(Indianapolis Star) -- Indiana has a new celebrity. But unlike her fellow famed Hoosiers, she's never been nominated for an Oscar or had a platinum selling record. She doesn't play basketball or have her own late-night television show ---- in fact, she doesn't even have teeth.
Her name is Lil Bub, and she's one of the Internet's most famous cats.
With more than 59,000 likes on her Facebook page and more than 2 million views on YouTube, Lil Bub of Bloomington has come a long way from her humble roots as the runt of a feral litter ---- and yes, she got there on her looks but she's also trying to make a difference in the world.
Lil Bub, often known as just Bub, was born with dwarfism and a genetic disorder that keeps her bones from growing properly. With her underdeveloped jaw and no teeth, there's nothing to keep her tiny tongue from always sticking out ---- one of her most endearing features.
"She has a lot going on ---- a funny body, eyes sticking out, her ears are real big, but a lot of her charm is her demeanor," said Bub's owner, Mike Bridavsky.
Bridavsky, 32, is the owner of Russian Recording, a sound recording studio in Bloomington. He took Bub in after an acquaintance found a litter of kittens in a barn last summer.
"It seemed like she might not survive ---- she was six ounces ---- no teeth and all that stuff, but I figured she needed a home, and if she didn't survive, at least I could take care of her. Turns out she's pretty healthy overall despite all her weirdness," he said rubbing Bub's head gently.
Film, TV star
Weighing in at just 3 pounds, 15 ounces, Bub may be small but her popularity is mighty ---- she's been featured on "Good Morning America," VICE.com, and even highlighted on the Internet Cat Video Film Festival, an event in Minneapolis that draws an estimated 10,000 people. Bridavsky got his second tattoo of Bub while at the festival; he already had one of Bub done "before she was famous."
We're sitting in the living room of Bridavsky's home, with Bub, who is 18 months old, on the couch between us. She's suffering from a urinary tract infection and a touch cranky about having visitors.
At least I thought that was her problem until I heard Bub let out a strange noise, something between a gurgle and a growl.
"Uh, oh. You're not supposed to know about her," Bridavsky said, eyes locked on a cat that was nonchalantly hobbling into the room.
"Who is she?" I asked trying not to appear completely caught off guard.
"I can't tell you ---- you'll laugh," he said.
"I'm not going to laugh at a cat with a peg leg. Why would I do that?" I retort.
"Because of her name," he said. "Her name's Lil Nub."
Lil Nub, a recent adoptee, is Bridavsky's sixth cat.
Like Bub, Nub was born with a deformity. Instead of a front paw, she has one corkscrew toe that has one claw.
"I'd been wanting to get a buddy for Bub, and Nub was the only cat there that had never been looked at because of her deformity, so she seemed like a perfect companion," he said.
Bridavsky's four other rescue cats ---- Oscar, Josie, Vivian and Special Agent Dale Cooper ---- live at the recording studio.
Six cats, two with deformities, and one Internet-famous -- that's a lot for a single guy to manage. Apparently, it's also a turn-on. Bridavsky has received marriage proposals from several of Bub's female fans.
He also regularly receives Bub-related artwork, and one extremist went so far as to have Bub's face tattooed on the palm of their hand.
However, life with Bub isn't all puppies -- errr, kittens -- and rainbows.
While the majority of comments online are chock-full of "awwws" and smiley faces, some call Bub retarded or accuse Bridavsky of capitalizing on her disabilities.
"People assume she's stupid and she's not ---- she's got a message," said Bridavsky, who is aware of how harsh the Internet can be.
"I know people are going to think I found another disabled cat to exploit, but Nub was just for Bub -- she'll end up on the Internet but that wasn't the point," he said.
Nub will likely play a role in supporting Bub in her effort to raise awareness of spaying and neutering as well as adopting and rescuing animals.
Bridavsky said he never set out to make Bub Internet-famous or use her as a money-making machine. "I have a real job I'm already busy enough with," he said.
Jonathan Cargill, a friend of Bridavsky's, serves as Bub's "manager" helping with bookkeeping and PR requests and said Bub isn't being exploited in any way.
"She's sitting at home sleeping and being happy. It's her images that are popular," he said.
It must be noted the Lil Bub mini media empire generates some revenue. Any income is used to pay friends for printing and design work, photographs and video and also pay for Bub's medical treatment and food.
A percentage of sales and YouTube ad revenue are donated to the Exotic Feline Rescue Center, the Monroe County Humane Association and Pets Alive Spay/Neuter clinic. A book deal is also in the works.
"I had always posted pictures of my other cats online, the bands really like them and it wasn't for any other reason than for my friends to see the cats they like. When I got Bub, I did the same thing. It was never intentional to make her a part of the whole Internet cat phenomenon," he said.
Photo went viral
That phenomenon began when a friend suggested Bridavsky create a Tumblr account to document Bub's life. One of the photos made the front page of Reddit and went viral.
From there, Bub's fan base grew and another one of Bridavsky's friends, David J. Woodruff, started designing Lil Bub T-shirts.
Woodruff was already making T-shirts with the picture of his own cat on them, Bub's boyfriend, Smoosh.
As if on cue at the sound of Smoosh's name, Bub interjects with a cooing noise.
She otherwise remains quiet and content, stirring only when Nub hisses from a few feet away.
"Any cat that sees Bub freaks out ---- the biggest, toughest cats will run away from her. But Nub is a sweet cat, I think they'll be okay," he said.
In an follow up email a few weeks after our meeting, Bridavsky reports the cats are getting along much better.
Despite the whole 'having a famous cat on the internet' thing -- Bridavsky claims he's actually not a fan of Internet cats.
"I'm sure it seems like I'm a crazy cat person, but I'm just not. I like my cats," he said.
Then again, it's hard to throw stones at cat festival fanatics when you're a tattooed guy in the rock music industry who takes in disabled stray cats. He gets it.
"I'm a dude that loves a cat and by most standards a masculine guy but people say, 'Bub's dude is making it okay for other dudes to like cats.' "
But that's the thing about Bub. When you're with her, you can't help but smile.
Like Bridavsky, Cargill believes Bub is popular for reasons beyond just her cute looks.
"She symbolizes a lot for humans -- she bucks conformity and has overcome difficulties in life -- that plays through her disposition wherever she is. She's super cute but handles her problems like a queen with full grace. I get warm fuzzies and am inspired just being around her," he said.
5 things Bub wants you to know
>> I'm a girl.
>> There is only one Bub. I was born to a feral mother, and my siblings were totally normal. My incredible looks were just a happy accident. Cats like me should not be bred to produce similar characteristics. While I may be happy and healthy, other cats with my issues probably wouldn't be so fortunate. Only one Bub.
>> I love fishes.
>> Please adopt, spay and neuter your pets. There are millions of homeless pets in the U.S. By adopting, spaying and neutering you are giving them a home and also helping with the animal overpopulation problem in our country.
>> I am amazing.