10 of the Richest Pets in History

Steve Jennings, Getty Images for Civic Entertainment Group
Steve Jennings, Getty Images for Civic Entertainment Group

The relationship between man and animal predates capitalism, but that hasn't stopped some of the wealthiest people to ever live from trying to mix the two by leaving their ridiculous fortunes to their pets. Which means that there are cats and dogs on this planet who have more money than you could ever hope to accumulate in your lifetime.

Some of the richest animals in the world have made their money through inheritance, but others have made it through marketing or acting. Here are 10 of the richest animals in the history of the world

1. GUNTHER IV

Gunther IV is a second generation ​millionaire canine—and currently the richest animal in the world. His father, Gunther III, inherited $80 million from German Countess Karlotta Liebenstein. He, in turn, left that money to his son, whose caretakers have invested his fortune to the point where Gunther IV is worth approximately $400 million. He owns mansions around the world, eats caviar daily, and has his own personal maid.

2. GRUMPY CAT


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Grumpy Cat—real name Tardar Sauce—is arguably the most famous animal on the planet, thanks to one of the most enduring internet memes ever created based purely on her permanently disgruntled look. Apart from her social media and merchandising empires, she also starred in her own movie, Grumpy Cat's Worst Christmas Ever, where she was voiced by Aubrey Plaza. Though her net worth is often cited as being about $100 million, her owner said that's not quite true. Still, it's definitely in the millions—and a heck of a lot more than the typical American can ever hope to make.

3. OLIVIA BENSON

She may be owned by Taylor Swift and share a name with a Law and Order: SVU character, but Olivia Benson doesn't just sit back and let the money flow in through her songstress benefactor. She has a huge social media presence and has starred in ads for Coke and Keds Shoes, netting her a personal fortune worth about $97 million.

4. OPRAH WINFREY'S DOGS

Luke, Layla, Sadie, Sunny, and Lauren have the distinction of being the dogs of Oprah Winfrey. That alone would make them rich in spirit, but it has the added hook of an assured inheritance. Winfrey has already agreed to leave the five dogs $30 million upon her death.

5. GIGOO

Gigoo, the chicken formerly belonging to the late British publisher Miles Blackwell, sits on a nest egg of $15 million. Blackwell sold his business and retired to the country just three weeks before he died, meaning that he was basically a middleman between Gigoo and his own net worth.

6. TOMMASINO

Maria Assunta was an extremely wealthy Italian woman who, upon her death, left her $13 million fortune to her cat Tommasino. The wealth wasn't just in cash though; the cat also became the owner of several castles, villas, and estates throughout Italy.

7. BLACKIE

Blackie was once at the top of this list as he used to be the world's wealthiest cat (as confirmed by Guinness World Records). His $12.5 million fortune came purely from inheritance. He is the last surviving pet of Ben Rea, a multimillionaire who was estranged enough from his own family to bequeath his riches to a feline.

8. CONCHITA

When you can afford to buy your dog Tiffany's necklaces and cashmere sweaters, it might be the universe's way of telling you you have too much money. Regardless, deceased heiress and socialite Gail Posner left her Chihuahua Conchita a sizable fortune of $8.4 million—including a posh waterfront pad in Miami—for seemingly no other reason than because she could.

9. BOO

Boo, a famously adorable Pomeranian owned by Irene Ahn, has built a merchandising brand around himself based purely on his unfiltered cuteness. Life-sized stuffed versions of himself are available for purchase, he has his own book, and he has accrued several million social media followers. His net worth currently sits at about $8 million.

10. BART THE BEAR II

Bart the Bear II is one of the few animals on this list to have actually earned his wealth. Basically, if you've seen a bear in a movie in the last 20 years, there's a solid chance it was Bart, who was named after Bart the Bear—an Alaskan Kodiak bear who starred in dozens of projects between the late 1970s and the late 1990s. (Bart passed away in 2000.) Though Bart the Bear II has no biological relation to the original Bart, both are trained by Doug Seus. If Bart II looks familiar, you may have seen him in an episode of Game of Thrones, where he squared off against Brienne of Tarth and Jaime Lannister. He has a net worth of around $6 million.

Hee-Haw: The Wild Ride of "Dominick the Donkey"—the Holiday Earworm You Love to Hate

Delpixart/iStock via Getty Images
Delpixart/iStock via Getty Images

Everyone loves Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. He’s got the whole underdog thing going for him, and when the fog is thick on Christmas Eve, he’s definitely the creature you want guiding Santa’s sleigh. But what happens when Saint Nick reaches Italy, and he’s faced with steep hills that no reindeer—magical or otherwise—can climb?

That’s when Santa apparently calls upon Dominick the Donkey, the holiday hero immortalized in the 1960 song of the same name. Recorded by Lou Monte, “Dominick The Donkey” is a novelty song even by Christmas music standards. The opening line finds Monte—or someone else, or heck, maybe a real donkey—singing “hee-haw, hee-haw” as sleigh bells jingle in the background. A mere 12 seconds into the tune, it’s clear you’re in for a wild ride.

 

Over the next two minutes and 30 seconds, Monte shares some fun facts about Dominick: He’s a nice donkey who never kicks but loves to dance. When ol’ Dom starts shaking his tail, the old folks—cummares and cumpares, or godmothers and godfathers—join the fun and "dance a tarentell," an abbreviation of la tarantella, a traditional Italian folk dance. Most importantly, Dominick negotiates Italy’s hills on Christmas Eve, helping Santa distribute presents to boys and girls across the country.

And not just any presents: Dominick delivers shoes and dresses “made in Brook-a-lyn,” which Monte somehow rhymes with “Josephine.” Oh yeah, and while the donkey’s doing all this, he’s wearing the mayor’s derby hat, because you’ve got to look sharp. It’s a silly story made even sillier by that incessant “hee-haw, hee-haw,” which cuts in every 30 seconds like a squeaky door hinge.

There may have actually been some historical basis for “Dominick.”

“Travelling by donkey was universal in southern Italy, as it was in Greece,” Dominic DiFrisco, president emeritus of the joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans, said in a 2012 interview with the Chicago Sun-Times. “[Monte’s] playing easy with history, but it’s a cute song, and Monte was at that time one of the hottest singers in America.”

Rumored to have been financed by the Gambino crime family, “Dominick the Donkey” somehow failed to make the Billboard Hot 100 in 1960. But it’s become a cult classic in the nearly 70 years since, especially in Italian American households. In 2014, the song reached #69 on Billboard’s Holiday 100 and #23 on the Holiday Digital Song Sales chart. In 2018, “Dominick” hit #1 on the Comedy Digital Track Sales tally. As of December 2019, the Christmas curio had surpassed 21 million Spotify streams.

“Dominick the Donkey” made international headlines in 2011, when popular BBC DJ Chris Moyles launched a campaign to push the song onto the UK singles chart. “If we leave Britain one thing, it would be that each Christmas kids would listen to 'Dominick the Donkey,’” Moyles said. While his noble efforts didn’t yield a coveted Christmas #1, “Dominick” peaked at a very respectable #3.

 

As with a lot of Christmas songs, there’s a certain kitschy, ironic appeal to “Dominick the Donkey.” Many listeners enjoy the song because, on some level, they’re amazed it exists. But there’s a deeper meaning that becomes apparent the more you know about Lou Monte.

Born Luigi Scaglione in New York City, Monte began his career as a singer and comedian shortly before he served in World War II. Based in New Jersey, Monte subsequently became known as “The Godfather of Italian Humor” and “The King of Italian-American Music.” His specialty was Italian-themed novelty songs like “Pepino the Italian Mouse,” his first and only Top 10 hit. “Pepino” reached #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1963, the year before The Beatles broke America.

“Pepino” was penned by Ray Allen and Wandra Merrell, the duo that teamed up with Sam Saltzberg to write “Dominick the Donkey.” That same trio of songwriters was also responsible for “What Did Washington Say (When He Crossed the Delaware),” the B-side of “Pepino.” In that song, George Washington declares, “Fa un’fridd,” or ‘It’s cold!” while making his famous 1776 boat ride.

With his mix of English and Italian dialect, Monte made inside jokes for Italian Americans while sharing their culture with the rest of the country. His riffs on American history (“What Did Washington Say,” “Paul Revere’s Horse (Ba-cha-ca-loop),” “Please, Mr. Columbus”) gave the nation’s foundational stories a dash of Italian flavor. This was important at a time when Italians were still considered outsiders.

According to the 1993 book Italian Americans and Their Public and Private Life, Monte’s songs appealed to “a broad spectrum ranging from working class to professional middle-class Italian Americans.” Monte sold millions of records, played nightclubs across America, and appeared on TV programs like The Perry Como Show and The Ernie Kovacs Show. He died in Pompano Beach, Florida, in 1989. He was 72.

Monte lives on thanks to Dominick—a character too iconic to die. In 2016, author Shirley Alarie released A New Home for Dominick and A New Family for Dominick, a two-part children’s book series about the beloved jackass. In 2018, Jersey native Joe Baccan dropped “Dominooch,” a sequel to “Dominick.” The song tells the tale of how Dominick’s son takes over for his aging padre. Fittingly, “Dominooch” was written by composer Nancy Triggiani, who worked with Monte’s son, Ray, at her recording studio.

Speaking with NorthJersey.com in 2016, Ray Monte had a simple explanation for why Dominick’s hee-haw has echoed through the generations. “It was a funny novelty song,” he said, noting that his father “had a niche for novelty.”

Cats Make Facial Expressions, But Not Everyone Can Read Them

takoburito/iStock via Getty Images
takoburito/iStock via Getty Images

Science has finally confirmed what humans have suspected for centuries: Cats are inscrutable creatures prone to peculiar behavior. Some of us, however, are still capable of picking up on their subtle emotional cues, including facial expressions, without relying on clues like tails, ears, or whiskers.

This new evidence of a cat’s slightly malleable face comes from a study in the journal Animal Welfare. Researchers at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, recruited 6329 participants to watch a series of 20 video clips featuring cats reacting to either a positive or negative event. A positive interaction was defined as a feline approaching a human for a treat or an owner-identified action the cat traditionally found pleasant, like climbing into a favorite spot. A negative response was when a cat was confronted with something it wanted to avoid, was prevented from going into an area or outside, or was displaying an obvious sign of distress, like growling. (Sounds were edited out.) Most clips were from YouTube, though some were submitted by veterinarians and university colleagues. Breeds with long hair that might obscure facial changes were omitted. Most respondents were cat owners, and 74 percent were women 18 to 44 years old.

Using these brief clips, the researchers asked subjects to classify the cats as exhibiting positive or negative behavior by relying only on closely cropped footage of a cat’s face. They couldn’t rely on the tail or any other body language. The result? The average score was just 59 percent correct, accurately identifying a cat’s mood in an average of 12 out of the 20 clips. These humans, in other words, had little idea what a cat was experiencing based solely on their faces.

So why do researchers think they have any expression at all? Roughly 13 percent of subjects scored well on the test, getting at least 15 of the 20 questions correct. Those that did well were generally people who had extensive experience with cats, like veterinarians. That led researchers to conclude that people can become more attuned to the subtle flickers of emotion that may pass over a cat’s face.

“They could be naturally brilliant, and that’s why they become veterinarians,” Georgia Mason, a behavioral biologist and the study’s senior author, told The Washington Post. “But they also have a lot of opportunity to learn, and they’ve got a motivation to learn, because they’re constantly deciding: Is this cat better? Do we need to change the treatment? Does this cat need to go home? Is this cat about to take a chunk out of my throat?”

The paper appears to offer encouraging evidence that “cat whisperers” really do exist. If you’re curious whether you could be one of them, you can take a shortened version of the video test online.

[h/t Washington Post]

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