Talk about a job perk — I got to meet Lil BUB last month! She has a role in a movie coming out at the end of the year. I’m near the Los Angeles area, where the movie is being shot, and a friend of the family just happens to be one of the film’s producers, so I was invited to the set. My sister came with me, too. Since she’s the one who first introduced me to the joy that is Lil BUB, I thought it was only right that she joined me. We spent a fun afternoon checking out the set and chatting with Lil BUB and her “dude,” Mike Bridavsky, while they were on a lunch break between scenes.
I’ll Be Next Door for Christmas is a comedy about Nicky, a 16-year-old girl, whose family’s over-the-top Christmas celebrations make her life miserable. When her long-distance boyfriend decides to visit for the holidays, she’s determined to spare him from her family’s Christmas obsession by hiring actors to play her parents and staging a fake Christmas dinner in the empty house next door. That house belongs to their neighbor, Patty, who desperately needs a break from the Christmas madness, and asks Nicky to take care of her cat, Parsley – played by Lil BUB – while she’s gone.
The movie is investment crowdfunded (which means that instead of simply making donations, those who contribute get a financial interest in the film). David Willis, the movie’s producer and director, says that this gives investors a chance to be part of the filmmaking process, as well as the chance to make money while doing so. And not only is this the first Christmas movie to use investment crowdfunding, it’s the first feature-length narrative film to successfully do so in the U.S. There will be special DVDs with Lil BUB on the cover (which will be available at lilbub.com), and a portion of the movie’s proceeds will go toward Lil BUB’s Big FUND for the ASPCA. You can learn more about the movie at thatchristmasmovie.com.
Lil BUB’s role in the movie came about during a writing session, while the team was watching Lil BUB videos. Someone came up with the idea of giving Lil BUB the role of “the cat,” they contacted Mike, and the rest is movie history.
When my sister and I arrived on the set, Lil BUB was eating lunch in the “green room” of the house where the filming took place. Mike brought her outside and put her on the patio table we sat around while talking.
I had seen videos of Lil BUB eating, but there’s nothing like seeing it in person. She’s not really what you’d call a dainty eater. She buried her head in the food bowl and started eating with gusto. Because her teeth never came in, there’s a lot of slurping, and her food tends to slop around. At one point, she looked up and her face was just covered with food. Mike cleaned her up a bit but said there wasn’t much point in wiping everything off her face until she was done. It was at that moment that Lil BUB decided to shake her head, splattering food everywhere — including on me and my notes, my sister and a few other people who were hanging out at the table. Mike was horrified, but I thought it was hilarious. I actually took it as a compliment.
Once she was done eating, she wandered around the table checking everyone out. Lil BUB has met so many people in her life, and Mike had mentioned that she instantly likes some but not others. It’s like she can tell the difference between a true cat lover and someone who just wants a photo op. Of course, I was terrified she wouldn’t like me, but she walked right up to me, looked at me and, after I gave her a couple head scratches, plopped right down on my notes and stayed there for the rest of the interview.
When you first see Lil BUB, even if you’re not familiar with her, you can tell she’s got some issues. The runt of a healthy feral litter, she was born with several genetic anomalies. She has an extreme case of dwarfism; she’s a “perma-kitten,” meaning she’ll stay kitten sized her entire life; her lower jaw is significantly shorter than her upper jaw, and her teeth never grew in, which is why her tongue is always sticking out. She also has a rare bone condition called osteopetrosis, which causes her bones to progressively grow denser as she grows older, making it more difficult to move around. Luckily, Mike received advice from fans and specialists and is treating Lil BUB with Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy. Since treatment began, she is now able to run and jump.
Those issues really don’t seem to faze her. She’s one of the most calm, curious and easy-going cats I’ve ever met. She and Mike can have a pretty busy schedule — they go to lots of places and meet lots of people. When I asked if her schedule gives her any trouble, Mike told me that she loves traveling. When she’s home, she enjoys lying in her spot under the couch or hanging out with the family. She doesn’t do much. But Mike said that when they travel, it really engages her senses. “When we travel, she’s the most active, she plays the most, and travel is actually good for her bone condition,” he said. Because of the vibrational therapy, all the plane and car travel is good for her. In fact, it’s actually “prescribed” by her vet.
And when you see Lil BUB, it’s obvious that she is well-loved and well-cared for. When I asked Mike if he ever thinks their appearances and activities are too much for her or if people worry that she doesn’t want to do all the things she does, he said, “Well, I know my cat and she actually DOES want to do this. Or else I wouldn’t do it. And my other four cats I would never do this with because they don’t want to do it.” He also pointed out that she makes it very clear when she’s upset. And if that happens, he takes her out of whatever situation she’s in until she calms down.
Although Mike demurred when I asked him how Lil BUB is paving the way for other special-needs cats (he’s a bit more modest than she is), it’s obvious to me that she has. Because Lil BUB accidentally got famous, Mike realized that a lot of people were paying attention. “It was a great way to open up the dialog about special-needs pets, especially because many people’s reaction is ‘I want one.’ And I understand that reaction,” he told me. He pointed out that Lil BUB is, in some ways, the epitome of special needs. “We don’t know at any point in time what’s going on, so it’s very difficult,” he said. “There are challenges, the financial burden, heartbreak. So, I felt it was our responsibility, where on one side she became this pop culture icon that everyone was in love with and wanted to own, to also tell people the other side. You’ve got to make sure that you’re prepared to care for a pet like this. She was born this way, so we’re working with what we’ve got, but the whole idea of breeding cats to look this way became a big topic.” In fact, many of Lil BUB’s slogans and one-liners — like “There’s only one BUB”— came from that topic.
Mike has made a point in saying that if you want a unique cat with special needs and you feel like you’re prepared to take care of that special cat, the best place to find one is an animal shelter. This was the whole idea behind Lil BUB’s Big Fund with the ASPCA — to provide funding to shelters with special-needs pets, as those animals are usually the first to be euthanized. The money helps keep those special-needs cats alive and cared for.
Lil BUB has made special-needs cats more desirable. “We’ve heard from these shelters that people specifically come to find pets that need special care — elderly cats, blind cats, cats that are chronically ill,” Mike said. “It’s a hard job, but someone needs to care for these cats, and there are people out there who are willing.”
When I asked Mike if Lil BUB has any plans to retire soon, he laughed and said, “Her life is pretty much like retirement.” She and Mike do lots of meet and greets, but for her that just means she’s being held for two hours. Or calendar shoots: Mike said it seems like a lot — they work hard and build all these sets, but BUB’s time on them is short. They’ll put her in the shot, take a bunch of photos and, if one of them is good, she goes off to relax, while they spend the next two hours building the next set.
And since she loves traveling so much, it doesn’t seem like she’ll be slowing down anytime soon.
Besides the movie, Mike and Lil BUB have some exciting projects coming up. As a rule, he never has and never will seek out opportunities. Luckily for us, people approach and contact him. That’s the case with the upcoming line of Lil BUB pet-care products, which will include pet shampoos, as well as litter box and room deodorizers. BUB loves baths and needs them all the time, but Mike realizes that not all cats are too keen on getting wet, so he’s excited about the all-natural cat wipes included in the line.
Another exciting project is the BUB Club Box — a quarterly subscription box. The best part: They’ll raise even more money for Lil BUB’s Big Fund!
We’ll keep you posted about these fun projects as we get more information.
We had such a fun afternoon hanging out with Mike and Lil BUB. Mike is a really nice guy, and it’s obvious how much he adores her. And Lil BUB is one of the sweetest cats I’ve had the pleasure of spending time with.
For more information on Lil BUB and her adventures, visit lilbub.com.
Thumbnail: Photography courtesy Annie Butler Shireffs.
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