Photos courtesy of Pookie Methachittiphan
With slightly-crossed baby blues, stubby legs, and pinkish-black jellybeans, Nala has pawed her way into the hearts of 4.3 million people — earning the Guinness World Record for the Most Popular Cat on Instagram.
The 10-year-old, Siamese-tabby mix was also named TikToker of the Year and nominated for a People’s Choice Award. Nala has built a burgeoning business empire that includes her own cat food brand named Love Nala. She also has her own custom merchandise, including T-shirts, coffee mugs, iPhone cases, and DIY cardboard cat houses.
Nala has endorsement deals with Bissell, Friskies, Paw CBD, Hulu, Litter Robot, etc. While she makes an estimated $8,683 per sponsored post, she wasn’t always Instafamous.
Nala’s story began at Castaic Animal Shelter in Castaic, California, roughly 40 miles from Los Angeles.
Varisiri “Pookie” Methachittiphan, a Master of Business Administration student, stumbled across a five-month-old kitten. “Even though I never intended to adopt a cat that day, when I saw Nala, I couldn’t resist her big blue eyes,” she says. “Once I had Nala in my arms, she looked up at me and licked my face. I knew it was meant to be.”
When Nala — who’s named after Simba’s best friend in The Lion King — turned two years old, Methachittiphan started her Instagram account. “I wanted to share her with family and close friends in Thailand,” she says. “I was hoping to have 500 followers at the time.”
Nala had one of the first cat accounts that posted minimally-edited photos with captions of things her fans imagined she'd say. “People said, ‘Her face looks like a cartoon character. She doesn’t look like a real cat,’’ Methachittiphan says.
Whenever Nala landed on Instagram’s “Popular” page, now called Explore, her account would gain 1,000 followers. “I was overwhelmed with the response and began to realize she had something special here.”
When Nala reached 75,000 followers, Methachittiphan received a direct message from Shannon Ellis, who wanted to make “cutie pie cupcake” a custom bow tie. When Nala hit a million followers, Ellis reached out again to congratulate Methachittiphan. They struck a deal to sell her bow ties in Nala's Shopify store.
When Ellis delivered them in person, the two fell in love. "Nala brought us together," Methachittiphan says. They’ve been married for five years and have adopted two kids, five other cats, and one dog — all of whom are internet famous, including Stella and Steve, Spencer, and Apollo.
Out of the Limelight
“The adoption papers said that Nala was very sweet and friendly. She’s very sweet. But if I want to cuddle with her, I can’t just hug her. She has to come to me,” Methachittiphan says. For Nala, days are all about sleeping and jumping from box to box. Like any contemporary cat, she also enjoys playing with a cellphone just as much as a teaser wand.
When she’s not snacking on chicken-flavored liquid snacks or in “zen” mode, she mostly plays by herself. “Plastic wrap is her jam and toilet paper rolls are her life,” Methachittiphan says. “When Nala was young, she used to fetch a lot. But with so many cats in our house, she kind of doesn't do it anymore. Sometimes, she'll do it when she's in the hotel.”
White Coffee & Luna Rose
Coffee, a 5-year-old British shorthair, survived kidney lymphoma. “One of his kidneys is larger than the other,” his mom says. “When people visit, Coffee always hides. But if we go out to see people, he’ll let them hold him.” After 25 weeks of chemotherapy, this shy but suave ladies’ man looks forward to going to the vet. “We take him to see the doctor for a check-up every eight weeks.”
“When we met Luna, she curled up into a ball and let us cradle her for hours,” Methachittiphan says. When the 4-year-old Scottish Fold mix isn’t not carrying around her catnip-filled banana toy, she loves to eat. “Luna eats way too much, and her favorite thing to munch on is chicken. She goes crazy for it.” She’s also extra chatty at meet and greets.
The Queen of Caturday
“Nala can be in the same space with our other animals, but they can’t get close to her because she has this big bubble,” Methachittiphan says. “She’s a queen.”
If Luna is sitting in a box but Nala wants it, she'll walk up to Luna and growl. It sounds surprising because Nala is cute and friendly in public. “When we do a meet and greet, she likes to smell and groom strangers,” she says. “Nala knows she's famous. People cry when they meet her.”
Paws for a Cause
Nala has donated 5,000 meals to Kitten Rescue L.A. She’s mailed 55,000 meals to Daisy’s Hope Foundation. She’s also passionate about decreasing overpopulation. Considering that more than 1.4 million cats are euthanized every year across the U.S., the goal is to end euthanasia due to lack of resources and overcrowded shelters. Nala also supports The Pet Education Project, Fear Free Pets, Waggle, and The Paw Project. “Kitties need their claws to live healthy, happy lives,” Methachittiphan says.
“Nala is always going to spread love and happiness. It doesn’t matter where you’re from or what you believe in. When you’re on her page, all that matters is that you’re kind and supportive towards each other.”