Categories: celebrity cats

‘Down Syndrome cat’ has 137,000 Instagram followers. Would the same happen to a child?

This is a case were ugly becomes pretty; pretty effective at becoming a celebrity and the owner taking vicarious pleasure from that celebrity. I am going to turn on its head the idea of ugly cat celebrity.

“I’m OK with people saying that she’s weird looking because she is but I don’t like when people call her ugly, retarded or gross” – Lori Farris, 50, who adopted Willow

Willow dressed up on Instagram. Photo: Lori Farris who cares for her.

I won’t use the word ‘ugly’ again out of respect to Lori (and her cat) and before I go on, I will say that I love this cat whose name is Willow. I love the fact that she is cared for beautifully in a nice home by a nice person and that she has a non-human companion too, a boxer dog named Ella. And let’s be clear; I don’t see her as weird. I see her as another beautiful domestic cat.

But I’d be much happier if Willow, a formerly homeless cat, had been adopted because she is what she is and had not been turned into another online celebrity. Why has she become an online celebrity?

Is it because she is weird looking by human standards? That has to be the reason. If she was a standard dilute calico she would not have 137,000 followers.

Is it because Lori Farris saw the opportunity in Willow to create another feline celebrity? Why did she start an Instagram page for Willow? There are several, if not many, feline social media celebs who have attained that exalted state because they have an anatomical defect of some sort. The most famous is Grumpy cat who died young incidentally. Lil Bub is another who suffers from a rare bone disease.

Do we celebrate anatomical defects in people? No we don’t. It would be seen as exploitative if we did it. Think about it: if someone tried to turn a Down Syndrome child into a social media celebrity it would be frowned upon as insensitive. Worse, it may even be illegal in some countries to do that. Yet a domestic cat with ‘Down Syndrome type’ facial features and anatomy is presented as a celebrity dressed up in pretty accessories to make her appearance more photogenic to please and excite her 137,000 social media followers.

If Willow had been cared for nicely but anonymously that would have pleased me. But not this. For me this is a person taking vicarious pleasure from her cat’s celebrity and it is exploitative.


That ends my rant and below is a quote about Willow from the Daily Mail Online and her Instagram page. Lori writes:

“One day when I left a student’s house there was a tiny, dirty kitten on the doorstep and she followed me to my car..The poor thing had eye infections, fleas and intestinal parasites…The vet said that the shelter would surely euthanize her since she wasn’t ‘pretty’ so I decided to keep her.”

Lori saved the life of this cat. Great and well done but don’t open a social media account based on your cat’s weird appearance.

Lori believes that people like Willow because she is a symbol of love and kindness. She is a symbol of love and kindness by Lori. But I cannot get out of my mind the fact that this charming cat is being exploited. The organisation PETA wouldn’t like it and neither do I.

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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