Lulled by that perception, thousands every year send pictures and videos of their adored animal to placement agencies with names like Animal Intellectuals and Animals Galore, in the hope that maybe their pet's unique brains and beauty will receive universal recognition. Very occasionally, they may be successful. More often, there is a polite letter of reply conceding "we'll keep your letter on file".
Occasionally, it happens the other way round. One girl, a few years ago, sent in her photograph in a bid to be the next Naomi Campbell or Kate Moss. She committed the tactical error of posing with her dog, in the hope that this would create a suitably cute effect. It did, but not in the way she had intended. She was informed that she did not make the grade, but as for her dog - yes, please. The dog had all the star qualities that were needed for success on the world stage.
Animals sometimes become at least as important as the product they are selling. The Dulux dog often seems better known than the ICI paint range which has, for some reason, been given the same name. The auditions to gain the Dulux Dog laurels are as hotly competitive as the Miss Pears quest for an angelic little curly-haired soap girl. Winners of the Dulux competition talk blissfully of achieving the holy grail: "I was so proud, it was like an electric shock through my body," said the owner of one successful Dulux dog after the finals at the opulent Lanesborough Hotel in London last year.
Imagine, then, the horror when a star goes missing. Remy, one of the stars of the famous Sheba catfood adverts, has disappeared. Remy was due to be filmed in a new Sheba advert. But one evening, the pregnant cat suddenly "vanished into thin air", in the words of her owner, Linda Evans. Ms Evans, a cat breeder in Chislehurst, always felt a secret thrill of pride when she got phone calls asking about the possibility of getting a cat "just like the Sheba cat". She insists: "I eat, sleep and drink this cat. I get up at any hour of the night, just calling her. I've become very obsessive. People think I'm a nut."
A dancer's legs can be insured for millions of dollars. So how much can a star cat or dog be worth? Linda Evans is indignant at the question. "People say she's worth pounds 1,000. But she's not worth pounds 1,000. It's silly to say what she's worth - she's priceless."
In strictly commercial terms, animals are rather more replaceable than their owners will admit. It's true, a few are unique. In the case of the old staple Kattomeat, the cat that promoted it became so popular that Spiller's eventually caved in, ditched the old name in 1992 and renamed the product after its elegant white endorser. Arthur's cat food is inextricably linked with the cat that promotes it - with its trademark languid dipping of a paw into the tin. He has achieved national fame on a grand scale, and has even written his memoirs (with a bit of help from his owner, Anne Head).
Even in the case of Arthur, some sleight of hand allows for the disturbing interruption of mortality. The current Arthur is Arthur III, spotted as a kitten in an animal shelter in Wood Green, north London, and then carefully groomed for stardom. Arthur II, who died in retirement last year, had been spotted in the same animal shelter (a starry place, Wood Green). In the case of Arthur II, it was a matter, in the estate agent's phrase, of "has potential - needs extensive renovation". When Anne Head, doyenne of the animal-star world, first found Snowy (as he then was), he was "in a dreadful state". Much repair work was required before he attained a state of telegenic Arthurian glory.
Arthur III now has a couple of understudies who turn up for film shoots with him, in case the star for some reason fails to perform satisfactorily. But Arthur is the exception, in that he has achieved an approximation of solo star status.
Where you think you are seeing one animal, you are probably seeing two, three or more. In Babe, long filming schedules and the constant need for a cute little piglet meant that the Babes were endlessly replaced (with just a little cosmetic hair dye along the way to make sure that they all looked exactly the same).
As with the Babes (most of whom were presumably being turned into pork cutlets, even while their successors were charming the cameras and hoping for a Best Pig Oscar), there is no single Dulux Dog. Instead, there is a series of placid Old English sheepdogs, each of which must approximate to a Platonic ideal of the Great Dulux Dog.
Like their human counterparts, animals often have body doubles. One may be superb at paw-work, another has the perfect quizzical look. Multiple Sheba cats are required. Remy is (or was) one of a large number of Sheba cats across the country - though the exact number is covered by a feline version of the Official Secrets Act. Pedigree - of Chum, Whiskas and Kit- e-Kat fame - is part of the Mars group, who guard their trade secrets fiercely, and refuse to divulge just how many Sheba cats are used in the UK. Trainers say, however, that they reckon to take "four or five" Sheba cats along to a single filming session.
The demand means that the chances for the owner of a would-be star are always there, if the look is right. Linda Evans still hopes that one of her cats will again be a Sheba cat. She is currently looking after another British Blue which is due to give birth to kittens today. One of those kittens might be looking cute on your TV screen before long.
Little film stars need bodyguards to keep them safe; dogs and cats have to do without. The pay is not necessarily astonishing. Admittedly, a megastar like Arthur can produce what Anne Head calls "substantial" fees. It is generally reckoned that the animal Evangelistas get around pounds 1,000 a day - the standard rate, however, is closer to pounds 100. As one trainer mournfully remarks: "You don't even get the repeat fees, not like human beings." But, she adds: "It's the kudos that counts. You walk past a big poster site, or you turn on the TV, and you think: `That's mine!'"
The old director's rule about never working with animals and children remains valid. Everybody agrees that there is nothing so bad as a neurotic cat. All those involved with animals and filming say that good temper counts for much more than good looks. Even then, acclimatisation to studio life is essential. Cats are brought in for studio visits to get used to the "Camera! Lights! Action!" routine, before they themselves ever enter the spotlight of fame.
At least cats can be assumed to be more or less well-behaved. Some animals are regarded as a definitively hopeless case, when it comes to filming. On one occasion, when the script called for a zebra, the director eventually plumped for an easier option. Zebras are temperamental, horses less so. The result: the production company took a pony, and painted it in black and white stripes. Like they say: the camera never lies.Reuse content