Former ASPCA Feline Rises to Fame as Princess Cheeto

She has graced cover of Modern Cat magazine. She’s been endorsed by Comedy Central® and Buzzfeed®. The popular website “I Can Has Cheezeburger?” dubbed her 118,000-follower Instagram site “the coolest Instagram feed.” And she’s also an ASPCA rescue.

She is Princess Cheeto, an eight-year-old, black-and-white tuxedo cat who shot to stardom on social media with help from Brooklyn photographer Hugo Martinez, who named her for his guilty pleasure of the crunchy snacks. On the @PrincessCheeto Instagram page, Hugo features the patient Princess in a variety of colorful settings and costumes to create a wildly creative and whimsical array. 

Hugo and Cheeto

Hugo received Cheeto for his birthday seven years ago, a gift from his friends who adopted her from the ASPCA. While Hugo had always imagined having an orange cat, none were available that day, so his friend chose Cheeto—then known as Candystripe—who had been relinquished by her previous owner.

Despite Cheeto not being orange, Hugo was immediately smitten. 

“She was an amazing surprise,” he recalls, “And she changed my entire way of living. I was moving all the time, but she helped me put down roots and changed the course of my career. She’s the best present I ever got.”

Originally from Arizona, Hugo began taking photos in earnest while in high school. He studied at the Academy of Art in San Francisco before moving to Los Angeles and working for a commercial and fine art photographer. In 2008, he moved to New York where he began working in various studios and production houses for fashion and advertising. 

Then came Cheeto. 

“She made me stop and observe my surroundings and appreciate the little things,” explains Hugo. “After I began posting photos of her on Instagram, one thing led to another.”

“I really wanted to capture Cheeto in a unique way and am inspired by cats on the Internet,” he adds. “When I shifted to doing my own thing, people started to notice my work.”

Cheeto is now part of the viral wave of famous and not-so-famous cats invading every corner of the Internet. According to Computers in Human Behavior, as of 2015 there were more than two million cat videos on YouTube alone. 

Fast Track to Fame

In 2015, Hugo was offered a contract for his work with Cheeto with an advertising agency that represents Meow Mix®. Currently, he is working on an ongoing partnership with Nutrish®, Rachael Ray’s pet food company. Cheeto has also appeared in ads for retailers and brands including Target®, Amazon®, Smirnoff® and Steve Madden®.

Hugo is currently working on a museum project in Paris which features Cheeto in advertisements citywide, and he just finished shooting a documentary that will premiere next year in Canada. Meanwhile, portraits of Cheeto have graced art galleries from coast to coast, most recently for an exhibit called “Cheeto in the City” in Soho (NYC).

While Hugo has licensed Cheeto’s image for greeting cards and T-shirts (their T-shirt collaboration with Zara® is in stores now), he draws the line at making her travel or meeting the public.

“Everything we do, we do in her environment,” he explains. “Her safety is the most important thing, so I work around her. I go to her.”

To show his appreciation for Cheeto’s first home, Hugo recently volunteered to photograph and feature adoptable ASPCA kittens and cats on Cheeto’s Instagram page for Novem-purr, a promotion that is currently spotlighting the many adoptable kittens at the ASPCA Adoption Center. 

“I want all cats to have a better life,” Hugo says. “And I want to inspire people.” 

Life at Home

When she’s not working the camera, Cheeto enjoys chasing laser lights, daydreaming in her shark bed and snuggling up to Nacho, a one-year-old Exotic Shorthair cat Hugo adopted last year and named for another one of his guilty pleasures.

At home, Hugo and Cheeto share a bond that transcends their professional partnership. “She’s been there for me when others haven’t, and we’ve been through a lot together,” Hugo says. “Cheeto ended up being better than what I wanted or expected.”

Yet, the work of an artist never ends. “Some photographers’ muses are celebrities or models, but Cheeto is my muse,” Hugo says. “Your cat is special in every way. That’s what I take away from Cheeto—all cats are magical.”

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