Chupie the Lykoi cat isn't as feral as he may look—unless, of course, it comes to getting his paws on some precious baguettes.
The unusual kitty has recently gone viral on social media, garnering over 30 million views on TikTok and cheering up cat fans globally during the difficulties of the pandemic.
But according to owner and Austin resident Michelle, who asked not to disclose her full name for privacy reasons, this wasn't what she expected at all when she first made Chupie's Instagram and TikTok in January.
Chupie's claim to fame—aside from his overwhelming cuteness and love for all foods (except salsa and carrots)—is his unique genetics. Lykoi cats, named after the Greek word for "wolves" and often aptly dubbed "wolf cats," are the result of a mutation originally found in feral cat populations that have since become a pedigree cat breed.
He's gotten plenty of love—and plenty of bullying—for his wolf-like appearance. Michelle has been told he looks like anything from the weasel of "Suicide Squad" to Clint Eastwood as a cat.
"I think that a lot of people think that he looks like an ugly cat because he looks mangy," Michelle said. "But that's kind of what makes him special."
But Chupie doesn't have the disposition of a werewolf. In fact, the friendly cat can be seen kayaking, hiking and lounging around locales around Austin, from historic bar Nickel City to his favorite spot at South Austin's Little Darlin'.
He's almost always well-behaved, too—that is, until food enters the picture.
Just a few days after making his Internet debut, Chupie first went viral for viciously gripping onto a bag of H-E-B buns. The post gained 1.3 million views.
Since then, similar videos of Chupie gripping baguettes, treats and other goodies have gained up to 11 million views apiece.
Michelle and her husband have beencreating content nearly every weekend and are now busier than ever. Still, it's been a rewarding, if unexpected, life change, especially as she hears from fans worldwide who view Chupie as a bright spot in their life.
Michelle said that she's received countless positive messages from fans, many of whom struggled during the pandemic.
"I joke that he's a 'meowtivational speaker' because I really think that we sometimes live in really dark places, especially during COVID," Michelle said. "So if we can give them even a little part of their day, even if it's 10 seconds where they feel joy, then it's worth it."
That popularity has translated into real life. Chupie is celebrated by fans and newcomers alike nearly everywhere he goes. In an interview with Austonia, Chupie was almost immediately greeted by a fascinated stranger who was quick to scratch his head and take pictures, something Michelle said is a normal occurrence.
"Everybody knows him when I go places now," Michelle said. "People are like, 'Oh my God, is that Chupie? Can I feed him the crust of my pizza?'"
Chupie before getting a treat. (Claire Partain/Austonia)
Chupie after he gets a treat. (Claire Partain/Austonia)
"He's living better than me probably," Michelle joked. "We live our lives well together. But I've never done so many things in one weekend until I started making these videos."
So what's next for Chupie? Michelle hopes one day she can take her kitty on global adventures where he can meet fans. For now, she's busy making Chupie merch, sending out care packages and is looking forward to taking her pet to animal events like the POP Cats festival on Saturday.
"This has gone way further than I ever imagined, and it's about Chupie, but it's also about the 'I don't give a meow' attitude," Michelle said. "I think people need to take life less seriously, so it's nice to be an outlet for that."
Actor, director and screenwriter Justin Theroux isn't the only famous member of his family. His canine companion Kuma made waves online this past weekend supporting Austin Pets Alive!—and Jennifer Aniston is a fan.
Theroux launched Kuma's own Instagram account on Saturday with a link to Austin Pets Alive!'s website in her bio. And the grey pitbull mix is already garnering the kind of attention worthy of her movie star dad: As of Monday night, she has over 55,000 followers.
Chief among them is Jennifer Aniston, who posted a photo of Theroux and his newly online dog on her Instagram story yesterday with fond words for the Austin shelter.
"Love what these two are doing to help people who help pups who help people," the 'Friends' star, and Theroux's ex-wife, wrote. "They helped save 60 pups at Austin Pets Alive! yesterday."
Theroux began volunteering at the shelter while filming 'The Leftovers' in Austin when he fell in love with the shelter's pitbulls, according to Dr. Ellen Jefferson, Austin Pets Alive! president and CEO.
"We are thrilled that he and Kuma are spreading the word about the work APA! is doing and the need to keep Austin no-kill," she said, referring to the shelter's commitment to save animals most at risk for euthenasia.
Theroux adopted his mut in 2018 after Kuma was rescued—dirty and injured—from the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey by A Chance to Bloom Dog Rescue, based in Conroe, Texas.
While Kuma is not from APA!, Theroux connected with the Conroe-based non-profit while visiting the Austin shelter, and he has remained "an enthusiastic supporter" ever since, Jefferson said.
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Lions and tigers and bears are getting vaccinated, oh my! Following suit with other zoos across the state and country, Austin Zoo said it will begin vaccinating its animals against COVID-19 in the coming weeks.
An allotment of vaccines specially formulated for big cats and bears from Zoeti, an American animal health company, will be provided to zoos that want to participate free of charge, including Austin Zoo. The zoo expects the doses to arrive in a few weeks.
Austin Zoo Executive Director Patti Clark on Tuesday said they did not yet know how many doses they would receive or which animals they will go toward, though it is likely they will prioritize primates, those in close proximity with humans and larger animals, as they are most at risk.
Headquartered in Michigan, Zoeti said it began working on a vaccine formulated for furry friends when the first dog was infected with the virus in Hong Kong last year. The vaccines Zoeti is providing are experimental but have been authorized for experimental use on a case-by-case basis by the United States Department of Agriculture.
"They are making available a certain number of doses to zoos at no cost," Clark said. "It's kind of like the equivalent of a clinical trial, without a clinical trial."Wait, animals can catch COVID? Yes, but don't rush out to vaccinate Fido just yet. The World Small Animal Veterinary Association said it doesn't recommend vaccinating house pets due to their mild symptoms and lack of evidence that your pet will pass the virus on. Plus, Zoeti just doesn't have the inventory to vaccinate hundreds of thousands of companions.
When they do vaccinate them, rest assured no humans will be harmed. Big animals will be vaccinated with a partition between them and the human, according to Clark.
"We train the animals so that they will tolerate (vaccination)," Clark said.
Austin Zoo is not the first to announce such vaccines for their animals—San Antonio Zoo, Dallas Zoo and Fort Worth Zoo all have plans to poke their residents, along with dozens of zoos across the United States.
Animal vaccine deployment began back in January after there were confirmed cases of COVID in the gorillas at the San Diego Zoo. So far, no cases of the virus have been detected at Austin Zoo, though they did have a scare that came back negative.
In the meantime, Austin Zoo is asking visitors to comply with local guidance by wearing a mask while indoors and social distancing at all times.
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Austin is quickly becoming the land of influencers—including those of the feathered variety.
Esperanza, a 12-year-old chicken from Austin's Highland neighborhood, has a reputation that precedes her. According to her owner, Edward Gottschalk, there's a solid chance she's the oldest chicken in Austin.
While it may seem a bold claim to make, Gottschalk has done his research. He said he found an old clip of a late-night television show (he's thinking David Letterman) that featured an ancient chicken from Austin that was 13 or 14 years old, and Esperanza isn't far off. He's asked around Reddit to see if any other geriatric chickens are still around, and no one fought for the esteemed title.
While "Austin's oldest chicken" may have an endearing ring to it, she's fought hard for her fame. Esperanza's backstory includes old-lady crankiness, family feuds and even chicken-on-chicken murder.
"She's not that nice, you really shouldn't like her that much," Gottschalk told Austonia. "She's an old lady, she's stubborn."
Gottschalk and his wife, Liath Appleton, got Esperanza from a friend in 2009, about a year after they moved to Austin.
Esperanza as a young hen in 2009. (Edward Gottschalk)
She's had companion chickens, some of which have flown away or died of natural causes. In the chicken world, however, weakness is never tolerated. The couple had to separate any sick chickens for fear of the other hens killing their weakest link, but some, unfortunately, fell through the cracks.
"Those chickens usually don't even last a week because they would kill that chicken," Gottschalk said. "Esperanza personally has probably killed a chicken or two."
Esperanza isn't the only family member who has fought for her spot at the top. Gottschalk's brother, Mark, is a champion pumpkin grower who has produced competition winners that are several hundred pounds. In true brotherly competition, Gottschalk decided he would make sure Esperanza was well-known as the oldest chicken in the Texas capital.
Esperanza has been with the couple since 2009. (Edward Gottschalk)
Gottschalk essentially boiled it down to an in-family Hatfield vs. McCoys dispute.
"I was like, 'let's not talk about my brother,'" Gottschalk said. "'Why are we talking about pumpkins? (Esperanza's) a celebrity.'"
Despite all of his talk, Gottschalk and Appleton have lots of love for their eldest (and now only) feathered friend. In bad weather, Appleton brings Esperanza inside the house for a few days, watches TV with her and even puts her on her lap. The coop, which is fully enclosed to prevent any attacks from predators, sits just outside a bedroom window so the two can give her treats and feed when needed.
Esperanza's coop is attached to a nearby bedroom window for easier access. (Edward Gottschalk)
Aside from bouts of ringworm and scuffles with former companions, Austin's oldest chicken could get even older. Some of her feathers have bent or fallen out, but she's otherwise perfectly healthy.
All jokes aside, Gottschalk said he's grown to love his grouchiest family member.
"She's pretty sweet with age," Gottschalk said. "It's been nice to have her. I will definitely miss her when she's gone."
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