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When I first meet Bub (or “Lil Bub,” as her legions of Internet fans know her) at her owner’s apartment in Bloomington, she’s staring up at me from the living room floor, lying next to her latest plaything: a plastic salad-bar label for Russian dressing. She hasn’t touched dinner because she knows her joint medicine is tainting her food. Her owner, Mike Bridavsky, rearranges the morsels in the bowl, trying to coax her to eat, but Bub won’t be fooled. Frustrated, Bridavsky dutifully prepares another bowl of the expensive, top-of-the-line food, medicine free.
However typical such finicky behavior may seem to cat owners, make no mistake: Bub is something special. In spite of the fact that her teeth never grew in, she has no problem munching up her dinner (see video below). And she is literally “lil,” weighing in at only four and a half pounds fully grown. She has dwarfism, which makes her legs tiny and short, but her body and tail are long, giving her a corgi-like appearance. Her polydactyl paws have an extra toe on each foot, including opposable thumbs on her front paws. Her pink tongue often hangs out (because of the missing teeth), and bulging green eyes and giant ears round out the unusual yet adorable appearance.
When Bridavsky started a Tumblr blog for Bub, he received only one or two notes on the pictures he put up. But over time, Bub began to receive more and more attention. One photo of her sticking out her trademark tongue went viral and received over 40,000 notes, launching it to the front page of Reddit, a website that compiles popular online topics. She has since been covered by such sites as Buzzfeed, Jezebel, the Huffington Post, and the Sun.
Bridavsky sells Bub t-shirts, using the proceeds to pay for her food and medical care, with whatever is left over going to charity. The first time he wore one out in public, a little girl pointed at the picture on his chest and said, “I like that!” These days, some of his friends in Bloomington won’t wear their Bub shirts in public because of the attention. “I’ve been staying in because either people talk to me about Bub, or they talk to me about how they’re sick of hearing about Bub,” Bridavsky says, “Either way, I’m talking about Bub.”
And like most Internet sensations, with popularity come less-than-kind remarks. Bridavsky says because of her large eyes and lolling tongue, some online commenters call her “retarded.” But according to her owner, Bub is quite the opposite, a bright cat who knows her name and lets him know with a meow when she wants something, such as help getting off of the bed.
“People see anything that looks different and assume that there’s something wrong with it,” Bridavsky says. Partially to combat people who assume the cat is mentally disabled, when Bridavsky writes to fans as Bub, he does so with good diction. This also sets her apart from some other well-known Internet cats who speak in a comically misspelled dialect (Google “I Can Has Cheezburger”). “She’s highbrow,” says Bridavsky. “She doesn’t need to talk like an idiot.”
Bridavsky never expected that his cat would become so popular. And while he won’t be traveling the country to do press with her anytime soon, he says he’ll keep posting pictures and answering questions. “If there’s any message that Bub conveys, I think it’s that it’s okay to be weird and different, and it’s not just okay, it’s actually pretty cool,” he says.
Bridavsky tells me that Bub sometimes lies on top of his chest and licks his beard until it’s soggy. And while I’m not usually a cat person, when Bridavsky lets me hold Bub at the end of our interview, I’m elated. He helps me adjust her so that her feet are in my hands and her front paws are perched on my shoulder. She curiously sniffs my face and licks my arm. It’s then that I get to see who Bub truly is—not just an Internet starlet, but a loving pet.
Photos courtesy Mike Bridavsky
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