Texas A&M’s Bisbee, R.I.P.
The feral cat and unofficial campus mascot was found dead on Thursday, but he's still got eight more lives on Twitter. An interview with @AggieBisbee.
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The feral cat and unofficial Texas A&M campus mascot Bisbee, named for his favorite napping spot near the Biological Sciences Building East, was found dead Thursday, as Aaron Deering of The Battalion reported.
A staple of campus tours, the (not-burnt) orange-and-white cat had been missing for at least a week, with students, A&M employees and even university president R. Bowen Loftin putting out the call to find him.
As Matthew Watkins of the Bryan-College Station Eagle wrote, Bisbee had been semi-adopted by the Aggie Feral Cat Alliance of Texas, which helps to vaccinate, spay/neuter and (when possible) find homes for feral cats. According to Watkins, Bisbee’s age was estimated to be between 10 and 13 years old—fairly advanced for an outdoor, undomesticated cat.
But Bisbee was also beloved through the Twitter account @AggieBisbee, which has always been a blend of cuteness, snark and Aggie passion. It currently has more than 3,000 followers, and will continue to live on.
— Bisbee Cat (@AggieBisbee) July 19, 2012
— Bisbee Cat (@AggieBisbee) July 19, 2012
The TM Daily Post spoke to its author, who, as you will see from the first question, prefers to stay anonymous:
So, tell us your name, if you are willing to share it, or if not, just what generally connects you to Texas A&M.
I am a current student at Texas A&M, involved as a leader in a couple of major student organizations, as well as a campus employee.
But part of the magic of the @aggiebisbee Twitter account is that no one really believes that they are actually conversing with a feral cat, but, at the same time I think people liked to believe or at least pretend that Bisbee was actually conversing with them. We all talk to our pets from time to time and tell them all kinds of things, so how great would it be if they did talk back to us?
I had a coworker find out that I was behind the @aggiebisbee account, and he seemed genuinely disappointed. He knew that cats don’t use computers, much less tweet, but he liked to imagine that Bisbee was sitting in the bushes with an iPad, tapping out snarky comments in a Keyboard Cat sort of way.
I’ve just met the 12 most amazing people here in heaven – I’ve read about them before. No, I don’t mean the disciples. twitter.com/AggieBisbee/st…
— Bisbee Cat (@AggieBisbee) July 20, 2012
When did you personally first meet or become aware of Bisbee?
You know, for me, Bisbee was always just “there.” He was something that I knew about from the early days of setting foot on campus, so I don’t really recall the first time I came across him. I was never just walking across campus and surprised to see a cat in the bushes, so I must have heard about him from somewhere early on.
My path through campus doesn’t take me by BSBE most days, so actually seeing the cat was a rare treat and privilege. Even though I brought him Twitter fame, he still treated me no different than anyone else, meaning I occasionally got the cold shoulder, a bite, or a scratch.
But, that was the fun of Bisbee. You never knew what kind of personality he might have that day, and whether or not you would get to pet him. Unless, of course, you were feeling down and wanted some company. In that case, it seems he was usually in a very docile mood.
One time, after getting my Aggie Ring, I thought it would be a great idea to take a picture of Bisbee holding the Ring. I had been tweeting about how much he wanted an Aggie Ring of his own (the answer from @AggieNetwork was that he had to earn 90 hours, or 10 hours per life), so I thought it would be fun for him to finally have earned a Ring.
I tried a couple of things, but finally ended up putting my Ring on his belly and taking a couple of pics. As I was reviewing the pictures, he rolled over in the bushes, laying on top of my brand new Aggie Ring! I tried rolling him back over or getting him to move, but he just swatted at me. I’m not sure if he just wanted a nap, or if he really did want my Ring for his own, but I eventually got it back.
And when did you start the Twitter account?
I’ve had the Twitter account open for right about a year. I remember being in my office and some coworkers were reading some Tweets from @reveilleviii and laughing. I had never used Twitter, but I thought, “I can probably do a better job, even with a lesser-known character.” So, I started thinking about a persona I could create.
Bisbee was kind of a gamble. How much could the cat who you pet on the way to class really have to say? Well, almost 5,800 Tweets later, I guess he probably had too much to talk about! I wondered how many people actually knew of Bisbee and would follow the account. It turns out that many, many people loved him, even those who have never met him.
Some of my favorite tweets were some of the early ones. I tried to put some good stuff out there to get people to retweet me to gain some followers. After the first week I thought that I might have run out of stuff to tweet about, but something always came to mind. I started interacting with Aggies, especially students, started promoting sports and campus activities, and gave a commentary about current issues. The one thing about Aggieland is there is always something going on worth talking about.
I also wrote a great number of tweets about my Aggie pride, which I think resonated with lots of people out there. They seemed to love that a little orange and white cat could have such strong feelings of love for Texas A&M University.
Was there a particular moment when you realized Bisbee was becoming so Internet famous?
There were a couple of moments which really stuck out to me. The first was when people started tweeting pictures of themselves with Bisbee, or even commenting that they walked by and didn’t see him. The fact that the real world and the online world started to collide made it very interesting and real to me.
The second moment was when people would begin to ask @aggiebisbee a question about Texas A&M, like what bus route they needed to take or what time an event started. I always had the answer and was able to help, but it struck me as being very funny that, of all the online Aggie-related places they could seek help, they sought out the Twitter of a feral cat. They just seemed to know that Bisbee was in the heart of it all, and knew what was going on around campus.
I like to think that @aggiebisbee brought some positive attention to the real Bisbee. I really hope that his life was enriched because more people were aware of him, or became more fond of him and were willing to go out of their way to visit. I hope the Twitter popularity translated into more scratches behind the ears.
Part of the fun of your account was the back-and-forth about Reveille. Did anyone ever take exception to that?
Bisbee, in modern times, was what Reveille once was in the 1930’s. Reveille I was a stray mutt brought in and cared for by everyone, but owned by no one. She was a friend to the homesick and lonely students, and could be found on any given day. Now, Reveille VIII goes to the salon, has a cell phone, and has a structured schedule with her handlers. So, Bisbee liked to give her grief about that, and insisted that he was the mascot of the people. He would call her out for not being at a certain sporting event, or for leaving a game early, just to be snarky. I love Reveille, and Bisbee did, too, but cats and dogs just aren’t meant to get along.
Do you really think a Silver Taps (or other formal honor) is possible?
It’s an amazing sentiment that people would want to give one of our highest honors to Bisbee, but it’s also not surprising. Bisbee was a beloved pet for many, and through Twitter was able to show he bled maroon, even through his orange fur.
However, what makes a tradition like Silver Taps special is that not just anyone can be honored. The ceremony is reserved for currently enrolled students, which Bisbee was not. I’ve retweeted many of the suggestions for Silver Taps or Muster, as it is a way for people to show support and love. But I’ve also tried to suggest that Bisbee might have approved some other type of memorial service.
I would advocate for a simple gathering in front of BSBE one evening where people can perhaps bring cans of cat food to donate to the pet shelter, decide how to permanently memorialize Bisbee (if appropriate), and share stories and pictures of their beloved feline friend. However, I’m going to try to let things happen organically and not try to steer the process too much.
Why do you think Bisbee had such an effect on the A&M community?
I think it’s twofold.
First, Bisbee himself made you feel special. He wasn’t a huge secret, but you had to be somewhat in the know to be aware of him. Even if you knew him, he wasn’t always guaranteed to be out and about where you could find him. So, when you did have the opportunity to pet him or feed him a little snack, it felt really good.
He was also able to do the thing that all pets do, which is provide comfort when we are feeling down. If your girlfriend or boyfriend breaks up with you or you fail a test, Bisbee was there to give his silent support and love.
Then, on the Twitter side of things, I think @aggiebisbee said things that we all think or feel sometimes, but can’t really say. In other words, many of us have a deep pride for Texas A&M, but if that’s all we Tweeted about day in and day out, we might seem a little strange. However, if a little orange and white cat is the one saying it, the sentiment somehow becomes cute or quaint. It’s easier to retweet a cat talking about bleeding maroon than it is to retweet some random guy, at least in my opinion.
Bisbee also offered some levity to some serious or uncertain situations. I tried to keep some humor at the forefront always, during things like conference realignment or other issues. I think people enjoyed the jokes and witty comments (although quite a few bombed miserably, as well).
We’ve always been about making our own fun at Texas A&M. If you look back in old yearbooks, you see guys dressed in drag or other funny costumes, just to keep entertained. Yell Leaders were created out of the same need for entertaining ourselves. Back then, it was a necessity, because there was literally nothing to do.
Now, we have other things to keep our interest, but we are still very good at coming up with creating something out of nothing. I think that’s why our Aggie Network is so strong, because we band together to work hard (Aggie Bonfire, as an example), but we also play hard. I think talking to a feral cat’s Twitter about Texas A&M is just a modern extension of the good fun Aggies have been creating for generations.