The CEO of Petzbe, a social networking platform that launched on the App Store last week, is a Brussels Griffon named Angus. Angus can often be found adorned in a stylish jean vest gazing stoically into the distance or, at times, yawning. According to his Petzbe bio, Angus is a “lover of the finer things in life. Peculiar in looks and personality. Extremely loving but with a healthy understanding of [his] human’s shortcomings.” Petzbe is like Instagram, but with a strict “No Humans Allowed” policy. The feed is a stream of cat and dog photos featuring captions and comments in the voices of the pets. On Petzbe, you don’t just post about your cat. You become your cat.
The free app is available on iOS. Create an account for Fluffy—username, bio, the whole nine yards—and then you’re free to roam a world of pets. You’ve got your profile, which you can access by clicking the paw print in the bottom right corner. To the left of the paw print, click the cat-dog icon to browse pets categorized by breed. Or click the bone icon to search topics like Fashion and Petzbe Portraits. Instead of “following” pages and “liking” posts, encouragement is offered in “sniffs” and “licks.”
Pet accounts have been floating around social media platforms for a while—some to great success. Dogs like Jiff, a Pomeranian that looks like a teddy bear, and Marnie, a Shih Tzu with a permanently dazed expression, command social media followings well into the millions. What’s the big difference? While those pets hold their own among all the other posts on Instagram, Petzbe lets you enter a world where the only #selfies you’ll see are of cats and dogs. Remember? No humans allowed.
Since launching last week, the app has amassed more than 2,000 users. To keep them on the same page, the app includes a feed with the latest Petzbe news (Roofis is a dad!) and encouraging frequent user challenges. The latest was Petzbe’s “Lend a Paw” challenge: For each photo users posted showing a paw, Petzbe donated $1 to animal rescue centers, resulting in a total of $1,000 to the ASPCA. For now, Petzbe is small enough that it can afford to pay this out of pocket. As Petzbe expands, the app’s creators hope to partner with animal rescue centers to keep similar challenges alive.
Other challenges, like a prompt to describe “How I Met My Human,” have also sparked interest. Scrolling through the responses, it’s hard to separate the personified pets from the people using the app. As pets, though, one thing stands out: People are really, really nice.
Andrea Nerep, Petzbe’s creator and the owner of Angus, had this in mind when she launched the app. Growing up in Sweden with a mother who ran a dog hotel, Nerep has been observing pet-human behavior since she was a kid. When she moved to New York City from Stockholm four years ago, she was aware that New Yorkers aren’t particularly known for their friendliness. But something changed when Angus was by her side. People were nice. She connected with strangers she otherwise wouldn’t have spoken to. If you’ve ever interacted with people and their pets—on the sidewalk, at a party, even at the office—you can probably relate. People love their pets and love talking about their pets. And those conversations tend to be nicer than, say, sports or politics. You’d be hard pressed to find a conversation about Angus’ fetching habits go awry.
Nerep began working on an app that would bring out the kind of empathetic interactions she experienced during her dog walks. If it provided a space to archive her 1,000 photos of Angus, even better. Petzbe’s “No Humans Allowed” policy makes pet-owners more or less anonymous. Without knowledge of who the person attached to the account is, preconceptions around that person are wiped away, at least a little bit. “Social barriers are broken down,” says Nerep, as well as “social status, economic status, appearance. Nothing matters anymore.”
Stripped of their identity, some users on Petzbe can be vulnerable in ways they may not on other social media platforms. Last month, one user posted a photo of a dog with the caption: “So my mom just got dumped and I won’t be posting for a while. Trying to comfort her.” Other “pets” chimed in with stories of their humans going through breakups, providing comfort that it would get better. Nerep has also seen users open up about mental illness on Petzbe. “What we all want is compassion from someone,” she says, “but it’s easier to talk about it from the pet’s perspective. It can be therapeutic in that way.”
It can also be really silly. Nerep recently came across a conversation between a few users on Petzbe about eating cat litter. “One is like, ‘Oh, I love poop.’ And another is like, ‘I eat cat sand too!’ And these are humans sitting [around] and telling each other that they love poop!” She laughed, relaying the story. “And then one dog tagged another dog like, ‘Hey, this guy also loves poop!'”