There’s nothing quite like a cute photo of a puppy or kitten to bring the Internet together. Chances are, you or someone in your close circle of friends has created an Instagram account for a pet, following in the footsteps of famed furry friends like Doug the Pug, Grumpy Cat, or Jiff Pom.
While all pet accounts bring a much-needed joyful reprieve in our chronically online existence, some of these accounts have gone beyond “feel good” and into that “real good” world.
Whether it’s supporting other animal welfare efforts, giving us a new language to talk about our day (ahem, it’s definitely a Bones Day), or raising funds to fight childhood cancer, many of our favorite animal influencers are using their followings to help others and do more good.
Meet 12 animal influencers (or animal-loving influencers!) who are bringing us more smiles — and are actively making the world a better place.
Meet These Inspiring Animal Influencers Giving Back:
The Best Dog Influencers Who Give Back
Followers: 9.2+ million
Created by Matt Nelson in 2015 with the goal to make people smile, the account awards ratings to Very Good Boys and Girls that usually exceed 10/10 (with very highly coveted 15/10s reserved for especially outstanding dogs).
After gaining some serious traction, Nelson realized the platform could be used to help dogs in need. As quickly as his following skyrocketed, he began promoting a GoFundMe campaign every Friday for a dog in need of financial support. Together, the community has raised over $2 million to pay for dogs’ medical bills. Dog parents can apply by sharing their campaigns via a digital form.
Additionally, Nelson started the 15/10 Foundation, which raises funds to support adoptable dogs "whose behavioral or medical needs prevent them from finding their happily ever after."
Supporters can make a one-time donation or become members to sponsor dogs in need of loving homes.
Followers: 3.8+ million
Doug the Pug, the little Nashville-based, potato-shaped prince with nearly four million Instagram followers, recently launched the Doug The Pug Foundation.
After taking Doug to visit cancer patients at a local children’s hospital, his parents — Leslie Mosier and Rob Chianelli — realized the real reason behind Doug’s social media stardom, and launched the Doug The Pug Foundation, which supports children and families battling pediatric cancer.
“Doug has this very beautiful quality of knowing who needs the most love,” Mosier said. “We realized we could actually use Doug’s social platform to raise good money to help these kids.”
In addition to hospital visits, the foundation raises funds for children and families who need financial support and gives them direct assistance to cover expenses of any kind.
“There is always going to be a dark side of the Internet, and we all have the power to be the good side of the Internet,” Mosier said. “And Doug has really brought that out in us.”
Followers: 4.1+ million
The dog-friendly equivalent to Humans of New York, The Dogist is the brainchild (erm, fur child?) of Elias Weiss Friedman. With over four million Instagram followers, the platform has grown in spades since its inception in 2013, now adding a philanthropic arm: The Dogist Fund.
The fund serves worldwide nonprofit efforts for dog rescue and rehabilitation through donations, merchandise sales, and volunteer opportunities. In 2021, givers raised over $70,000 for dogs in need.
On Instagram, The Dogist also shares success stories of dogs adopted through the organizations supported by The Dogist Fund.
Josh is a golden doodle on a mission to spread awareness and acceptance for canines with disabilities. He and his “service human” Kimberly started the Be Like Josh Foundation, which specializes in the rescue, rehabilitation, and advocacy of dogs with neurological disabilities.
Through adoption and fostering, physical therapy, mobility aids, and behavioral training, the foundation supports all kinds of diverse dogs and gives them and their humans the tools they need to thrive in loving homes.
“We like to empower our adopters, and in turn, they empower the dogs that they adopt from us,” the Be Like Josh Foundation website reads. “Each dog should be set up for success, supported, and empowered. We also provide support to our adopters by coaching them on how to welcome a pet with special abilities and by building lasting relationships with the adoptive families in the process.”
Followers: 4.5+ million
Famous for their “bones or no bones” series, where owner Jonathan Graziano wakes his sleepy geriatric pug, Noodle, every morning, this duo has quickly risen to TikTok stardom.
(Don’t worry about any pug competition here; Doug the Pug and Noodle are friends!)
With that fame has come a slew of opportunities; from a children’s book, to countless brand deals, and media features. Folks dressed up as a no bones Noodle for Halloween, and his official merch store churns out on-brand products faster than he can lay back down in bed.
However, Graziano’s main goal in Noodle’s pup platform is to encourage folks to adopt older dogs. In fact, the state of New York even proclaimed an official “Adopt A Senior Pet Month” in November of 2021, thanks to Noodle’s influence.
“I adopted Noodle at seven and a half years old, which is a lot older than most people adopt their pets,” Graziano shared with the New York State Senate. “I’m so happy that what we have been doing has been resonating with people. I would encourage anyone who is considering adopting a pet to consider adopting an older pet, because they have just as much love to give you.”
Graziano and Noodle also send donations to various organizations supporting senior dogs.
Cat Influencers Making The World A Better Place
Followers: 2.4+ million
Lil BUB, though now in cat heaven, continues to make a big impact. The cat, who passed away in 2019, was known for her pronounced features, with big green eyes and a small wagging tongue.
She was a disabled cat who had a number of lifelong conditions, but despite her challenges, lived a pampered life — and ultimately amassed a major social media following.
Her human, Mike Bridavsky, was inspired by her personality and spunk and decided to start Lil BUB’s Big Fund.
The Fund was born out of a desire to advocate for special needs companion animals and build a community celebrating the human-animal bond. The fund provides grants to shelters and creates special needs foster program initiatives around the country.
Prior to her passing, BUB’s platform raised over $700,000 for animal welfare and continues to do this work to honor her legacy. Lil BUB’s Instagram page is still active, but so is her brother’s: Mister Marbles, another adorable, unique cat.
Rexie Cat is a self-proclaimed “living cat emoji” with distinct facial expressions that make for adorable social media content. Rexie is also a “handicat,” and only has two working feet. His social media platform, curated by his owner, Dasha, creates visibility for disabled cats and encourages folks to adopt pets who may need just a bit more love.
“They’re always determined and are full of strong spirit, so it’s plain wrong to put them down,” Dasha shared with Modern Cat. “People often are in such a hurry to put them down, but these cats are a great example of how you can overcome difficulties and enjoy life, even if you fall short physically a little.”
Monty and Molly are two fabulous felines who live with chromosomal abnormalities, making them look slightly different from typical cats. These abnormalities also contribute to other health conditions, like diabetes.
That’s not it, though! Mogensen recently launched a platform called My Best Friend, which is an app (still in beta testing) that will allow those who live with mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, ADHD, OCD, and panic attacks, to access resources and assistance.
The app will include mood trackers and a journal, informational and relaxation videos, and a “panic button” for instant help in the event of a panic attack. Inspired by her companionship with Monty and Molly, Fenjah wanted people to be able to always have a best friend by their side.
Angela Rafuse inherited her grandfather’s cat, Mackenzie, when he passed away in 2019. She quickly fell in love with her temperamental personality and began sharing videos of Mackenzie on TikTok, gaining traction and adoration from cat lovers everywhere.
Rafuse realized that she wasn’t alone in her story and wanted to help seniors or those living with terminal illnesses find second loving homes for their pets, instead of sending these beloved animals to shelters. My Grandfather’s Cat was born — launched on Rafuse’s grandfather’s birthday in 2021.
In the first six months of operating, the organization helped more than 25 cats and dogs find second forever homes, growing into a team of 10 volunteers across Canada. In February of 2022, Rafuse’s mission was turned into a registered charity by the Canadian government.
Rafuse and volunteers organize new, loving homes for these animals before their owners pass on, though the goal is to keep them in their first owners’ care for as long as possible. Adoptables and their new potential caregivers are heavily vetted to ensure a smooth adoption.
“Through sharing videos of Mackenzie on TikTok, I heard countless stories of how many seniors worried about what would happen to their pets when they moved to a retirement home or, heaven forbid, passed away,” Rafuse writes on the My Grandfather’s Cat website. “I’ve always believed you can be the change you want to see in the world, and My Grandfather’s Cat is the embodiment of that. We are making a difference, one adoptable at a time.”
“Wild” Animal Influencers Using Their Platforms for Good
Followers: 3+ million
Juniper is a North American red fox living in a home full of other rescued exotic animals, like other foxes, possums, and sugar gliders. Their adventures are well-documented on Instagram, where they have over three million followers.
Their caretakers raise funds and foster other adoptable animals, spreading information and resources, all while providing vet care, housing, and proper diets for neglected and injured exotic animals.
Hamlet the pig is a therapy pig who serves her mom, Melanie, who has epilepsy. She can often be spotted wearing chic glasses and silly looks on Instagram, where she has over 330,000 followers.
Aside from her duties as a therapy pig and social media starlet, Hamlet works with Penelope’s Purpose to help abandoned pigs receive necessary care and adoption, as well as Best Buddies Nashville, to support those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Kristyn Plancarte (known as KP) is a marine biologist and animal behavior expert who shares glimpses into her wild life on social media. When the pandemic closed a number of marine life facilities, she took to Twitch to start streaming and educating folks about marine life, especially the relationships she shares with animals like walruses, sea lions, and sea otters.
She also creates in-depth YouTube videos, including her “Dive Deeper” series that explores a number of conservation issues, animal facts, and marine mammal rescue initiatives. In 2021, she also used her platform to raise over $35,000 for ocean conservation organizations by supporting them on her Twitch streams each week.
“Everyone who sees a sea otter or beluga whale up close ends up forming some sort of connection to them,” Plancarte writes on her website. “It’s my job to build on that connection and use it to educate people about these wonderful animals and the fragile ecosystems they call home.”
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A version of this article was originally published in The Animals Edition of the Goodnewspaper.
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