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Get to Know TikTok's Talking Animals: Bunny, Billi, Bastian and Steve B

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(L-R) Bunny (@whataboutbunny), Billi (@billispeaks) and Bastian (@bastianandbrews).
(L-R) Bunny (@whataboutbunny), Billi (@billispeaks) and Bastian (@bastianandbrews). (Instagram)

We’ve all done it: put on a silly voice and talked on behalf of our pets. The fancy word for it is ventriloquating, and in 2019, The Atlantic talked to pet-owners about why they did it. (“The voice I give my dog is somewhat sarcastic or critical,” one 31-year-old man admitted. “His most common phrase is ‘You son of a bitch.'”) Chances are, if you come across someone who doesn’t ventriloquate for their pets, that restraint is likely born from a wholehearted belief that their animal already is talking. Like Kermit the cat, here:

For a small but increasing number of pet owners, however, having a talking animal at home—one that speaks English, no less—is now an actual, bonafide reality. It all started a couple of years ago when Stella, a Catahoula-Blue Heeler mix, was taught to communicate by her speech-language pathologist owner. Christina Hunger was inspired to give Stella a soundboard after teaching non-verbal children to communicate in similar ways. And the results were undeniably impressive.

Stella now has nearly 800,000 Instagram followers, and Hunger’s first book, How Stella Learned to Talk: The Groundbreaking Story of the World’s First Talking Dog, is due for release on May 4. But since Stella and Hunger first found internet fame, a number of other charismatic pets have gotten in on the act.

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First—and most famously—there’s Bunny, a Sheepadoodle with 5.4 million followers on TikTok whose education was directly inspired by Stella’s. The 18-month-old is full of love for her human mom (artist Alexis Devine), obsessed with her human dad’s pooping habits, and frequently asks about her dog friends (Beacher, Tango and Selena). At several points in her communication journey, Bunny has appeared to be grappling with serious philosophical issues, including figuring out concepts of both time and self:

Fortunately, Bunny is just as adept at making fart jokes. (Farts, in Bunny speak, are “poop play.”)

Not quite as advanced, but just as stinkin’ cute, is Bastian, the most food-obsessed talking pup in all the land. The terrier from New York has been learning to communicate since June 2020 and has garnered 86,400 followers on TikTok. But burgeoning fame is irrelevant to Bastian—all the rescue cares about is forcing his humans to get his dinner (and breakfast, and treats) from the fridge.

Unfortunately for owner Joelle Andres, this demanding little pooch is impossible to say no to.

Which brings us, appropriately enough, to the talking cats. Steve B is a New York rescue with 150,600 followers on TikTok who started using his soundboard at the ripe old age of 11. His animal behaviorist owner, Kristiina Wilson, says he picked it up very quickly, and that Steve’s favorite button is “outside.” But watching his antics, Steve’s greatest moments are often the ones where he’s saying “No.”

And the ones where he’s using his soundboard for evil:

Steve’s not the only cat in the game. Billi has 328,800 followers on TikTok and a catnip button to call her own. Billi mostly enjoys expressing love for her owner Kendra, and asking for playtime. She even has specific buttons for specific toys. But, like Bunny, Billi’s desire to learn and understand more about herself is fairly astonishing.

Here she is asking where her ears, chin, and back are:

And here is Billi using that knowledge to get very specific pets:

Last year, UC San Diego and Fluent Pet (the makers of the soundboards) launched a research project called They Can Talk. And while it currently has 700 participants, including dogs, cats, pigs and horses, the team is still looking for more.

If you’re thinking of signing up for a soundboard of your own though, be prepared for the consequences. In addition to near-constant demands for food, scritches and “outside,” an ongoing theme for all of the animals is a general disdain for the music of their respective households.

Bastian, for example, is not an appreciator of Frank Sinatra:

And Steve didn’t enjoy Jennifer Lopez’s rousing rendition of “America the Beautiful” at President Biden’s inauguration.

Hell, Billi can’t even get on board with the Hamilton soundtrack:

There’s just no pleasing some people.

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