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Instagram star Sunglass Cat has an eye-opening message of acceptance
A SOUTHERN Californian with white socks and crystal-encrusted sunglasses crawls onto a wooden chest at a hotel in downtown Washington, as a photographer snaps away.
The model does not fuss when the camera lens encroaches on her personal space or protest when her handler adjusts her body for a more charitable angle.
But after several stoic minutes, she can no longer stifle her own needs. She rolls onto her side, stretches her back leg and licks the full length of her limb. She bends her head down and cleans her chest.
She wets her paw and runs it over her head like a comb. In the process, she knocks off her glasses, revealing olive green eyes that never close.
The model's name is Bagel. Bagel is a cat, but not just any cat. The six-year-old rescue from a Los Angeles County shelter is known for her collection of fashionable sunglasses, a stylish accessory born of necessity, not vanity.
When Bagel was a kitten, her owner, Karen McGill, discovered that she suffered from eyelid agenesis, a congenital condition that prevents the eyelids from developing. The absence of natural shades means that Bagel cannot blink or clear debris from her eyes.
To protect Bagel's corneas from scratches, Ms McGill's friend rigged up some special kitty sunglasses: An elastic band slips around the head and tucks under the chin, like wrestling headgear.
Of course, no cat from Los Angeles would dare leave her lair without a little bling, so Ms McGill bedazzled the frames. All 600 pairs. "We have different colours for holidays, with skulls and pumpkins and hearts," she said.
Until a few years ago, Bagel was a common house cat with a small circle of friends. Today, she is the public figure known as Sunglass Cat, who has more than 580,000 followers on Instagram.
On her account, she sports flashy spectacles that sparkle as brightly as her fabulous life, which includes gambling trips to Las Vegas, Beverly Hills pool parties and sunset strolls on the strand at Venice Beach, California.
Throughout the year, she also appears at cat conventions and animal rescue events, such as the one that recently brought her to Washington - a springtime shindig called Meow DC, organised by the Humane Rescue Alliance. While Bagel works the crowd, Ms McGill spreads their species-inclusive message of acceptance and tolerance. "It's okay to look and be different," says Ms McGill, who was bullied as a child. "Never let any disability hold you back."
More than a thousand people, many dressed in full-body cat attire, stream through Union Market, site of Meow DC. Ms McGill and Bagel receive guests inside a plastic dome, where Bagel is curled up on a blue blanket atop a high table.
She is wearing the same shades (red hearts, yellow lozenge-shaped crystals) from last night's photo shoot. In cat couture, repeating outfits is not considered a fashion crime. WP