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I’m supposed to meet Chloe on the terrace of a Park Avenue Le Pain Quotidien one August afternoon, but like any good starlet, she's running a little late. Something about attending a graduation.
By the time she shows up, I already have a coffee on the table. Loni Edwards — call her Chloe's boss, personal assistant, maybe even mom — leads her in. Chloe is wearing a shirt that bears her name and a spiky collar gifted to her by Jimmy Choo for a Vogue event; she jumps immediately into my lap, ignoring Edwards completely.
Coquettish? It's not the usual treatment you get from a celebrity, I'll say that much. But Chloe isn't your average ingénue.
To begin with, Chloe is a dog, not a human. What's more, she's an obscenely cute two-year-old miniature French bulldog with fur the color of freshly poured cappuccino and a face that's as smug as it is squished. Her expression insists that she's aware you're staring at her, a canine version of Kim Kardashian's red carpet Cheshire grin.
Chloe's handle on Instagram, where she has just under 50,000 followers, is @chloetheminifrenchie, and if she's not quite as famous as Grumpy Cat yet, she's working on it, with some help from her momager. "Being an entrepreneur and being alone all the time, I wanted a cute little thing to keep me company," says Edwards, whose outfit, a white lace Zara dress, complements Chloe's own. "But it became more than me and my friends following her — there were strangers appreciating her cuteness."
As a burgeoning canine icon, Chloe has done shoots for Martha Stewart and Barneys; produced clothing collaborations for the women's brand Bow & Drape; eaten PetSmart's doggy ice cream on camera; starred in a Budweiser Super Bowl promotion; and been paid to attend pet events at fancy hotels (these projects and more are highlighted in a section on the dog's personal website entitled "Featured Brand Work"). She is, according to Edwards, a willing participant in her own fame: "When you open the dresser she starts jumping up and down because she knows she's getting clothes."
Beyond the myriad business opportunities, Chloe is also at the center of an entire scene of dogs and their human counterparts in New York City that has formed as a result of our collective lust for cute pets on social media. Together, the group is dealing with the benefits, as well as the more surreal consequences, of this odd version of fame.
"A lot of brands are starting to reach out to dogs because dogs make people happy, and brands want their ads to make people happy," Edwards explains. "It's the same group of dogs that all these brands are pulling on. There are only so many that have this strong engagement on Instagram that we just keep seeing each other over and over again."
"A lot of brands are starting to reach out to dogs because dogs make people happy, and brands want their ads to make people happy."
Chloe stays on my lap for the duration of our hour-long conversation, though I have to repeatedly push her away from my ceramic coffee bowl, which is shaped suspiciously like a water dish. When I go to take a sip, I notice more than a few tiny white hairs floating on the surface and almost choke. Chloe looks nonplussed, oblivious to my distress. Celebrities can be like that. "Chloe, it's not your coffee!" Edwards admonishes. "You have water. Mmm, look at that water."
But soon enough, Chloe has to leave. No joke, she's preparing for an imminent trip across Europe with a famous dog photographer (more on him later). I don't mind the slight. Chloe's not the only dog on Instagram, after all, and I have plenty more stars to pet.
As humans have moved en masse onto social media, so have our pets. But we don't have the same compunction about stalking animals as we do humans. We follow them on Instagram, we like their Facebook pages, we devour their photographs as if they belong to us. And in a sense, they do: by keeping up with these animals on a daily basis, we invite them into our lives even while we dodge the messy responsibilities of actual pet ownership, all those early-morning wake-ups and dog poop bags.
In the 20th century, there were archetypal celebrity dogs to fill the animal-shaped holes in the lives of those unable to have a pet of their own — because they lived in cities, perhaps, or like me were allergic. But these dogs were characters, not standalone personalities. They weren't even singular, specific animals.
Rin Tin Tin was once an actual German shepherd rescued during World War I, appearing in 27 films before dying in 1932. We're now on to his great-great-great-great-etc. grandson, Rin Tin Tin XII. Same deal with Lassie, whose first film debuted in 1943; the original dog actor, Pal, died in 1958, and the role was filled by a succession of descendants. With Instagram, we don't need the archetypes anymore. We have actual dogs like Marnie the Shih Tzu and Tuna the Chiweenie and Toast the King Charles and Chloe the Mini Frenchie to light up our lives through our phones in a virtual version of the relationship that has existed between humans and canines since the Paleolithic era.
As individual animals have gone viral, their owners have been caught up in an unexpected wave of social media attention — not quite what they bargained for when they started separate pet accounts with the sole purpose of not spamming their personal social media presences. It doesn't even take that many followers for things to begin snowballing.
"30,000 is when it starts," says Edwards. "When you're in the hundreds of thousands, it's a different ballpark, then millions, it's a whole other world." Marnie, with a signature lolling tongue that has made her New York's most famous Instagram dog, has 1.7 million followers (she is currently "not doing press" in advance of her forthcoming book, according to her PR firm — more dogs than you might think retain PR firms!). The dog startup Bark & Co., which includes treat and toy subscription service BarkBox, even has its own handpicked group of 500 to 700 social media dog influencers. "These are dogs that largely have Instagram presences, but we also work with influencers from Facebook and YouTube to Vine and Snapchat," says Alexis Anderson, head of BarkBox partnerships.
For most of the owners I talk to, there was a "big break" moment, just like in any good Hollywood story, when their pet caught on on Instagram. Shortly after joining the platform, Chloe had a photo reposted by Manny the Frenchie, who has over 800,000 followers. Norbert the Dog (136,000), an almost laughably cute mixed-breed rescue in Massachusetts, had a video called "I Love Cheese," in which he slurps up a piece of curdled dairy, go viral with over 1.5 million views. "Even though he's becoming this personality, I feel like he just remains his little humble little self," says Norbert's owner Julie Dawn Freyermuth. ASPCA employee Joey Texeira's dog Mervin the Chihuahua (30,000) got some help from Texeira's real-life friends Snooki and Jennifer Lopez.
"30,000 is when it starts. When you're in the hundreds of thousands, it's a different ballpark, then millions, it's a whole other world."
It's not just dogs playing the Instagram fame game. Rylai, a white marble fox, has 94,000 followers (domesticated foxes are available by import from Russia for $9,000). Lionel the Hedgehog, a prickly creature that at 26,000 followers is "the most famous animal in Charleston, South Carolina," according to his owner Anna Mathias, a PR student, was reposted early on by Joe Jonas. "I was in a movie and my phone was dying and I put it on airplane mode," says Mathias. "I got five missed calls from my little sister. I turned on my phone and I had all these followers and I saw the tags. Joe still follows Lionel and interacts."
Once celebrity has been established, some lucky animals become full-blown brands. Toast (299,000), whose Instagram handle and slogan is "Toast Meets World," is owned by Katie Sturino, a PR executive and the wife of Josh Ostrovsky, better known as The Fat Jew, though Toast became Insta-famous before Ostrovsky, according to Sturino. "They definitely have their own career paths," she says.
A curly-haired creature rescued from a puppy mill in 2011, Toast can be seen attending model castings at Vogue, hosting clambakes on the beach, and appearing on Good Morning America. Her peak thus far has been modeling Karen Walker sunglasses earlier this year, her tongue hanging rapturously out beneath the ostentatious frames. Like many rescue dogs, "her tongue sticks out because she has no teeth, because they were all were rotted. In the shelter there was no vet care, the food they give them is bad. They just don't take care of them of at all," says Sturino. It doesn't bother Toast, though. "Toast is a diva. She does not have a level head."
Chloe the Mini Frenchie makes frequent appearances on Toast's feed, no doubt bolstering the younger star's follower count. Through Toast, Sturino supports the New York Insta-dog community, bringing new pups into the fold and getting them their first gigs. Pica the Pomeranian (36,000), an ethereally adorable white puffball that looks like a children's cartoon, is one such example. "Katie started following Pica through Toast and then reached out to us last year to be part of the Burger King Chicken Fries promo shoot," says Pica's owner, a Chanel staffer who chooses to remain anonymous so that her dog doesn't interfere with her own professional success. "I envy her life. I wish I could be reincarnated into a little Instagram Pomeranian."
Near the top of the New York Insta-dog pile sits René-Charles (58,000), another Frenchie whose dads, both marketing executives, have turned him into an elegant man-about-Midtown. René-Charles's world is all minimalist couches and sun-drenched condos, coffee in bed and pensive looks on park benches. He's never pictured on a leash. "I think the idea is so much more believable and fun to think about this dog in the big city off on his own," dad #1 Evan Cuttic says. To echo Pica's mom, René is a dog I would not mind trading places with.
René-Charles's crisp nonchalance, we could even call it urbane sprezzatura, has proved attractive to brands, though the account doesn't feel dominated by ads and sponsored content the way Toast and Chloe's sometimes do. "We probably get a dozen emails a week. A lot of people are starting merchandise companies for dogs," says dad #2 Ryan Nalls. "We've been running the account for two years, and it's a little weird."
Even Lionel the Hedgehog lives a pretty good life, going shopping and getting carried around in ice cream cones. But as with every well-curated account, the always-on-point Instagram never tells the whole story. Hedgehogs have certain limitations. "They're very grumpy animals," says Mathias. "Some days he's totally chill. If he's angry, he just goes back in his cage and hangs out. These photos are literally five minutes out of his day." Hedgehogs also only live for an average of three years, she adds. "It's so sad."
"I wish I could be as confident as Chloe is! In retrospect, it's the person I wish I had the guts to be."
Many Instagram pets could be considered activists. Rather than simply entertaining us, providing brief respite from office boredom with cute photos, these animals use the audiences they have developed to advocate for issues like supporting shelters, adopting senior dogs, and shutting down puppy mills. In New York, the ringleader of this set is Chloe Kardoggian (50,000 followers, and not to be confused with Chloe the Mini Frenchie), a Chihuahua just shy of a decade old (don't worry, the breed can live until age 20).
Chloe Kardoggian's mom, graphic designer Dorie Herman, adopted her from a friend's grandmother in December 2013, wanting a low-maintenance, apartment-friendly pet. The dog was already named Chloe, but the last name came later at the suggestion of another friend. It's more about personality than the reality show. "We very rarely reference the Kardashians, but it lent itself to this perfect kind of celebrity-for-celebrity's sake that Chloe believes in her heart that she is," says Herman. "She had a C already, we kept that, but then when Bruce announced he was going to be Caitlyn, it was a godsend."
The Chihuahua's Instagram is popular not only for its goofy snapshots of Chloe, with her white muzzle, bulging eyes, and protruding tongue, but for the captions that Herman writes, which conjure a sassy Golden Girls persona. "I wish I could be as confident as Chloe is! In retrospect, it's the person I wish I had the guts to be. It's like an alter ego," says Herman. "Her thing is Lump Day. Instead of humping on Hump Day, she lumps on Lump Day." Lumping refers to curling up in a ball, preferably in a soft doggy bed, a trend that has gone as viral in the dog community as Throwback Thursday has in the human world.
Chloe's jokes and innuendos are a vehicle for calls to adopt and support senior dogs. "When you look at her page, there's tons of humor, so when you bring in the message, people don't shy away," says Herman. "They see that this is a happy place, full of love and good times and rewarding parts that come from adopting a senior. Every person who follows Chloe is one additional person who, when I post something about dogs needing to be rescued, sees it."
Norbert, the Massachusetts mixed-breed, supports rescue dogs like himself, but also became a certified therapy dog, traveling the country for appointments and presentations with Freyermuth. He also stars in a series of children's books published by his owner about how even little creatures can accomplish big things (after its success, Freyermuth quit her marketing job to work with Norbert full-time). "Norbert's next book is a collaboration with Lil Bub, coming out in November," Freyermuth says, referencing the viral cat with a feel-good message. "We love collaborating with people and brands that align with the same values as us."
Mervin the Chihuahua has starred in spay-and-neuter and anti-dog fighting campaigns for the ASPCA, where he was adopted from by Texeira, who works for the non-profit. "Who better to represent us than a dog that we saved?" he says.
As superficial as the Instagram dog scene may appear at first glance, it has real causes at its heart. These dogs that we follow, with their scruffy hair and their pendulous tongues, would not be here for our enjoyment if they had not been rescued. If we want that cuteness in the world, the social media community suggests, then we too should rescue dogs. The message seems to be spreading. According to pet adoption organization Maddie's Fund, shelter intake for dogs in the US dropped by eight percent from 2008 to 2013, down to 240,000 annually, and deaths dropped 40 percent, to 60,000.
Say you have a dog, or cat, or hedgehog, and you want it to be famous on Instagram. And why wouldn't you? It's like having your best childhood friend become a pop star and getting to join their entourage: all (or at least most) of the benefits, none of the crippling exposure. You'll be glad to know there's a surprisingly established formula for social media pet fame.
"Chihuahuas have the edge because you can stick them in cute things and they have those big crazy eyes."
1. Pick the right animal
If you, like me, do not have a pet, then one must be selected. In the canine world, French bulldogs, Chihuahuas, and Yorkies are particularly popular, perhaps because they're portable, adorable, and easily posed. "Chihuahuas have the edge because you can stick them in cute things and they have those big crazy eyes," says Joey Texeira.
2. Find your angle
Cute is important, but it's not enough; the most popular Instagram dogs have easily identifiable personalities. Pica the Pomeranian, for example, is the canine equivalent of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. "She doesn't behave like a dog; she's this Pokemon or Totoro type of creature that lives with me," her owner says. "Her idea of fun is rubbing her face into soft things."
3. Use a real camera
Ditch the iPhone. Digital SLRs are a favorite, but the lens is the most important choice, according to René-Charles's dad Ryan Nalls: "I shoot on a Canon 5D Mark III. The lens is an 18mm, 1.8 f-stop. It's a little wide-angle. Shooting indoors you get a nice sense of where he is; outside, you can really pack a lot into one frame."
4. Update often
Posting rates on Instagram vary account to account, but everyone posts at least once a day. When you post is also a factor. "I think it has to be at a time when people are going to be on their phones," says Nalls. "A lot of the time we've done first thing in the morning, 7 a.m. EST. This week we've been playing around with it, posting at 12 EST, maybe we'll hit people on their lunch breaks or people just waking up on the West Coast."
The best way to amass more followers is to get reposted by accounts that already have lots of fans. This requires some back-channeling within your own pet gang, currying favor via direct messages. "There's a community for everything, even if it's as weird as a hedgehog community," says Lionel's owner Anna Mathias.
6. Strike a pose
The vast majority of Instagram pet-owners I spoke to were already involved in PR, marketing, or fashion before their animals hit it big, but even if you're already an expert, everyone can benefit from a little professional help. The Dogist is an Instagram account run by Elias Weiss Friedman that has 1.1 million followers. A self-conscious riff on the street style blog The Sartorialist, The Dogist shoots soft-focus portraits of dogs around New York, blowing up the accounts of those he tags in the process. (He's the guy who accompanied Chloe and Loni to Europe, and he has a new book out in October.)
After moving to New York two years ago, Friedman got laid off from his job at a creative agency. So he launched a startup with friends, sold it, and then returned to a childhood fascination with photography. He already had an Instagram. "When I posted a dog, it was the most popular post I ever made," says Friedman. That was the epiphany: "I could do this! For the last two years I've posted three to five images every day without missing a day."
"These are dogs walking to take a piss on the street and I make it seem like they're models."
Friedman hits the streets of Manhattan, or wherever he happens to be, armed with kneepads, hiking shoes, squeaky toys, and dog treats to attract his subjects' attention. "What I usually do is take formal portraits of dogs and make them seem like they know they're having their portrait taken and this is the way they want to portray themselves. These are dogs walking to take a piss on the street and I make it seem like they're models."
How does he pick which dogs to feature? "Something that stands out, that's what I'm looking for," Friedman explains. "The tricolor pattern of a Burmese mountain dog, or the hair of a poodle, the ears of a basenji. You have a mixed dog or a mutt, whatever you call it, if you look closely, it's got heterochromia, different colored eyes." With this striking variety on display, The Dogist has been netting 5,000 to 10,000 new followers a day, and brands like Coach are lining up for sponsorships and photo commissions.
Friedman lives in Greenwich Village and haunts Washington Square Park, often in the early morning or around 1 p.m., when dog walkers make their rounds. Catch him if you can.
7. Team up
Once you hit a threshold of 10,000 followers, brands will likely start getting in touch with you. But if you don't want to handle the inquiries personally, you might contact Social Fly, a New York social media firm that represents a bunch of Instagram dogs, including Chloe Kardoggian. Bark & Co. is also a mysteriously omnipresent player in the sponsorship business. "One of the reasons we've grown so quickly is because dogs are inherently sharable," says the company's Alexis Anderson.
It uses its dog influencers to promote its own products, offering owners referral fees if they share a BarkBox coupon code on their accounts. But it also organizes other gigs, both altruistic and commercial, for the dogs. "We do a lot of co-promoting of fundraisers, we work on sponsorship partnerships for brands. Some of it is formal and some of it is organic," says Bark & Co.'s Patricia Lee. Budweiser ads, yes, but also philanthropy for shelters in New Jersey.
8. Get paid
Congratulations! If you followed steps one through seven, you're well on your way to having an Instagram-famous pet and are almost certainly embroiled in the vague, unregulated economy of social media advertising! You might want to make things easier on yourself by establishing an official business.
Loni Edwards, Chloe the Mini Frenchie's mom, formed an LLC when work started to come in. Having a profitable pet is a strange windfall: "What do I do with these checks? If I put them in my bank account, then I pay a higher tax rate on them. How do you quantify that? It's not like a winning, but it's not my job." With the LLC, "I can expense everything, her vet, her food, her clothes. It's a cost of keeping up the business. All the money coming in she gets to keep because the expenses offset it," Edwards says.
If you have the pet equivalent of a Silicon Valley unicorn, then the business might just metastasize. Such is the lot of Grumpy Cat, who was rumored to have made $100 million in 2014. The stat turned out to be a blatant exaggeration, but it points to the inflation of the digital animal economy. Grumpy, née Tardar Sauce, is certainly the most lucrative pet in the game, with her own Lifetime movies, book deals, and wax statue at Madame Tussauds. The peevish cat is a platform-agnostic brand, in marketing speak, with a hefty 893,000 followers on Instagram alone. Yet the life of a star isn't easy.
"I can expense everything, her vet, her food, her clothes. It's a cost of keeping up the business."
At a Friskies event in New York last month, Grumpy was on hand in her role as the brand's official spokescat, squaring off against fellow Internet feline Nala Cat to promote two kinds of Friskies cat food, "Saucy" canned food versus "Tender" grillers. Grumpy owner Tabatha Bundesen watched over her pet, who was enclosed behind glass so visitors could look and take selfies, but not touch. Bundesen has mastered the art of talking like a dazed celebrity, acting as a proxy for her voiceless pet: "It's totally awesome. I couldn't be more thankful to the fans."
But when it comes to going viral, Bundesen has some surprising advice. "We didn't plan on making Grumpy famous," she says. "You just want to have a good relationship with your pet. Always put your pet's needs first. Don't make it just an only pet; it's going to need company. Feed it good food. Cats love Friskies." A good businessperson is also always on message.
Bundesen's remarks and the various relationships owners have with their Instagram pets lead to what I'm going to call the Cartoon Animal Theory. If following pets on Instagram signals a move from the archetypal to the specific — and from the distance of a movie screen to the intimacy of an iPhone — our feelings towards these animals are taking a mirrored leap. We think we know the pets personally. I can pull out my phone and see a daily dispatch from one of the Chloes, or Lionel, or Minapple the Japanese Shiba Inu, whose captions I can't even read but it doesn't matter because the dog is so cute and often balances rubber duckies on its nose; it's like they belong to me.
But the most successful Instagram pets succeed because of how little they resemble actual animals. Instead of pets, they're caricatures. They cease to be living things and instead become exaggerated cartoons. René-Charles is a fantastical anthropomorphized invention of his owners. Chloe Kardoggian has nothing on Kim. There's no way Grumpy Cat is actually that grumpy.
Even when meeting an Instagram pet in person, there's a persistent pressure for it to reflect the persona its owners project on its account. One afternoon in Brooklyn, I head to the Fort Greene apartment of Becca Laurie, who manages PR and marketing for musicians. Her cat, Duck, is a fluffy Persian who first went viral after Laurie started Catroulette, a series of images of people reacting to Duck on Chatroulette. Duck has participated in a calendar shoot for United Bamboo and recently starred in a video for Ann Taylor Loft in which she hangs out with a model. Her social media presence is now concentrated on Twitter, where she brings joy into the lives of her media-industry fans like New Yorker managing editor Silvia Killingsworth and Reply All podcast host Alex Goldmund.
Laurie adopted Duck as a kitten from a Russian family in Brighton Beach in 2009. "Her original name was Masha. She just kind of looked like a baby duckling," says Laurie. Duck is exceedingly shy: "I was expecting her to be a lot more outgoing. Social media helps with that. I can shape her personality into what I wish it were instead of what it actually is. It takes a while for her to warm up to people. I feel like she's more loving on the internet than she is in real life."
At the end of our conversation, we go to look for Duck, who is hiding in a closet on top of a clothes hamper. She glares out at me balefully, the tapetum lucidum of her eyes flashing in the dark. In real life, she is not a happy-go-lucky cartoon, and is probably just annoyed to have me in her house. I can't say I blame her.
Such is the disconnection between image and reality. As with Hollywood stars, we want these pets to conform to our expectations of their personalities and personal brands. But that's too much to demand from a person, let alone a domesticated animal. The whole scene can appear suddenly absurd. "When people take it so seriously — come on you guys, it's just a dog. It's what we're doing to them," says Pica the Pomeranian's owner. "When I hit 1,000 followers it was like, oh my god, what's important to people on the internet? Stupid things."
The attendance list fills up with over a dozen dogs, though Chloe the Mini Frenchie can't make it — she's still in Europe, as her Instagram demonstrates.
Beyond the cheap, "stupid" entertainment, it's important to peer into the deeper capacities of Instagram animals. Above all, they have a unique ability to bring people together in a remarkably positive environment. Sometimes the connection happens virtually, through the medium of an Instagram post where people might comment about how this is the first thing that made them smile all day or friends tag each other in reference to a pet's silly expression. Other times, the connection happens out in the world, when the dogs and humans of animal Instagram actually get to interact.
With the help of Dorie Herman, I organize a gathering of New York Instagram dogs on a blistering Sunday, in the midst of a late-summer heat wave. The plan is to meet at Madison Square Park's large dog run at 2 p.m. The attendance list fills up with over a dozen dogs, though Chloe the Mini Frenchie can't make it — she's still in Europe, as her Instagram demonstrates, sampling French wine and Italian espresso.
I arrive at the park to find a pack of dogs ringed around a bench in the dusty gravel yard, their owners catching up, periodically erupting into laughter. All of the humans in attendance are women; the Instagram dog owner community is largely female, according to Herman. "If a man is involved, it's often through a wife or girlfriend," she says.
The pets socialize by sniffing each other's butts. Chloe Kardoggian toddles around peacefully, her giant eyes threatening to overwhelm her head. The handsome, muscular Royce the Frenchie (17,000 followers), whose black and burnt-orange fur seems almost runway-ready, trundles along the benches. Chloe's nominal Chihuahua boyfriend Bug (15,000) is there as well (their relationship exists purely on Instagram).
Mei-i Zien brings Tyler (1,700), a fluffy, white, frantic American Eskimo who is the mascot for her organic dog treat brand Maison de Pawz . The dogs "totally all know each other," says Zien. Whether they appreciate that Maison de Pawz is gluten-free, however, seems less likely.
Emoji (6,500), a stolid, bejowled rescue pug nestled in a blue canvas bag, attracts particular concern. He has just undergone surgery for cancer treatment — difficult for any dog, especially one that's already blind and deaf. He appears in good spirits, though, sniffing the air and submitting to head scratches. Messages from Instagram friends have made a big difference for Emoji's owner, Maryloyise Atwater-Kellman: "It's insane how much support I got. If it wasn't for all the other crazy dog moms, I don't know if I would have made it."
Mary Williamson shows up with her lanky Chihuahua mix Holly (1,600) in matching black-and-white polka dot dresses. The outfits have become the duo's trademark in the dog scene. "It gets me a lot of dates," she says. Really? "No, I'm just a very doting parent." Holly, still a puppy, squirms constantly. "She's exactly like her mother, she loves to be the center of attention," Williamson adds by way of excuse.
"If it wasn't for all the other crazy dog moms, I don't know if I would have made it."
Even in the baking afternoon sun, the mood around the run is festive, the dogs and owners like a gaggle of celebrities gathered for a charity gala. Photographers cluster around the most obviously cute, best-behaved dogs. Innocent bystanders even get pulled into the fray, like Bambi, a chihuahua so tiny she doesn't seem real. Does the pup have its own Instagram account yet? "No, but my other dog Walnut does, so I put her on his," owner Megan Barron tells me. "I don't really use Instagram for myself, though."
This is the community in action: a group of friends who found their own odd niche in a city always starving for novelty. They share their pets' triumphs and travails, as well as the strange experience of playing personal assistant to a dog's ascendant media career. In their midst, I'm just another star-struck onlooker, all of my Instagram idols wandering over my shoes and slobbering on my jeans.
When the heat becomes too much to bear, the party moves across the park to Shake Shack, which is already crowded with visitors relaxing in the relative shade. The humans order Arnold Palmers, burgers, and fries. The pups get Pooch-ini, the burger joint's canine snack, consisting of vanilla custard, peanut butter, and two dog biscuits. The beige mixture looks almost appetizing, but I don't dare test my impression. It gets rave reviews from its target customers, however, who immediately submerge their snouts. Holly, now shed of her polka dot dress, licks daintily.
Conversation among the owners ranges from travel plans and dog-friendly restaurant tips to how to use the video live-streaming app Periscope, the newest, hottest platform for social media pets. For their part, the dogs appear grateful for the opportunity to relax. No matter how many followers, a dog is still a dog, and a dog will take any chance to nap. More than a few collapse dozing on the park's green metal tables.
Still, fame does change some things.
After all the action, Holly is thirsty. This presents something of a problem, because she is accustomed to drinking only filtered or bottled water, and the only refreshment on hand is from the park fountains. "If there's an emergency, she'll drink tap, if she's desperate. She'll do her best to hold out until she gets what she wants," Williamson says. Indeed, faced with a bowl of substandard water, the dog sniffs at it and turns away visibly displeased, an aggrieved expression on her face. Just like a real celebrity.
Kyle Chayka does not have a dog, but you can find him on Instagram at @kchayka. For a more canine-centric feed, check out Emmy Park's @stylepup.
Editor: Julia Rubin