Kabosu, side-eyeing Shiba inu who inspired the ‘doge’ meme, dies at 18

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Kabosu, the fluffy-faced Shiba inu whose skeptical glance became one of the enduring memes of the 2010s and inspired a cryptocurrency, has died, her owner said Friday.

Atsuko Sato wrote on her personal blog that the 18-year-old dog died peacefully early Friday in her home in Sakura, Japan, as Sato was petting her. “Kabo-chan,” as Sato affectionately called her, was “calm, kind and laid back.”

Kabosu had been ill for several years. “In my head, I still wanted [Kabosu] to live, but I think I knew it in my soul: It’s time to say goodbye,” Sato told The Washington Post in an email Friday.

In dogespeak: Much sad. Soul. Very doge.

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Kabosu was the face of the breezy doge meme, her quizzical expression surrounded by an inner monologue of choppy phrases in bad grammar written in rainbow-colored Comic Sans font. Before the viral fame, her early days were darker.

Kabosu was among a pack of 19 Shiba inus sent to a Japanese dog shelter after the shutdown of a puppy mill, according to Sato. Most of the puppies were killed, but Kabosu was rescued. Sato, a pet-loving kindergarten teacher, adopted Kabosu in 2008 and promptly began posting cute photos of her pets to her blog.

Two years later, Kabosu began popping up in unexpected places online. In a 2013 history of the doge meme by the Verge website, Sato said she was “taken aback” to find her pet’s face spreading across the internet, particularly the widely published image of Kabosu sitting on a sofa, paws primly folded as she appears to side-eye the camera.

As a meme, “doge” (which takes its name from the surrealist comedy cult web series “Homestar Runner”) was absurd, funny and hugely popular. Kabosu’s increasingly recognizable face was being photoshopped onto images of Twinkies, bread loafs, a stack of Pringles and cartoon buff beach bodies and peppered with stream-of-conscious-like words, usually misspelled.

By 2013, even members of Congress were getting in on the doge meme — a sure sign the internet zaniness had jumped the shark. But the doge meme didn’t die, it transcended: Kabosu’s face this time inspired the cryptocurrency dogecoin. In 2021, dogecoin enjoyed a brief 800 percent surge when, boosted by a Reddit thread, it became a popular memestock like GameStop and AMC and had prominent supporters including Elon Musk, whose Tesla and SpaceX accept the currency.

Kabosu’s global fame was a source of amusement to Sato. “And as for Kabosu being an internet meme/celebrity (part of internet culture), I think it’s some unseen force behind it — or a joke from God,” she told The Post.

But the Kabosu of the internet was not the Kabosu who was always by Sato’s side. As the dog’s health declined, Sato took her to work every day for five months. In late 2022, Kabosu was diagnosed with leukemia and cholangiohepatitis — an inflammatory disease of the liver and bile duct — and was not eating.

According to the Verge, Kabosu’s fame was never leveraged for lucrative sponsorships and branding deals like Boo the Pomeranian, Grumpy Cat and other internet-famous animals. Sato at the time said she wanted Kabosu’s fame to boost awareness of about animal shelters and puppy mills like the one Kabosu came from.

“I’d like to give back to them somehow, helping those abandoned animals,” Sato said in 2013. “It’ll be nice that Kabosu can play that role.”

Sato told The Post on Friday that she is in good spirits despite losing her longtime companion, who is also mourned by Sato’s family and other pets. She is planning a “fun farewell party” for Kabosu on Sunday.

Even though Kabosu is gone in body, Sato says her spirit lives on.

“I feel it,” she wrote. “That’s why I don’t cry too much.”

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