Lil Bub, one of the most famous Internet cats, is on a mission. The rescued feline, 2, wants to help other pets like herself. Lil Bub, or just "Bub," as her "dude" Mike Bridavsky calls her, was born with genetic deformities, including dwarfism, that made it difficult for her to find a home. Luckily, Bridavsky and Bub found each other, and now she wants to give back.
We talked to Bridavsky about a day in the life of Lil Bub and her mission to help both humans and animals.
Tell us more about what Lil Bub is doing for the ASPCA.
We just officially announced Lil Bub’s Big Fund for the ASPCA – though I really think the ASPCA is doing more for Bub than Bub is for the ASPCA. About two years ago, Bub started getting famous and ever since then we’ve been trying to send a positive message about spaying and neutering pets and volunteering at local animal shelters. We’ve raised money for some local shelters near us and done things around the country.
And as Bub’s fame kept growing she became a kind of national treasure, and I realized there was a need for a more national outlet where we could funnel all these funds. I have a really strict rule that anything with Bub’s face on it benefits animals in need in some way financially. We started talking to the ASPCA several months ago about doing this fund. We funnel all this money into a fund and then the ASPCA writes grants with this money to help shelters that have special needs pets. This money is still going to shelters in need all over the country, small or big – any shelter that applies for the grant.
How can people donate to the fund?
At LilBub.com and the ASPCA's website. People can donate directly and 8 to 10 percent of our proceeds from Bub’s store as well as licensed products go to the fund. People want Bub stuff and this is a way people can feel great about every purchase they make with Bub’s face on it. A generous portion goes to this fund.
How did you get Bub?
She never made it to the shelter. She was found feral – born to a feral mother with three other kittens in the litter. She was the runt and my friend’s mom found this litter in her tool shed and took them, and she noticed Bub was a little different. Bub couldn’t survive on her own in the wild. When she was about 8 weeks old, my friend sent me a photo and she looked amazing – just a half pound at two months. She looked like maybe a large gerbil with huge ears and giant feet. Now her tongue sticks out, but before that her nose protruded more and her jaw was very short. My friend said she was the weirdest cat my friend he’d ever seen in his life. So I took her in.
No one really thought she would live very long because of the genetic abnormalities she was born with – she has extra digits, dwarfism, no teeth – and she has an extremely rare bone condition that we didn’t even know about at the time. But despite all of these odds being against her, she’s an extremely healthy and happy cat. It’s like her job to bring happiness and help other pets in need.
How is her health now?
She’s healthier than she’s ever been. Her health issue is a matter of mobility but her internal organs are fine. Her condition is not life-threatening but it impacted her mobility, and at one point it was not looking very good but we found a new treatment. It’s pretty much a miracle. Specialists and vets didn’t even think anything could be done. She’s the only cat in recorded history born with osteoporosis. The only way Bub would be around is because she’s famous – that’s how she found this cure for herself. It’s like she made herself famous so she could find a way to survive.
What was this miracle treatment?
PEMF therapy: pulsed electromagnetic field therapy. There’s only one company in the States that makes this device for pets and that’s who provided it for us. A lot of people accused me of voodoo science because it’s not traditional medicine, but it’s used overseas a lot on people who have had bone surgery. After a week of therapy, she started standing up. … Now she’s running and she jumps on the couch. She’s doing things that were absolutely out of the question. It’s a miracle for real. I still can’t believe it. A year ago, she could barely move. She used to do an army crawl and drag herself with her front paws and push with her back legs. She’s very spry now and hasn’t had any issues in seven or eight months. She’s been slowly improving since we started treatment.
Does her condition make it tough for her to make public appearances?
Traveling is very good for her. She gets excited and is much more mobile when we travel, but she gets tired the way I do so I’m careful about how much we do it and I only go to places where people are fans of Bub and respect her needs. Her health and comfort are my No. 1 priority. I never have problems saying no to people doing stuff I’m not comfortable with. We only work with people who love Bub. That way they also don’t want to do something that will bother her. Like at Animal Planet, I’ll tell them that’s too much for one day and they’re totally cool with it.
But she enjoys traveling?
Bub really loves going to places and meeting people. We can be in New York and I’ll put her down by my feet and she’ll just sit there like a dog. She’s a people cat. As soon as we get on the road she starts purring.
It sounds like she was meant to be a star.
Yeah, she was meant to be a star in more ways than one. It’s uncanny. It’s not like she just likes to travel; she’s really in her element on the road. She sits in my lap in a taxi or on a plane. She’s a thousand times more stressed and scared when she sees another cat than she is in the middle of Times Square.
She doesn’t like other cats? Don’t you have other cats, though?
I have four other cats that live at my recording studio but Bub lives at my home. But my fiancée just moved in with her cat, Spooky. It’s the best she’s ever done with another cat. Spooky’s very athletic and loves to play. Now that Bub’s mobility has increased – I never would have done it before because it would have been horrible – but she can play with him and run around and swat at him. There are issues, but it’s headed in the right direction. They’ll now sleep together, which is huge.
I noticed she seems very calm in her videos. Is she always so calm?
She’s extremely calm. She’s been a lot more spry lately. She gets more exercise so when she gets playful and tries to attack toys, it’s the cutest thing ever. She’s very with it – or connected to some greater energy. I can hold her with one arm and be anywhere, in any place, in any amount of noise and she’s always calm. I think part of it is that she’s a very smart cat and people don’t realize that because of the way she looks. That’s part of her message: You shouldn’t judge people by the way they look. I’ve always thought she and Stephen Hawking would be an awesome celebrity pair.
Really? Stephen Hawking?
Stephen Hawking is her No. 1. She’s very aware that she needed help. I think a lot of animals in those situations might panic but she knows when I’m there to take care of her. I can take her to the bathroom and there’s a level of trust and she knows everything’s fine. It’s translated in her personality.
She sounds like a dog.
She’s a little bit like a dog, only smarter.
Were you surprised when Bub got famous? What kind of feedback do you receive?
It’s hard to explain because I’ve lived with her for two years. It’s kind of her job to help humans. She helps a lot. The whole charity with pets – that’s my thing. I have this message and I want to help people listen, but her thing is helping people. You’d be surprised at the messages she gets. Literally half the messages are, “Bub helps me daily with my depression. Thank you for posting these photos.” We get some extreme messages from people who are thinking of ending their lives or parents with chronically ill children, and Bub is the only thing that gets them through. I’ve cried from these messages.
At meet-and-greets, hundreds of people come and 80 percent of people come because they have real emotional connection and at least five to 10 people cry. The first time that happened, I was surprised by my reaction: Instead of thinking “This is crazy,” I was like “This is what she’s here to do.” That’s why I’ve kept going with it. These messages came before she was famous. I’d get emails like, “Thanks for posting pictures of your cat – that’s the only thing that’s helping me get through grad school.” So I thought well, that’s cool, and it kept going.
Do you think Bub’s messages resonate with disabled people in particular?
I think they resonate especially with disabled people, but she resonates with everyone. I think everyone is different and has things they might be insecure about and self-conscious about, and the magic of Bub is you look at her and she’s so wildly different-looking but still has this sense of pride. She lacks self-awareness but you can tell she knows she’s different and she’s really proud of it. There’s something about it that really inspires people in that way that’s like, “Screw what anyone else thinks – I’m awesome,” but yes, we do have a lot of fans who have disabilities – a wide range that includes not just physical disabilities but emotional disabilities and social anxiety. It’s pretty amazing.
Follow Andrea Park on Twitter: @andreapark