From the moment I adopted Lil Bub in 2011, I could tell right away that she was a special cat. She was my fifth rescue cat and I was enamored of her immediately, as were a lot of my friends. Before she went viral on Tumblr on the way to becoming one of the most famous cats in the world, she was a local celebrity — my friend even designed a T-shirt of her for our friends. We loved her, even though we knew she was different.
It was a different time then, before the explosion of social media and the proliferation of curated pet brands. The original blog was just meant to be like a fun extracurricular thing where I could share pictures, because people clearly loved seeing her. I really thought she was so wonderful and amazing and unique. But I was still a little surprised when people started following her. It was just friends telling other friends about her. It was totally organic.
Around April 2012, one of her photos on Tumblr went viral. By today’s standards, I don’t think most people consider it viral, but at that time we had around 500 followers and that photo got 40,000 notes. So, that was a big deal. And at the same time, but totally separately, Lil Bub started picking up fans on social media.
We started building this Instagram following completely separate of the Tumblr thing. It made me realize that it wasn’t about the medium or the social media platform or anything. People needed Bub, and they were going to find out about her one way or the other.
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Lil Bub is often compared to Grumpy Cat, and they did break through around the same time. But Grumpy Cat’s fame really came from memes; there was one photo and a meme that blew up. With Bub, it really wasn’t like that. I was never into the whole cat meme thing that was happening at that time.
But I really didn’t want that to happen to Bub — I didn’t want her fame to be a joke and I didn’t want people to make fun of her. I thought she had a message. I thought there was something really important about her existence. Memes were obviously made, but I never shared them. I always made it about her. And I think that’s why she developed such a loyal following.
It wasn’t about the medium or the social media platform or anything. People needed Bub, and they were going to find out about her one way or the other.
I think that people could always tell that there was something really special about this cat. She inspired people. It was a really wild phenomenon. Yes, you can see her on Instagram but I don’t like calling her an “Internet cat.” I don’t want her to be remembered as part of a trend or a brand.
A brand formed out of the fame. There’s no doubt about it. People wanted T-shirts and things and we made them, essentially out of necessity. But everything in the Bub world is very small and communal, just like the DIY rock world. That’s how I’ve kept it. It just kept getting bigger and crazier. But when Animal Planet wanted a show, I insisted we keep it in the Lil Bub family. That was my rule.
The difference between Lil Bub and a lot of the famous pets today is that I never tried to get Bub famous. I never even really wanted her to get famous. I fought it at first for a little bit. But eventually I gave in because it was clear there was something really powerful and good coming out of it. Just as long as Bub always came first.
I’ve owned seven cats in my life and I’ve known hundreds. I don’t know a single cat who would be okay with the things that Bub likes to do. Taking a picture of any of my other cats is a nightmare.
Obviously, it might sound hypocritical for me to say “don’t make your pet famous” when I had one of the most famous cats in the world. But I didn’t try to do this. I think trying to make your pet famous is forcing them to do something that they were not designed to genetically or biologically. But with Bub, I could always get the exact photo I need. She knew what she was doing. She was always this way. She loved to travel. She knew when the camera was on.
Bub was able to do is show people was no matter what’s happening in your life, no matter what emotional or physical challenges you are working to overcome, you can do it.
Her cuteness drew people in, but her legacy is so much more than that. I see a lot of people get discouraged so easily — but what Bub was able to do is show people was no matter what’s happening in your life, no matter what emotional or physical challenges you are working to overcome, you can do it. If Bub can do it, so can you.
Bub never ever would give up, even at the very end when she was really sick. Every day, she’d run to her food dish, acting like nothing was wrong. Her spirit was so strong.
Over the years, Bub and I really used her fame for good. We promoted animal awareness — adopt, don’t shop — and the importance of spaying and neutering your pets. We raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity. And all these things are very important, but I think the thing that stands out the most to me about her is how she made people feel.
Her saying was, “good job Bub.”
And of course, bub is an affectionate term for people in general, which is how she got her name. We have to remind ourselves that we are doing a good job, even when it seems like we’re screwing up or people don’t like us or we’re not good enough. I think Bub’s a good reminder for that. I think that should be what people ultimately remember about her.
As told to THINK editor Meredith Bennett-Smith, edited and condensed for clarity.