My husband and I have a lot in common, but when we disagree, the arguments are fierce. Seriously, we cannot discuss Revenge of the Nerds or Doctor Who without it ruining the evening. Sexist 1980s movies and time travel aside, some of our most heated debates recently have been about the Internet’s favorite special needs cat. I totally love Lil BUB, but my husband believes she is a problematic figure in Internet culture.
I can practically hear the gasps as I write this: “Why would anyone have an issue with BUB? She’s basically happiness in kitty form!”
Rest assured, my dear BUB lovers, that I agree with you wholeheartedly. And before you start thinking the worst of my husband you should know that he’s not taking issue with the cat herself, but with what she represents to him. He sees Lil BUB as the poster kitty for the memeification of special-needs animals, a worrisome trend according to him.
First, though, I’ll explain the role Lil BUB has played in my marriage — because it’s a big one. Let’s travel back in time to 2013 (just don’t tell my husband or he’ll accuse us of causing a paradox). As Facebook’s “On This Day” feature recently reminded me, 2013 was The Year of BUB in the Marcoux household. We didn’t yet have a cat, but BUB was a constant kitty presence on my feeds. She’d gone viral the year before, and while BUB and her dude were busy redefining online feline fame, I was was busy typing status after status about my love for Lil BUB.
When I look back at my personal history, I remember how desperately I wanted to move into a cat-friendly apartment during the peak of my BUB obsession. After years of discussion, my husband had finally agreed that we could plan to get a cat (his only condition was that it be a hairless Canadian Sphynx). While I waited for our lease to expire, I got my cat fix through a daily dose of BUB. I’d walk around wearing my Lil BUB T-shirt and thrusting my phone into my husband’s face every time BUB did something cute on the Internet (so, all the time). I think maybe my aggressive (okay, annoying) campaign to get my contrarian husband hooked on BUB could be why he argues she’s my problematic fave.
Like I said, my husband’s issue isn’t with Lil BUB, it’s with the implications of her fame. He worries the Internet culture’s focus on special-needs animals is creating a thirst for uniqueness among potential adopters. He’s concerned unscrupulous people might seek out special-needs cats not because they are prepared to care for a kitty with medical needs, but because they’re looking for the next Instagram superstar.
As someone who writes a lot about pets on the Internet, I don’t believe this is as much of an issue as my spouse does. I’ve interviewed a lot of pet guardians who’ve found themselves staffing the social media accounts of incredibly popular animals (typically healthy ones as well as those with physical differences and special needs). The people I’ve talked to who’ve quit their day jobs to manage a pet’s Internet presence all tell a similar story — their pets’ popularity grew organically and took them by surprise. Several people now working for their animals as social media managers have said they never could have imagined this, much less intended it. Although I’ve not spoken to Lil BUB’s dude Mike Bridavsky, it’s pretty well documented that he belongs to this group of kindhearted, pleasantly surprised rescuers who adopted without even considering the social media potential — and he has very high ethical standards when it comes to his business dealings and BUB’s care and well being.
Not one to back down in the face of my anecdotal evidence, my husband continues to argue his point. He’s concerned that ubiquitous BUB might inspire ill-intentioned adopters to seek special-needs cats only for their social media potential. I took my husband’s concerns to the ASPCA and asked whether we should be concerned about potential adopters overlooking average cats in favor of more Instagrammable kitties, like tripods or those with one eye.
According to Dr. Emily Weiss, ASPCA vice president of research and development, the issue is nearly opposite of what my husband thinks it is.
“The only concern may be the perception some may have that cats in shelters are all special needs – and thus to avoid the shelter. Most cats in shelters are ordinarily fabulous, healthy cats,” says Weiss.
She says BUB’s fame has had a positive impact, and she points to the great work being done through Lil BUB’s Big Fund for the ASPCA (which provides grants to organizations helping special needs animals).
“We believe that any promotion of shelter pets, whether they are highly adoptable or have special needs, is beneficial in the overall goal of increasing adoption rates,” says Weiss.
My husband may not agree with me, but I believe that Lil BUB leads us to adopt instead of shop. Long before I started obsessing over Lil BUB, I was obsessing over the Facebook pages of Sphynx cat breeders. Even as the end of our lease approached — putting me closer to actual cat companionship — I was still pricing out purebred kittens because that’s what I thought my husband wanted. Imagine my surprise when he turned to me and suggested we head to the SPCA to pick out a rescue cat. I like to believe that bombarding him with links to Lil BUB content influenced this decision, although he swears it didn’t.
We left the SPCA that day with our adorable Ghost Cat, who — as an adult cat — represents the type of animal most at risk in shelters. She’s not special needs, but she is very special to us. And yes, she is on Instagram.
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About the author: Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but Specter the kitten, GhostBuster the Lab and her newest dog, Marshmallow, make her fur family complete. Heather is also a wife, a bad cook and a former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feed because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts pet GIFs on Google +