Nobody on the internet knows you are a dog, the New York cartoon said. Almost 30 years later this is on your profile.
My Instagram feed is full of dogs or people posting as their dogs from their own accounts. I know some of them well, like my sister’s sweet but empty Pug Margot.
I found others by searching hashtags for my favorite breeds. Now I see almost as many dogs as I do friends. It makes my Instagram a relatively peaceful place to be – and it was practically restful during the pandemic. Pictures of cute dogs only invite joy, not self-comparison or consumerism. It’s very hard to develop a parasocial relationship with someone else’s pet – at least that’s what I thought before I found it @leothepeke.
With his sand-colored center parting and long dark ears, Leo looks like a chic rabbit or an Ewok. He posts about his everyday life in Pennsylvania, his favorite snacks and seating, and occasionally his views on politics. Leo hates baths – but as a Democrat he hated Trump more.
With around 2,300 followers, Leo is not a big name among dogfluencers – he describes himself as: “Just a seven-year-old Pekingese trying to understand the world.” But since I came across his profile in 2016, Leo has been my most consistent source of joy on the Internet.
Whenever I felt overwhelmed by my inbox or stressed out by Twitter, I would scroll pictures of Leo to remind myself that the internet wasn’t all bad. I was basically co-dependent until 2021. Just the sight of his dark eyes peeking out from under his hair makes my blood pressure drop and my heart swell.
For over five years, I’ve kept up with Leo through challenging haircuts at home, celebrity deaths (he has touching tributes to Anthony Bourdain and Ruth Bader Ginsburg), a Trump presidency, and now a pandemic. I saw him fight like everyone else on my Instagram.
Last August, Leo admitted his “botched hair” in an unusually long, emotional post: “Our household has decided that looking after me is a luxury that we shouldn’t be spending on now. No surprise – mom is scared to work in school this year … Is this our America or do I have a very bad dream? The breach of duty in this administration is omnipresent. “
I responded with a supportive message. Leo had brought me consolation for years. His photo is even my profile picture on Instagram, which means that everyone on the internet knows me as a dog. But after his outbreak I asked myself: What did I really know about Leo?
It is fair to say that Leo or our interlocutor Sandra was surprised to hear from me. After hesitating to and fro, she set up an email address especially for Leo – and we began our correspondence.
“Leo was different from the start,” Sandra told me. Leo’s grandfather Malachy had won Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show (in New York) in 2012.
He was also destined to be a show dog, but his testicles never sagged, which disqualified him.
Leo was adopted as a puppy by Sandra’s daughter while her son started his Instagram. “At first it was fun matching Leo’s face with the right words,” said Sandra. But then her son moved away and Sandra took over. Now she worries that Leo’s posts are mundane.
Sandra, a Democrat like Leo, tries to keep politics to a minimum. But when she references music or films or art: “These posts don’t go down as well as a cute photo of him.”
Leo is “one of the most polite dogs I have ever known,” wrote Sandra. He waits patiently for his meal, sits on Sandra’s lap after dinner and barks when the doorbell rings.
But she added, “He’s got a pretty boring life.” He sleeps most of the day, never plays with his toys and only goes outside to go about his business. Leo only likes to do two things: drive in the car and chew on a beach towel.
What motivates Sandra to keep up with his Instagram – “What touches my heart the most” – are the comments. A follower told her that Leo reminded her of her childhood; another said he brought solace during a health crisis. “While I feel stale about his Instagram, if I’ve helped some people enjoy themselves, then it’s a reason for me to keep posting,” said Sandra.
2021 was a rough year for her family too, with three deaths (including her Shih-Tzu Chloe, Leo’s mate) and a health problem. “I just want to continue until 2022”, Sandra wrote to me. “Next year I want to visit my grandchildren more often… I want to go to the beach and walk with the sand between my toes. I would like to see Leo on the beach – I can’t imagine him with sandy hair. And Leo would get what he loves most: being with his family on the longest car trip of his life. Take care, Elle, ”she signed.
I thought about Leo by the sea with sand in his hair and about PG Wodehouse said: “All you need in life are two good friends, books and a Pekingese.” It may be small and a little strange, but Leo the Peke really adds something to me.