BLOOMINGTON — Fans around the world mourned the death of a Hoosier cat and Internet sensation known for shining a light on special needs pets.
“Lil BUB” died Sunday morning in her sleep after battling an aggressive bone infection, owner Mike Bridavsky said.
She was 8 years old.
“We lost the purest, kindest and most magical living force on our planet,” Bridavsky wrote Monday in an Instagram post alongside the first and last photos he had taken with the cat. “It is impossible to put into words the profound effect that BUB has had on my life [and] on the lives of thousands of homeless pets.”
Her popularity gave Bridavsky a platform to raise awareness of animals with special needs, the benefits of pet adoption and groundbreaking genetic research.
BUB’s public appearances and philanthropic efforts helped raise an estimated $700,000 for animals in need, according to Bridavsky.
But her meteoric rise to fame had unlikely beginnings. She was the runt of a feral litter born with multiple genetic mutations, including polydactylism and a form of feline dwarfism.
She and her siblings were found in a Unionville tool shed in June 2011 by Bridavsky’s “best friend’s girlfriend’s sister’s roommate’s boyfriend’s mom,” he told News 8.
The kitten spent the first weeks of her life bouncing between temporary homes before Bridavsky adopted her.
“She was 8 weeks old and weighed about half a pound,” he said. “But she just had this special, magic energy.”
BUB’s unique face and playful personality won over millions of fans online but Bridavsky insisted fame was among the feline’s lesser achievements.
She inspired people to take pride in their own differences, he said, and became a “beacon of hope” for people with a range of special needs, personal challenges and mental health issues.
“I’ve heard from people who were suicidal who randomly stumbled across a BUB video the night they were going to take their own lives,” Bridavsky told News 8. “And they watched these videos, started reading about her and were inspired. I’ve received probably half a dozen messages like that over the years.”
He credited the cat with sparking the relationship that blossomed into his marriage. Bridavsky met his wife, Stacy, at the inaugural Internet Cat Video Festival in Minneapolis. It was her second day on the job at the art center that hosted the event; she only stayed and ran into him because she wanted a photo with BUB.
The couple still has the photo documenting “almost the exact moment” they met, he said.
Another photo from the August 2012 event captured BUB’s first interaction with meme star “Grumpy Cat,” an Arizona native also afflicted with feline dwarfism.
Bridavsky, however, urged friends and fans not to compare BUB to other four-legged celebrities.
“It’s so easy to lump her in as a ‘famous cat’ or an ‘Instagram cat’ but she’s really a lot more than that,” he said. “She’s family. She’s part of our community.”