enjoy this? Do they want to do this?’ She has a knack for understanding animal behavior like no one else,” Curtis says of Wilson.
Wilson herself admits that “making sure animals are properly cared for” is one of her biggest passions. That’s why “when it comes to our company and set work, we do not do [that] with exotics; the only way we work with exotics if it’s with a licensed sanctuary and if we’ve gone there and made sure the animals are safe.”
Part of the reason Irwin wanted to do this show, he says, was because of Wilson and Curtis’ attention to the animal rescue world. One episode highlights Wilson’s love of fostering dalmatians. She took in one from a kill shelter in Korea, and that dog that is now a proud part of Irwin’s family, he shares.
The opportunity to do this show, Wilson says, is a “great platform” to be able to continue and expand that rescue work.
“Pet Stars” is streaming now on Netflix.
Best of Variety
Sign up for Variety’s Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.