A Loving Ode to An Aquatic Kitty That Stole Millions of Internet Hearts Around the World

Holly the Swimming Cat

It was 2013 when Holly, the adorable swimming cat 🐱🌊, went viral worldwide 🌍 and became an internet sensation.

Now, nearly seven years later, when I think about this viral event (that took place as a result of my live-tweeting Holly’s indoor swim), I feel a sense of accomplishment.

The news story about swimming Holly, along with my corresponding video clip (which has received 75.5K views to date), resonated around the world (literally).

But more than joy or pride, I confess I find myself feeling great sadness about this content marketing achievement as well.

Allow me to explain.

First and foremost, Holly has since passed away so there’s that #RIPHolly 🥀🙏

Secondly, back then, I wasn’t as prepared for how Holly’s visual story could (and would) be twisted into other not-as-positive narratives.

The original story I crafted was intended to highlight cat care benefits or unique exercise angles for cats and so on (aka content marketing on behalf of a client).

But as the narrative began to go viral, the story entirely took a life of its own.

So here’s what happened

While most media outlets did stick with my pet care/health-focused story angle, some instead chose to focus on alternative narratives, including:

1) Making fun of the “fat cat”

2) Making fun of the fat cat’s “fat owner”

3) Poking fun at news anchors who’d crack up at the image of the cat swimming while on air

The “fat cat” twist, where some outlets and readers made fun of the overweight feline, was just sad — especially when the point of the story had been that cats could not only exercise but they could also swim.

Then some of the comments I saw, where folks were making fun of the cat’s owner because she was “just as overweight” as the cat, were heartbreaking 💔 and included colorful language such as “why the F is the owner not swimming herself” or “the audacity of the fat a** owner” and so on.

Holly’s owner was a completely innocent person who lovingly cared for her cat’s health and graciously allowed me to not only film her with swimming Holly but also gave permission to share the Holly story online. She did not deserve the rude comments a handful of jerks on the internet did unleash.

Last but hardly least

Then there was the unstitched news anchor — Susan Bahoric from WDBJ-7 in Roanoke, Virginia — who completely lost it during the Holly segment.

In a March 15, 2013 interview from The Roanake Times, Bahoric explained her on-air laugh-fest:

“I looked up and saw a cat in a life jacket,” Bahorich said during a recent phone interview. “For some reason, that struck me as funny.” Obviously. Bahorich was laughing so hard by the end of the 30-second clip, she could barely be understood. When she appeared on screen, she was nearly in tears from laughing as she said, or tried to say, “Stay with us, everybody. We’ve got a lot more to come.” She then slapped the desk and laugh-snorted as the lottery results came on.

With deep regret, Ms. Bahoric’s good-natured giggle-fest — packed with chuckles and exasperated gasps for air — took the positive attention away from Holly’s positive news angle, made the cat owner regret sharing Holly’s story, and birthed an unwelcome alternative narrative:

news anchors who totally lose it on air.

Sigh 🙄



You get the idea.

As I reflect on my career’s past highlights and how I move forward in 2020, I can’t help but think about Holly, the feline I affectionately dubbed as the “Aquatic Kitty.”

This cat was nothing short of amazing. And so was her owner, who doted on Holly with so much care and sincere love.

Lessons learned

If you’re creating visual storytelling narratives and content stories to share with audiences, please be mindful that the narratives you develop — no matter how harmless or well-intended — can transform into unexpected sub-stories you’d never imagine or expect.

Now when I develop narratives for brands, I create alternate story possibilities in hopes of more proactively anticipating unwelcome comments or challenging story twists.

Back to Holly

The Holly story is the only story, thus far for me (knock on wood), where I’ve had this kind of experience … but it’s an important experience to learn from and share. My hope in recounting this tale is that the authenticity and dignity of Holly’s original story can be restored.