Mike Isaac

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People of South by Southwest — Please, Free Grumpy Cat

grumpy_cat_rageLet me be clear: I am not exactly an animal rights activist.

But as I walk off a red-eye into Austin, Texas for the South By Southwest tech, music and film conference, the coming week of interactive media events isn’t at the forefront of my mind.

I’m worried sick about a cat. A grumpy cat.

For the uninitiated: “Grumpy Cat” is the latest Web-borne viral meme manifest in furry form as “Tardar Sauce,” a cat whose face is in a state of permanent frown. Tardar Sauce’s — Tard for short — famous face is “likely due to feline dwarfism,” according to her owners’ website. And after her scowling mug made it to the front page of the social site Reddit late last year, Tard’s popularity exploded.

But it’s that burst of Web fame that has brought Tard straight to Austin, where she’ll be on display inside of the meme-friendly site Mashable’s tent during part of South by Southwest’s Interactive portion of the multi-week show.

Now, I don’t know if you’ve been to South By before, but I have. Imagine a citywide frat party, populated by out-of-town hipsters, local “bros” and Silicon Valley hucksters, all awash in a sea of cheap booze and blaring music. While it may be great for entrepreneurs and musicians looking for a week of hedonism, it’s far from being the ideal place for a dwarf kitten to relax.

grumpycatfriskiesTard already has massive lines of people waiting outside Mashable’s tent for the chance at a photo op. She has grown so sought-after that “#grumpycat” was a trending hashtag on Twitter on Friday. The crowd’s lust for cute cat pics is already a breakout hit.

I’m not cool with it. If I were a grumpy cat, the absolute last place I’d want to be is stuck in the middle of a 24-hour party for days on end, where throngs of drunk partygoers waited for a chance to take a picture with me. God knows I have a hard enough time being around them as a human capable of rational thought. Who knows what it’s like for that poor cat.

Mashable, on the other hand, maintains that Tard is perfectly content in her Friskies-sponsored king-sized bed, living the life in pampered city. And her owners told the Austin Chronicle that Tard is doing just fine, and is calm when she’s confined in her travel carrier.

But I don’t buy it. I’d imagine animals — especially the grumpy ones — don’t want to be the center of a nonstop barrage of attention, much less in a climate as unforgiving as South by Southwest’s.

So, good people of Austin, I implore you, if you see anyone from Mashable or Friskies during your time at South By, tell them one thing:

“Free Grumpy Cat.”

Even if it means not getting your picture taken with her, I’m sure Tard will love you for it. In her own frowny way, of course.

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