If you’re on social media and happen to enjoy photos of cute animals (and why wouldn’t you?), it’s possible you’ve seen or heard of Oliver Taco — a handsome orange tabby known for his dapper style and viral #TacoTongueTuesday posts.
Taco lives in Pennsylvania with his mom Brianna, a 25-year-old veterinary technician who adopted him in 2006 when he was a kitten. It was love at first sight, and as the two grew up together Brianna became “obsessed” with capturing their experiences through photographs. She started a Facebook account for Taco (and then Instagram and Twitter accounts) as a way to share her hobby and connect with other animal lovers. It worked. Today, Taco is a popular “pet influencer” with nearly 160K followers on Instagram alone.
Those familiar with Taco know he’s a fan of food, car rides, outdoor walks, and being vacuumed with the vacuum cleaner. He also has feline lymphoma, which he was diagnosed with two years ago. Most importantly, he’s a fun-loving, easygoing kitty who is just as friendly to strangers as he is to the members of his own “Taco Squad.” The squad, by the way, consists of Brianna, four cats — Oliver Taco (11 years old), Thor (10), Dexter (5), and Simba (11 months old) — a hamster named Pippin, and Brianna’s fiancé, who she says has earned the prestigious title of “Taco Dad.”
Recently, Team MUTTS chatted with Brianna to find out what’s new in Oliver Taco’s world. She told us about his diagnosis and his online popularity, and about her wedding next month, in which Taco will (of course!) play a central role.
How did you and Oliver Taco meet, and how did he get his name?
He was gifted to me by my mother on October 2, 2006. He was adopted from our local shelter, The Humane League. I’d just gotten off the bus from school and she said there was a present for me in the car. I opened the box and saw the love of my life: a four-month-old, long and lanky, too-small-for-his-ears Taco. The shelter had given him the name Taco, but I wanted to name him Oliver in honor of my great-grandfather, who was very special to me and had just passed away two months earlier. So the name Oliver Taco was born.
What are some of your favorite things about Taco’s online popularity?
One of the most interesting things is being able to interact with popular pet companies and even celebrities. Another thing I really enjoy is being able to see all the friends we’ve made. I’ve met some of our Instagram friends in real life, some of whom are attending my wedding in May. To be able to be a part of a world where my love for Taco is accepted and shared among many other animal parents is a blessing. When I open Taco’s inbox and see a message about how his photos brightened someone’s day or helped them through a tough time, that is the greatest feeling.
How did #TacoTongueTuesday start?
Taco Tongue Tuesday is a hashtag I created after being prompted by an Instagram follower to post pictures of Taco with his tongue out (something he does when relaxed) on Tuesdays. The hashtag took off and caught the attention of Cats of Instagram and a few celebrities. It was then that our account’s popularity began to rise, which was definitely a happy accident.
What symptoms led up to Taco’s diagnosis of feline lymphoma, and what was that experience like for you?
For many years, Taco vomited regularly. When I was growing up, I was told by a veterinarian that he had a sensitive stomach. Then in 2014 I started veterinary technician school, where I learned more about animals and diseases. I realized that Taco must have more than just a sensitive stomach. I’d gotten a job while I was in school at an emergency/specialty vet hospital, and our amazing internist suggested an ultrasound and a food trial. Nothing on the ultrasound provided alarming news.
In 2016, while on a diet trial, Taco developed diarrhea. He had never in his 10 years experienced this. Our internist suggested we take the next step and place Taco under anesthesia for an upper gastrointestinal scoping procedure. It was a short time after the procedure when I saw Taco’s results imported into his chart. I saw the word “lymphoma” and my heart sank. Later that night, I was on the phone with our internist and I cried.
I thought that small cell lymphoma, Taco’s form of cancer, was his death sentence. I asked our internist about his prognosis and he was given two to three years. That was almost two years ago. (Small cell lymphoma is found in the intestinal tract of cats, and is different than large cell lymphoma in that it has a slower progression. It’s one of the most common forms of cancers diagnosed in felines.)
What kind of unique care does Taco require?
Taco was started on a steroid, a chemotherapy drug, and a probiotic shortly after diagnosis. The doses have changed throughout the last few years, but now he gets his probiotic and steroid daily, and his chemotherapy pill three times a week.
Throughout this whole process, it is crucial to keep an eye on Taco’s blood work, to see if he is having steroid or chemotherapy toxicity, and to monitor any other changes. That schedule went from monthly checks (initially) to every three months (currently). His weight has also been closely monitored, that way any issues can be caught early rather than later.
Is there anything you’d like our readers to know about feline lymphoma?
One thing I would love to share with readers is the misconception that I had about cancer. It is NOT always a death sentence. While I know eventually it will be the disease that causes us to part ways, it is treatable. Cats with cancer can still have a great quality of life. Taco has not changed at all since his disease. He’s as happy as ever, and if anything, he gets treats a bit more often than he used to.
It is of the utmost importance that pet parents comply with their veterinarians’ guidelines. Yearly blood work and health exams for your pets are crucial. When your pet is ill, do not delay! If caught early enough, a lot of diseases can be treated and managed with a regimen that your veterinarian prescribes.
We heard Taco is going to be in your wedding. Can you tell us about your decision to include him, and what role he will play?
I am getting married on May 5, 2018, and Taco is walking me down the aisle. (Before I go on, I need to give a shout-out to my fiancé, who has supported my social media journey with Taco ever since we got together in January 2014. For our first Valentine’s Day he made me Oliver Taco business cards, which to this day I still hand out at restaurants and other public places.)
My fiancé proposed to me on May 5, 2017 while we were on vacation. We were at Niagara Falls, and Taco was in my arms. It was that moment that we decided to have a taco-themed wedding on Cinco De Mayo, exactly one year later.
Thankfully, I found a venue that will allow Taco to be present. I also found a priest who was accepting of Taco walking me down the aisle and even suggested that “the Sacred Fluff” give me away. My photographer and DJ are cat lovers, too. I’ll be taking “first look” photos with Taco, and at the reception Taco and I will have a special dance together. We’ll also have a taco bar, enchiladas, chips and salsa, and even an inflatable cactus ring-toss during cocktail hour.
My soon-to-be husband has encouraged all of this, and understands that while he may be the human love of my life, he is second — and always will be — to an orange and white tabby cat named Oliver Taco.
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