Bay Area influencer cat's Instagram account restored after age ban

VALLEJO, Calif. (KGO) -- Instagram accounts dedicated to cats are among the most popular on the social media platform. But one such account found itself in "IG jail."

Ernie is no ordinary feline. The feral cat has more than 8,000 followers on social media under the account @erniezjourney. He came into the lives of Irene Wong and her father Joe Zwetsloot of Vallejo when they found Ernie purring underneath their parked car.

"He was just sweet to begin with. He was a little baby, maybe a couple of months old. Something about him..." said Wong.

Ernie took a liking to Wong and Zwetsloot and always managed to find his way back to them until they decided to take him in. Unfortunately, he had a badly injured paw and doctors said there would be no choice except to amputate one of his legs. The surgery didn't slow Ernie down.

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"He will come to me. If he can see me, he can run a football field all the way over to me. He runs a little sideways. Drops his leg down and runs sideways," Zwetsloot said.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Wong decided she would launch an Instagram account just for Ernie. Then, almost a year later, she thought it would be fun to list Ernie's birthday on his account.

"I thought, 'Oh, it would be cute to put his birthday in his setting so that when people look at his account, they would see when his birthday is,'" she said. That was a mistake.

You see, Ernie is 9... and the minimum age to open an Instagram account is 13. Instagram promptly shut down Ernie's account for being underage.

"So I had to say, 'This is my cat's account and I handle, I'm the manager, of the account and I'm 50. So you know, come on,'" she said, laughing.

Irene launched a #FreeErnie campaign. She pleaded and pleaded, but nothing seemed to work. Through it all, Ernie seemed to love the attention.

"He's like a baby too. He's very needy. He needs people," Zwetsloot said.

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Wong contacted 7 On Your Side. We contacted Instagram and even Facebook, the parent company. A few days later, Ernie got out of Instagram jail. The company admitted its mistake, saying, "It was a false positive which lead to their account being disabled. The account owner is back to posting normally."

Ernie is now back mugging for the camera for his 8,000 plus followers.

"Thank you to your whole group for helping us," Wong said.

In all, Instagram shut down Ernie's account for 36 days.

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