You've probably heard the term social media influencer—someone whose job requires them to maintain an active Instagram or Facebook following. They pose for photo shoots, work with sponsors and brands, and even have adoring fans wishing to meet them. Well, what about dog influencers? Or "dog-fluencers," if you will?
Turns out, there are many social-media-famous dogs (and cats!) that have risen to fame online and share their cute smiles and wagging tails with the world—including Bunny, a 7-month-old pitbull from Bradenton.
Bunny may be Instagram famous and unbelievably adorable, but she has a much deeper message to share with fans. Her story of healing and hope alongside her owner, veterinarian Ali Thompson, is one of resilience, determination and unconditional love.
On a typical busy April day at the Bradenton veterinary clinic where Thompson works, a 13-week-old puppy was rushed into the emergency room, completely paralyzed and in a lot of pain. Thompson caught a glimpse of her and knew exactly what was wrong.
"I immediately said, 'That dog has tetanus,'" Thompson recalls. The puppy's arms and legs were sticking straight out, her ears were pinned back, and her mouth was locked in what Thompson calls a "sardonic grin."
Tetanus, a bacterial infection that targets the neuro-muscular system, is rare in dogs, with only a 30 to 50 percent survival rate. The puppy, later named Bunny because of her ears, was helpless, and as her owner considered euthanasia to free her from her suffering, Thompson came up with another plan.
"I asked if Bunny could be turned over to me for constant care," Thompson says. "I wanted to give her a fighting chance, and the owner was kind enough to agree."
Thompson took Bunny home to her husband and two other dogs, where the puppy was given minute-to-minute care for her illness.
"She was in a horrible state for the first two weeks," says Thompson. Bunny was sheltered in a dark, quiet room to help stay stress-free and avoid the muscle spasms that occur with tetanus. She received IV antibiotics and sedatives, and was fed through a syringe since her jaw was locked shut. She was also unable to move on her own.
On days where Bunny was in less pain and Thompson had time off, the dog would receive therapy sessions in order to re-learn to walk.
"We would put cold compresses on her muscles, and then gently hoist her up with a towel and walk her around in the grass to get her muscle memory going," says Thompson.
After about three weeks of this routine and uncertainty, things started to look up—literally.
"I knew Bunny was getting better when she would slightly lift her head as a I called her name," says Thompson. Then one morning, Bunny wagged her tail, another milestone and universal sign of dog happiness, for the first time. From then on, she persistently began trying to walk.
"She was so determined, no matter how clumsy her movement was," says Thompson. "It is truly a miracle."
Now, Bunny is a happy, healthy 7-month-old pup living with Thompson, her husband and her canine siblings who loves to run and play. She has regained full mobility and grown at a quick pace. "She's in her true puppy-hood stage now," says Thompson.
As the most athletic of her doggie siblings, Bunny enjoys running, walks with her owners and swimming in the ocean. She also spends time with the kids in her neighborhood, who couldn't help but recognize her bravery.
"The kids and I agreed that she's so brave," says Thompson. "I knew I had to share her story with the world."
And so Bunny's rise to Instagram fame began. In June, Thompson started posting photos and videos of Bunny to a dedicated Instagram account, @bravelikebunny—which Bunny happily poses for—along with progress updates on the dog's health. Bunny now has more than 64,000 followers and receives daily comments about how her story of resilience and courage have given others hope. Her account has become so well-known that popular pet YouTube channel The Dodo even reached out to Thompson to feature her pup.
In all her practicing years as a vet, Thompson says that Bunny was the most involved, intensive case she's dealt with. Now that the dog is healed and happy, people's comments are not only heartwarming, but serve as reminders that Thompson did the right thing in choosing to fight for her.
"People are really thirsty for good news right now, and seeing this happy ending is taking people's minds off what's going on in the world," says Thompson. "I think Bunny's story teaches us a lot as humans—about hope and determination, no matter how difficult the circumstances. I know she's taught me a lot."
Plus, who can resist that adorable puppy smile?
Follow Bunny's journey on Instagram @bravelikebunny.