Abbe Nelson sat in her family room working and chatting with her husband only three short months after she brought home her new little tabby kitten, Swayze, when they noticed her doing something kind of strange: the kitten put her two front paws together out in front of her and started to wave for attention.
“Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her doing something and I’m like, ‘What? Did I see what I just saw?’” Nelson said. “I’ve never seen a cat do like the begging thing.”
Nelson immediately started recording Swayze on her phone and then posted the video on Facebook to show off the kitten’s adorable gesture, thinking she would never see it again.
After that, Nelson said that Facebook notifications started pouring in with likes and comments from complete strangers that just loved Swayze. Eventually, Nelson started to see Swayze wave at her more and more. She started to notice her doing it a few times a week, and now she waves at least a few times a day, always begging for attention, toys or food.
Nelson started to upload more videos and pictures of Swayze before creating a whole new Instagram account, swayzebegs, where she started to draw attention from users around the world. Once TikTok started to become a more popular online platform, Nelson also created an account there, where Swayze’s videos eventually started getting hundreds of thousands of views.
Now after almost four years, the little Forsyth County cat is known in different parts of the nation with nearly 127,000 followers on TikTok and nearly two million views and with 20,000 followers on Instagram.
Although Nelson continued to post pictures and videos of Swayze, she never quite expected such an outpouring of support online.
“I didn’t think much of it, I just put her out there, you know?” Nelson said.
Nelson said she has always been a cat person, and she loves Swayze, along with her two other cats Nana and Zoe, with all of her heart. She adopted her cats from a shelter about 10 years after she and her family moved to north Forsyth County from southern New Jersey in 2006.
With her two kids all grown up, Nelson gets to spend lots of time with her cats while laughing and joking with her husband, curling up with them on the couch as she works from home for a medical publishing company.
Nelson said that she does not spend much time managing Swayze’s social media account, noting that it is really just a hobby. She simply likes to bring smiles to people’s faces online with a funny video, picture or cute caption.
After Swayze started to become more popular on TikTok, however, it started to become more difficult for Nelson to get through some of the comments she was getting online.
“They started calling me an animal abuser,” Nelson said. “Well, you know, because she’s fat.”
Followers started to accuse Nelson in the comments of creating unhealthy habits for her cat, letting Swayze eat too much or not get enough exercise.
Nelson doesn’t know what to do about Swayze’s weight, which fluctuates between 16 and 18 pounds. She has tried giving her diet food, feeding her less and getting advice from different veterinarians, but nothing has worked yet. Nelson has assured her followers, though, that Swayze gets plenty of exercise and playtime with her sister Nana.
While Nelson realizes she may never please everyone online, she still works to understand social media as best she can.
“[When I first started,] I didn’t really know what I was doing with social media,” Nelson said. “I’m 54 years old. I have a marketing degree, so I felt, ‘Well, that’s a good way to kind of understand all that.’”
Nelson said that she does not quite understand TikTok’s algorithm or how to push all of Swayze’s videos out to followers yet, but she still posts to the account when she can. At this point, she said she mostly posts to Swayze’s Instagram — at least once every day.
As Nelson starts to figure out the world of social media, connecting with other famous cats online for tips and advice, she hopes that Swayze can start to reach more and more people out in the world, especially during times like these when people may need some extra positivity and laughter in their feeds.