My vet called it an epidemic. We spoke across the examining table as my dear Wimpy, a borzoi and my first dog, lay between us, depressed. He had kicked off his account so enthusiastically. Instaworthy by the hour. But when those followers didn’t go up and the likes remained in the teens, his frisbees landed in the grass, uncaught. He sat motionless at sunsets with sad eyes, as if saying, “What’s the point?”
The problem is that social media popularity is just not as simple as most dogs would like to admit. The algorithms are always changing. Hashtags come and go. Wimpy could never accept this. So, with a heavy heart, I took him to a farm, free of Wi-Fi and outside of cell coverage, and said goodbye. The family tells me that he's thriving, but I miss the guy every day.
A month after I let Wimpy go, I met Ruby at a shelter. This three-year-old hound dog could not be any sweeter. She loves to play and is a doll with children. She fetches, she stays. Best of all, when it comes to Instagram, she doesn’t care how many followers or likes she has. She just wants to get the shot.
She was still new when I planned to bring her to my gym for a photoshoot. Nothing crazy. Just a workout headband and four sweatbands. Instead of wasting time on the admittedly cliché shot, Ruby yanked my work suit out of the closet and dragged it to the kitchen. She then pulled the business section of the newspaper off of the table and rustled them together in a pile. Then she peed on it.
Luckily, I was holding my phone at the time because this was the rawest, most radical, thought-provoking avant-garde performance I had ever seen in a dog. We must have gone through a hundred shots working with the light, her positioning and the growing puddle, but we captured everything Ruby wanted to say about, I presume, the stranglehold that corporations have on the American workforce. Ruby’s followers went crazy for her “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, Sits or Stays” post—not that she cared.
“You can’t let your dog look to social media to make him more social,” I told my friend, Sheila. She had to password protect her iPad to keep her dachshund from nudging the feeds of more popular dogs along with his nose.
“Take him to the park,” I said, “so he can meet the local dogs he follows on Instagram in person! They’re called Meetups.”
Social response doesn't mean happiness. That's the most important lesson I've learned as a pet owner in the digital age, and the most important lesson we can impart on our pets. No matter how many pairs of aviator sunglasses you put on, there's only one @DougthePug. “You be you,” I tell the dogs I meet. “The popularity will come if you stay true to yourself, like my Ruby.”
And would you look at that? She just knocked over a tub of dish soap and is eyeing my socks. Check your feeds tonight. This is going to be classic!