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Friday, January 21, 2022

Students’ foster cat with paraplegia gains internet fame after viral TikTok

George the cat’s TikTok is raising awareness for disabled cats — and is helping him look for a forever home

By JALAN TEHRANIFAR — features@theaggie.org

George, an orange tabby kitten fostered by two UC Davis students, captured the hearts of 4.2 million TikTok users across the globe after a video of him running — despite only having the use of his two front legs — went viral in October. 

The video, in which George chases down treats on his two front legs, was originally posted on Oct. 29 and has since racked up 28.6 million views, 4.2 million likes, 60,000 comments and 325,000 shares across other platforms — and the numbers are still rising.

Two UC Davis students, Natalie Laurie, a third-year cognitive science and music double major, and Claire Chung, a third-year wildlife, fish, and conservation biology major, are currently fostering George while he waits to find a forever home. 

The students found George through the Orphan Kitty Project, a student-run nonprofit organization at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. They had never fostered before meeting George, and Laurie said that the decision to do so was spontaneous — and luckily, it worked out.

“We discussed fostering a kitten through the Orphan Kitten Project (OKP) for two days, but because each one came with different health conditions and they were often taken by other fosters very quickly, we never decided on a cat and instead waited for the right opportunity,” Chung said. “One day, Natalie found an email from OKP about George needing a foster and she immediately signed us up for it.” 

According to Chung, because George has paraplegia, he faces struggles that other cats do not face. His paralysis affects his lower body and back legs, leaving him with a loss of muscle function in his hind legs and lower half of his body. Chung explained some struggles specific to George, and how she and Laurie accommodate them. 

“The struggles vary across different paraplegic cats, but George needs frequent diaper changes because he can’t walk over and into the litter box,” Chung said. “Due to this, we try our best in including diaper changes as part of our daily schedule [by] going back to our apartment after a morning class or afternoon class. Contrary to what most people may think, caring for George is like caring for any other cat or dog. Besides diaper changes which only take about five minutes or less, George is a wonderful companion and comes with lots of love, cuteness and one-of-a-kind zoomies.”

Chung said  that George behaves more like a dog than a cat — in her “professional opinion.” 

George’s viral video was not his first time in the spotlight, Chung said. 

“I have been posting fun and short videos of George on TikTok for months in hopes of getting him viral to better advertise George and hasten his adoption process,” Chung said. “One afternoon, I thought it has been awhile since I have posted on George’s TikTok account so I decided to film him doing something I, at least, thought was normal since we’ve had him since April 2021. Turns out, George zooming toward his food in 10 seconds was just the right material for going viral on the platform.”

George’s foster moms were pleasantly surprised to find that the video blew up the next morning. 

“I woke up the next morning with a text message from my friend saying that George is going viral with 600,000 views and excitedly woke up Natalie,” Chung said. “It was very exciting to see that George was finally going viral, and I quickly got sucked into the obsession of the numbers of likes, views and shares — which prompted Natalie to remind me to be humble.”

The video of George has now reached millions of people, many of whom have reached out to Chung and Laurie about his condition. One user even commented: “I don’t think cats are supposed to bend like that.” 

“There were quite a few comments that were concerned with George getting carpet burns from zooming across the floor so quickly, as well as people who suggested him getting wheels or amputating his hind legs,” Chung said. “While those are all valid concerns, we can definitely confirm that he has not experienced any sort of carpet burn. I believe it’s due to the elevation his poofy diaper provides for his hind legs.” 

Chung also explained why, as of now, George is not going to have his hind legs amputated.

“The problem with wheels is that George wouldn’t be able to sit or lay down properly when he wants to take a break,” Chung said. “Amputation is not an option unless he has serious health issues stemming from his hind legs, which is not true. He is doing just fine with his legs, so for now, we will be gladly keeping them attached.”

Aside from the concerns, the post has also been flooded with funny, loving comments — and fans can expect more George content on his TikTok account soon. 

“We’ve posted a couple of videos already and will probably continue to do so,” Laurie said. “Hopefully his new fame will help him find his forever home.” 

Laurie said that though she and Chung have considered adopting George, it is not feasible for their lifestyles. They both expressed that though they love George very much, they hope that he does find a permanent home soon.

“Adopting a pet is a huge responsibility, and as college students, we just don’t have the resources to do so,” Laurie said. “We are really thankful that the Orphan Kitten Project covers all of his expenses, so all we have to do is love him. We really hope that one day George finds a permanent home that will be able to provide him with everything he needs for the long term.” 

Written by: Jalan Tehranifar — features@theaggie.org

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