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The ‘Wild, Funny, and Super Strange’ World of Insta-Famous Dogs

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As Maxine walked in to Joe’s
Coffee Company near Lincoln Square, everything came to a halt. With her butt
swinging from left to right, people took photos of her while making faces that
were a mix of a pout and surprise. I couldn’t help but feel cool, knowing that
the most desirable lady in the coffee shop was here to see me, no one but me.

Maxine was followed by Bryan
Reisberg, 30, who held Maxine’s bright orange leash around his wrist, with a
poop bag and her ID dangling from one end. As he made his way to the counter,
at least three people touched Maxine, petting her soft, stout body. And as
Bryan ordered his coffee, sat across from me and talked for a couple hours, she
did not bark once.

Maxine, or “Max” as Reisberg
prefers to call her, is an Instagram-famous corgi. Getting attention is
something she is used to and Reisberg has grown accustomed to it after a couple
of odd interactions, such as being stopped on the subway by people asking to
pet Maxine’s soft fur or being interrupted by a fan while having a loud fight
on the streets with his wife.

“I was about to pick up her
shit and some lady walked up to me while [I was] talking on the phone and
started talking about Max and I was just like, ‘I am on the phone,’” Reisberg
told me, laughing as he remembered the weird interaction.

“It’s pretty unbelievable
having an Instagram-famous dog,” said his wife, Alex. “What I really mean is
that I can’t believe that over 175k people follow my dog. It’s wild, funny, and
super strange to me. I’ll never get used to it.”

When they were featured in a
segment of Good Morning America a
year ago, they had 47,000 followers. Now the count has more than doubled.

After reaching 40,000
followers last year, Reisberg signed Max with Dog Agency, one of the most popular pet influencer agencies in the
United States, run by Harvard Law graduate Loni Edwards. Through the agency,
they get paid to do sponsorships with companies like Polaroid, host events such
as a red carpet for Wes Anderson’s Isle
of Dogs
and have meet and greets.

“Brands spend a lot of money
on it because people like dogs more than humans,” Reisberg said. “So they have
dogs doing ads for non-dog products. It is crazy.”

Reisberg moved to New York in
2006 to attend NYU Tisch and graduated in 2009 with a degree in Film and
Television. He has been living in the city ever since then, currently working
as a creative director at an advertising agency called Anchor. He grew up in
Bethesda, Maryland with his brother Josh,38, and sister Samantha, 35, in a
dog-loving family and had a Cocker Spaniel, a Chocolate Labrador and later on a
Westie.

“Bryan and I grew up with dogs
our whole lives,” Samantha said. “We both always wanted dogs of our own one
day.”

He met his wife, Alex, when
she was a junior at Barnard College, introduced by mutual friends. When they
got married in November 2015, they decided that getting a dog would be their
wedding gift to each other and on February 2016, two-month-old Maxine came into
their life.

Reisberg and his wife wanted a
corgi solely because of the cuteness factor, and named her Maxine because they
thought it suited her personality.

“We did not like really girly
names and we did not like dog names  — we
liked people names,” he said. “And it worked because she was kind of
tomboyish.”

Reisberg and his wife got Max
from a breeder, which involved an intensive and long-lasting application
process. “The process is kind of crazy because when you have a reputable
breeder, they usually want to interview you a few times to make sure the dog
goes to a nice home,” he said.

They found a breeder in New
Jersey and waited to be matched with a dog. Reisberg explained that some of the
red flags breeders look out for include people who ask about the cost in the
first email, or  ask if their corgis can
be “fluffies.” (The genetic trait, which makes their hair a long single coat
rather than two short coats, can happen naturally, as is the case with Max, but
trying to breed them is very unhealthy.)

Ever since she joined their
life, Reisberg has been taking Max everywhere with him — from a work trip
to Miami to his office in the West Village. When Reisberg was applying for jobs
in the advertisement business after working for a production company, he brought
Max with him and told them that he needed to have her with him. They kindly
accepted his request. 

Jeremy Leder, 25, works on the
same creative team with Reisberg at Anchor Worldwide. Word of Max’s fame had
made it to the office before Reisberg even started working there and Leder was
very excited to meet her. “Max is pretty mellow in an office environment, known
for her variety of chill-axing poses (often on her back),” he said. “Sometimes
if we’re in a creative brainstorm on the couches, she’ll come and snuggle up to
you and just kind of wait for you to pet her.”

Their daily commute to work
includes lots of Instagram videos that Reisberg takes of Max, who is comfortably placed in
his backpack, barely staying awake during the subway ride. They show people
petting her or taking videos of her. This makes up some of the content that
Reisberg posts on the Instagram account @madmax_fluffyroad.
The rest of the account consists of photos carefully taken and curated by
Reisberg himself, whose background in film allows him to take quality photos
that have good composition and lighting.

Reisberg and his wife, Alex,
29, started the Instagram in 2016 just for fun — as many proud dog parents do.
They split the work between themselves; Bryan as the photographer/creative
director and Alex, who works at a startup as the Lead Planner, as the
“supervisor” who finds movie quotes for the captions, decides on what content
to post and weighs in on business decisions. They had no idea it would become
this popular.

The first wave of fans came
after a video they did with Reisberg’s best-friend Owen LeVelle, of
Maxine’s everyday life being narrated by a man. Reisberg believes that people
love looking at cute animals and find it funny when they have “human
personalities.”

“I think people like to see
what weird situations dogs get into,” he said as he bent down to pet Max, who
was sitting under the table between our feet. “Like when I went to Miami there
were a ton of comments like ‘Max living a better life than me.’ People just
like it.”

Reisberg started the account
with his wife because it made them happy and it grew to become something that
made a lot of people happy. He is honest, however, in admitting that the money
aspect is also important.

“You have this thing that can
keep you living and doing things,” he said, adding that it is expensive to live
in New York. “We work really hard on the Instagram, so why shouldn’t we — sure
you want us to advertise whatever thing? Great pay us for it and we will do
it.”

Though Reisberg did not share
how much he made per post but he did give me a ballpark estimate, explaining
that a post can bring in from $1,000 to $5,000.

“Once you get above 250 [thousand followers], it could be $10,000 a post, but it all varies,” he said.
“I think that economy is figuring itself out. There is a girl that we know that
has 6 million followers and gets paid $50,000 per post.”

Being Instagram famous is very
competitive, with so many people chasing the same dream all around the world. @simon.stumps is a growing corgi account with a little over 6,300
followers; though its owner, Lauren, 30, considers it more of an hobby, she can
see how competitive it could get. “I suppose if my objective was to earn money,
yes, competitive, as this Instagram influencer business is a thing,” she said.
“Many accounts have over 10k followers so I don’t know how you would set
yourself apart.”

Reisberg
uses movie quotes as captions, and said that it has been working out for the
account. He walked me through some of the photos he took and explained the
editing process. One of his most time-consuming and Photoshop-heavy ones was a
series of film posters, including a photo of Maxine in the A
Star Is Born
poster.

“I had to reconstruct Bradley
Cooper’s kneecaps because they weren’t originally there,” he explained. In
order to get Max in the right position, he set the camera on a tripod and set
the camera on a timer. He sat like Bradley Cooper in the poster, got some
Cheerios and had her upper paws on his jeans, looking at her favorite snack.

Most of the photos on the
account, however, are more organic and simple. Reisberg snaps photos of Max
when he thinks she looks cute and the light works. He then goes back home to
color correct them and edit the leash out because he doesn’t like the way it
looks in photos.

“After you take a lot of
photos and see what does well in Instagram, I know what will work really well,”
he says, showing me some of the photos he archived because they didn’t get as
many likes. “I get psychotic about it. It is weird what people do not respond
to.”

He usually spends between an
hour to five hours a day after work, editing photos for the Instagram account.
This is a relatively normal amount of time to spend on a famous Instagram
account. A UK-based corgi account with 108,000 followers, @lecorgi, has a similar
schedule. “Several hours a day (2-3) to prepare content, interact and engage with
others as I like to reply to as many people as I can,” Aurélie Four, 30,
co-owner of the account, wrote via Instagram direct messaging.

But another dog Instagrammer,
with a follower base of around 2,400 followers, says that she spends much less
time. “Takes an hour each day at most maybe,” said Janet, 30, who runs @zoey-darkloaf for her Tricolor Welsh Pembroke Corgi. “I like to post
once a day and I usually take pictures of my pup when I am with her, so it’s
not like I’m taking any extra time to take pictures.” 

Reisberg enjoys having the
creative liberty with Max’s Instagram account, but also really enjoys his day
job. He’s also working with a friend on developing a video series that focuses
on pet influencers. When he first got Max, a fellow film director told him that
it was a very bad idea to get a dog, as he should be focusing on making a
movie. He thinks that these two aren’t necessarily independent from each other.

“It stuck with me because I
was always worried about that it would distract me from doing other things, but
it kind of just changed things,” he said. “So instead of making a movie about x
that interested me, now I want to make a series about Max because it is really
weird and funny.”





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