IT was Christmas Eve in Darwin, Australia when Dave Krantz and his partner heard the faint sound of an animal crying somewhere in their back yard.

The couple abandoned their gardening and eventually traced the noise to an overgrown clump of palm trees.

"I had to chop away a bit of foliage just to get in - and there he was: a tiny little kitten who turned out to be Finn," said Krantz.

The father-of-two still has no idea how the abandoned tabby - estimated to have been around six weeks' old - came to be there.

"There was no sign of his mother or any littermates, and he wasn't microchipped," said Krantz.

"He didn't appear to be a pet. When we found him he was very underweight, he had a lot of fleas, he was basically a feral cat.

"He was a bit aggro when we first found him in the palm tree but as soon as we gave him some food he became very friendly."

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Krantz, a communications manager, did what came naturally: he tweeted about it.

One of his first posts - joking that he hoped "this tiny abandoned kitten...doesn’t ingratiate himself with any family members who will become attached to him" - has so far attracted more than 57,000 likes.

Not bad for a Twitter user who had a fairly average 5-6000 followers at the time.



Since then, his picture and video updates charting Finn's progress have hoovered up more than 20,000 extra followers worldwide.

Fans - including Star Wars icon Mark Hamill - have watched the adorable stray's weight triple from less than 400g to 1.18kg, and his determined (and occasionally doomed) attempts to win over the family's territorial tortoiseshell, Mia, six.

Krantz thinks the story appealed to a sort of "Christmas miracle" narrative in the beginning, but that it has also tapped into a need among users for something uplifting.

The Herald: Dave Krantz pictured with Finn on January 4Dave Krantz pictured with Finn on January 4 (Image: Twitter/@weskrantz)

He said: "There are a lot of people who are fans of Finn who say 'this is really great because I can look something nice online instead of endless bad news and misery'.

"Certainly it's improved my experience of Twitter immensely.

"Instead of doom-scrolling I can just immerse myself in an extremely wholesome, heartwarming sort of world where everyone's actually nice to each other, and nice about cats.

"A lot of people have tweeted me about it and say 'it makes me feel good to see these posts every day'.

"There's been people tweeting me who are undergoing chemotherapy saying 'this has really cheered me up', so I feel like I've got to keep coming through."

Back in the UK, Finn's online stardom has been mirrored by another Twitter superstar: #SophiefromRomania.

The painfully shy rescue dog, adopted by the BBC's former technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones and his wife Diane, arrived at the couple's London home the Saturday before Christmas but immediately took up almost permanent residence behind a couch.

For the first four weeks she rarely left her hideaway, causing Cellan-Jones sleepless nights as he worried whether they would ever be able to take her on holiday or even for a walk.

Like Krantz, Cellan-Jones began sharing the experience on Twitter - from photos of Sophie peering out from her safe space to nervous ventures out for a snack - and the hashtag #SophiefromRomania soon began trending.

More recently fans have delighted as her tentative progress has seen her joining her owners in the kitchen, sitting under a table while they work, and playing in the back garden.

A recent photo of her outside looking in through the kitchen window has so far attracted around 27,000 likes.



Like Finn, Sophie's is a story of hope; a dog landing in a loving home and gradually triumphing over the adversity of its tragic start in life.

After a global pandemic and amid the war in Ukraine, cost-of-living crisis, and fears for the NHS, it also seemed to offer a happy distraction for a stressed and anxious public.

"This is a particular time - it's a quite a dark time," said Cellan-Jones.

"On social media and physically, it's dark - it's the depths of winter.

"Obviously there's a big constituency for dog stories on Twitter, but I think there was something engaging about her.

"She's a pretty looking dog, but also the unusual nature of this completely dramatic going-behind-the-sofa-and-won't-come-out.

"People tell me it's the first thing they look at each morning. Quite a lot of people say 'it's the only thing I come to Twitter for'.

"They're really invested in it and obviously a lot of those people are dog people but some aren't - one said to me 'I don't even really like dogs but I'm completely gripped by this story'.

"Quite a few people have said 'it cheers me up - I'm going through a hard time in my life at the moment'."

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The popularity of Finn and Sophie's stories goes beyond cute pets, however.

Psychological research shows genuine mental health benefits - and even boosts in productivity - among people who view animal content online.

A 2015 study by Indiana University researcher, Jessica Gall Myrick, investigated the phenomenon of internet cat videos.

The results - based on 7000 participants and published in the journal Computers in Human Behaviour - found that watching cat-related media was associated with a reduction in feelings of anxiety, sadness, and irritability as well as an increase in energy and positivity.

“Even if they are watching cat videos on YouTube to procrastinate or while they should be working, the emotional pay-off may actually help people take on tough tasks afterwards,” said Myrick.



Researchers in Japan - a famously cat-loving nation - even detected measurable improvements in workers' productivity after viewing pictures of puppies, funny cat videos, and pandacams in a 2012 study, stating that "participants performed tasks requiring focused attention more carefully after viewing cute images".

Their performance was notably better than the placebo group shown neutral images, such as pictures of food.

Dr Jan Smith, an expert in health psychology at Glasgow Caledonian University, said there are known mental health benefits to spending time with animals in real life which seem to extend into the virtual sphere.

She said: "Watching these sorts of Twitter videos and social media may bring a sense of happiness, joy and escapism from the mundane realities of day to day life.

“That can be quite helpful in lifting someone's mood but also providing that motivation to get them through the day, particularly if they're feeling they need some form of positive interaction.”

The Herald: Dr Jan Smith said some of the mental health benefits we get from animals in real life do seem to also extend into social media exposure Dr Jan Smith said some of the mental health benefits we get from animals in real life do seem to also extend into social media exposure (Image: Supplied)

Finn and Sophie also appeal to people who may be struggling in their own lives, added Smith.

"Sometimes people can find themselves in situations where they have no hope, there's no way out, and they feel quite trapped.

“Mending and improving a pet's life may provide a sense of meaning, hope and control that may well be limited in their own lives.”

Many of the most popular animal-related Twitter feeds also take advantage of our common psychological tendency to attribute human characteristics to animals, known as anthropomorphism.

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Among these is Cats with Jobs, which depicts felines in a range of unlikely occupations from shopkeeper to electrician (a photo of a cat seemingly changing a lightbulb has 70,000 likes).

The feed was launched as an antidote to the pandemic in November 2020 by Yorkshire-based video game designer, Lou, but exploded to its current 1.6 million followers after a photo of a cat wearing a 7-eleven uniform was retweeted by the US retail chain.

He said: "Somebody said to me 'you should start a dogs with jobs', but that's not as absurd or funny because dogs kind of want to serve humans.

"Some of them have jobs - search and rescue dogs, guide dogs. 

"But the idea that a cat, who's so aloof and wants us to serve them, would actually go out and work and support themselves is deeply funny for some reason.

"I think that's one of the reasons why the account has taken off."



Lou, who also runs the Translated Cats and There is no Cat in this Image accounts, spends around six to seven hours a week sourcing and posting pictures and videos, and getting permission from the copyright owners. 

"It's a lot more demanding than people probably think," he said, adding that another appeal of Cats with Jobs may be that it offers people an alternate reality of their own "9-5 slog". 

"There's one photo where it's a cat sat at the entrance to a hairdresser's and it's got this deadpan 'I hate this job' look on it's face.

"Whenever I post that one I get thousands of comments from people saying 'me on a Monday' and things like that.

"People find it relatable."