Best friends Henry and Baloo have a lot in common – they have both been rescued and now enjoy long walks in the great outdoors. What makes them special to their many fans is that they are a dog and cat travelling duo.
Their unlikely friendship and hiking trips around the beautiful mountainous landscapes of Colorado has gained the pair a cult social media following.
Hundreds of thousands of people follow their adventures on the photo-sharing platform Instagram.
For owners Cynthia Bennett and Andre Sibilsky, their popularity is surreal.
Cynthia and Andre met in Boston, but as New Hampshire and Texas natives, the couple say they are both nature lovers who were destined to move away from city life.
“We wanted to head west, toward bigger mountains. We came upon Colorado and moved on a whim, there wasn’t a lot of planning involved,” Cynthia told the BBC.
The pair started hiking regularly and once settled, decided to extend their family by adopting a dog.
Henry – a tall and lanky German Shepherd, Husky, Boxer, Staffordshire Terrier and Aussie mix – stood out right away.
“He was the same age as all the other puppies but twice the size. As soon as I got into the pen to see him, he crawled onto my lap and went belly up,” Cynthia explains, laughing.
“Andre knew then we were taking him home. I feel like he chose us in a way.”
Born as a street puppy, Henry was adopted from a rescue centre that re-homes animals from other states whose shelters have high abandonment and kill rates.
A mix of high energy dogs, he took to hiking and long walks straight away.
A year later, Cynthia realised that she was posting too many pictures of Henry on her social media accounts, and decided it would be a fun idea to give him one of his own.
It took three years to get 30,000 followers on the account. That number spiralled out of control when they got Baloo.
“Henry had really bad separation anxiety when we weren’t home. He would be so stressed out that he didn’t eat or drink, so we decided we really wanted a buddy for him,” Cynthia says.
“I love to take my animals everywhere – and because of Instagram I had seen other people hiking with cats, who really loved being outside,” she adds.
The couple spent months looking for the right match for their unique situation.
“After all” Cynthia laughed, “You can’t really force a cat to do anything.”
An unlikely bond
Like Henry, Baloo was a rescue animal. Part of a litter of eight kittens belonging to a mother whose owner refused to neuter. He and his siblings were abandoned immediately.
“As soon as he met Henry he attached himself right away. Baloo definitely has an obsession with Henry – if I need him to calm down, I’ll put him next to him and he’ll just fall asleep.
“I truly believe he [Baloo] thinks Henry is his Mom,” she says. “For the first few months he would actually knead him looking to nurse.”
Cynthia believes the Siamese mix thinks he’s a dog, too.
“If he sees a dog out on a walk he’ll run up to it, but if he sees a cat he will pretend it isn’t there and ignore it. Like, do you not understand what you are? It’s quite funny.”
Photographs and videos of the cat and dog together, with Baloo riding or running alongside on a leash, have exploded in popularity on social media.
Cynthia’s family, she says, are dumfounded by their popularity.
“I told my grandfather, who is my best friend. He’s very outdoorsy and natural so we’ve always been really close. He thinks it’s mind-blowing.”
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Andre works a typical office job in finance, but the popularity of the Instagram account has led Cynthia to scale back on her work in event marketing and focus more on updating the account and her passion for photography.
The animals’ popularity has led to endorsement deals, such as those popular with other online celebrity animals like Grumpy cat.
“Taking a leap as an artist is very scary and it’s not very stable in the long side of things, but I tell my followers all the time you are changing my life and allowing me to do what I love,” Cynthia says.
“It’s also giving Henry and Baloo a better life, I get more time off to travel and be with them.”
It is not all positive, however. Popularity has brought on some backlash against the couple’s alternative outdoor-based lifestyle, according to Cynthia.
“As soon as you get well known, you get the other side – which has been different to deal with.
“I’m like, why are you attacking a dog and a cat? I just don’t get it.”
But she says the support far outweighs the negativity.
Through the social platform they have been able to connect with others, such as people in the so-called “vanlife” community, who receive similar complaints and criticism over their nomadic lifestyles.
“You just have to ignore it and let it wash over you. You just read the hundreds of other comments that say Henry and Baloo brighten up their day.”