Bright orange fur, loving eyes squeezed in contentment and a sweet smile playing at his whiskers, Bailey the cat might look familiar. That’s because this “most affectionate, loving, sweet, tolerant cat” went viral in August 2018 when his owner, Erin Merryn, posted a video of Bailey cuddled against her 4-year-old daughter Abigail, who was serenading the feline with “You Are My Sunshine.”
The video was viewed by millions on Bailey’s Facebook and Instagram accounts. The clip was picked up by ABC, CBS and eventually by the queen of adorable online clips: Ellen DeGeneres.
“The Ellen Show shared Bailey’s video on Instagram with the status, ‘Okay just stop it.’ Ellen‘s 60 million viewers saw it and suddenly Bailey’s page received thousands and thousands of more followers on Instagram,” Merryn tells PEOPLE.
For the 33-year-old author and public speaker, this candid moment was just one of Bailey’s countless acts of kindness, gifts of tenderness the orange tabby started giving to Merryn when she first bought the cat from a pet store for $10 and smuggled him into her college dorm 14 years ago.
“I have always said if everyone had a Bailey there would be a lot less people in this world lonely or depressed. I always told people there was a little human inside Bailey,” the owner says, adding that she “won the lottery with him.”
Unfortunately, while Merryn and her family spent every day with the cuddly cat, the world did not get to know Bailey for very long. On Dec. 8, 2018, just months after becoming famous, the 14-year-old cat passed away from kidney failure in Merryn’s lap at the vet’s office.
“I could not stop crying when he passed. It was one of the worst days of my life and I have had some pretty terrible life experiences,” the mom of three says. “A part of the awful part of that day was not only losing my precious sweet boy but having to tell my 4-year-old Abby that we had to say goodbye to Bailey because he was really sick and they can’t make him better. The look in her face I will never forget.”
As a tribute to Bailey and the special bond he shared with Merryn and her daughters Abigail and Hannah, 2, Merryn posted a clip of the two girls singing “You Are My Sunshine” — the song Abigail had been singing to the cat since she learned to talk — to Bailey one last time.
While his time in the spotlight was brief, Bailey left an obvious impression on his thousands of social media followers, who fell in love with the pet’s personality and deep devotion to Merryn’s children.
“It was an inseparable bond of laying on him, pushing him in strollers, giving him baths, taking baths with him, sitting in high chair feeding him with bibs on, laying in their laps with his full attention as they read to him or sang to him, sitting at a desk and playing school with them, lemonade stands, picnics on the front porch, and Halloween costumes,” she says of the cat’s saintly patience. “They would dress him up is dresses, princess shoes, play makeup on and he didn’t care. He just loved these girls and let them do whatever they wanted to him. It was incredible.”
Condolences streamed in from Bailey’s fans following the cat’s death, not just on social media but in Merryn’s P.O. box, too.
“I had on Bailey’s Facebook page my UPS P.O. box. And after he passed I started getting dozens of messages saying, ‘Can I get your address I want to send your daughters a card,’ or ‘I have something for your daughters I want to mail,’ ” Merryn explains. “Since it was two weeks before Christmas many wanted to send them cards to cheer them up over the holidays. When people saw the post about Abby’s breaking heart after Bailey passed is when I got a ton of people wanting to send her cards to cheer her up.”
A full month after Bailey’s passing, Abigail and Hannah are still getting cards and gifts from caring individuals, who often send photos of their own cats, stickers, books, stuffed animals that look like Bailey and other treasures with their caring notes. Merryn estimates her family has received more than 500 cards from around the world, including mail from “Taiwan, Germany, Scotland, France, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, Singapore, Brazil, Italy, China, Netherlands, London, Chile, Mexico, Canada, and all over the United States.”
“I was stunned to see the love from people around the world and amazed the power of the Internet has for people on the other side of the world able to find joy and laughter from a cat they have never met,” she adds.
It is this love that Merryn hopes Baliey’s fans hold on to. She wants her furry “first-born” to be remembered as an amplifier of compassion that inspired others to treat the world with love. Merryn also hopes that Bailey’s cuddly hijinks encourage others to save a life and adopt a cat of their own.
“I hope people take away that in a world where you hear and see so much negativity that there are many in this world that are good. Bailey’s passing shows faith in humanity to people. There are good people in this world and while for many sending a card didn’t seem like much, it truly was,” Merryn says.
Since Merryn and her children loved the “joy and happiness” Bailey’s posts brought to so many others, the family plans to keep posting “a little sunshine” on Bailey’s Instagram and Facebook pages to keep his spirit and what it stood for alive. Bailey also has a book called Bailey, No Ordinary Cat coming out in April (available for preorder now), which will feature dozens of photos exhibiting the special friendship the feline shared with Merryn, Abigail and Hannah.