I Tried To Make My Pet Insta-famous And It Got Weird
I have a rabbit.
I always feel strange saying that, and it’s something I kept from my very respectable boyfriend for more than a few dates. I was worried I’d already exposed too much of my weirdness too early in the game. The rabbit detail could (and did) wait for the first time he came over.
It’s an objective observation that Gus is beautiful. I could only hope to possess such beauty, at least relative to other members of my species. When I bring him outside on his harness, usually to the park near my apartment, I’m often complimented on his good looks. I usually say “thank you,” then feel awkward about it because I surprisingly had no part in his genetic makeup. I’m also asked what he’s “like.” My typical response is that he’s kind of like a dog and kind of like a cat and mostly like a toddler who chews electrical cords.
Like most things in my life, the idea for Gus’s Instagram account was born from a discussion with coworkers. We all work in media, so the idea came naturally. A rabbit is a unique pet, I live in Brooklyn, and I advertise to Millenials for a living; we assumed these were the makings of quirky-Instagram-personality success. I had visions of a book deal and being paid to show up at children’s birthday parties. The first step was the handle, obviously; like URL property, the right IG handle was gold. The first name I searched was @brooklynbun, and to my surprise, it wasn’t taken. My coworkers urged me to lock that shit down. I started the account but left it empty for weeks.
Then one day my coworker asked me to a NYFW party. It was being thrown by a talent management company at which she had a contact. Specifically, they repped Insta-famous animals -- basically, the fashion elite. There were whispers Menswear Dog would be there. I hesitated, but then she said “free booze” and I knew I had to go to conduct vital research for my own Insta hopeful. And being at a party with dogs and free alcohol? It was what memes are made of.
The party at the hip NoMad Hotel was like being at a child beauty pageant; outfits were elaborate, snacks passed as bribes, and mothers pushed other pets aside to score the best photo ops. A woman next to me pointed to a goldendoodle and told her friend it had 200k followers. “We have to get Lulu tagged with him.”
Though I thought most of the spectacle was ridiculous, I couldn’t help but feel giddy surrounded by so many dogs. And I knew I had an edge over all these party guests; I had a rabbit. An “exotic pet” according to my New York City vet’s office, which charges me accordingly. But while part of me was planning the cover art for a Brooklyn Bun book series, the other part of me was creeped out by the scene. I wasn’t sure I had any desire to be a stage mom. I left with little more than a mild hangover and moderate apprehension. (I did, however, meet Menswear Dog -- he has a terrible attention span.)
When I began posting, it was clear I was an amateur. I don’t have a boyfriend who “dabbles” in photography and owns a fancy camera; I don’t even have portrait mode. My only editing was filters and my only promotion was (the aggressive-without-trying-to-seem-aggressive use of) hashtags and frequently engaging with other accounts (usually of the rabbit persuasion). A well-meaning coworker kept offering advice on how to brand him. His following grew, but slowly, especially locally.
People don’t remember everyone who has a dog, but they remember if you have a rabbit. One day I got a Facebook message from a girl who worked in photo production for West Elm and claimed to know one of my friend’s former roommates. She heard I had a bunny, and she was in need of one for a shoot. She had shown his Instagram account to her Creative Director, who claimed Gus was “gorgeous.”
At the shoot, Gus was immediately fawned over. I watched with a mix of amusement, pride, and discomfort as a room full of people called to Gus to get him to look or hop in certain directions. I was also internally (externally?) smirking, because rabbits don’t answer to such things. Still, the photographer leaned over to me and said, “He’s so professional. What other shoots has he done?”
Before leaving, I was presented forms to sign. Listed as “talent” was Gus; listed as “representation” (crossed out and replaced with “owner” written above it) was me. I was asked if we needed an Uber home.
“Oh, no, we can just take the subway,” I replied.
The art director looked at me and frowned. “Really? With him?”
“Oh, yeah. He has a carrier and he loves riding the subway.” It was true.
She blinked. “He should really take a car.”
I found it all to be an amusing anecdote; people acted as if Gus was his own autonomous being, as if I was merely hired help that cleaned his litter box and kept him fed. But I soon found this attitude in everyone around me. My mom’s texts became requests for more Gus content. My boss asked I write more copy with a voice “similar to that of Brooklyn Bun’s.” On my birthday, coworkers surprised me with a party that was Gus-themed; giant print-outs of his face were everywhere, as were tiny stickers. Months later, the stickers were still present on people’s computers, tiny reminders when I came by to chat that Gus always preceded me. Then one day I found myself in the elevator alone with the V.P. of Marketing.
“You have the rabbit, right? Brooklyn Bun?” she said after several moments of awkward silence.
“Oh, umm, yes,” I replied.
“I follow him. He is so beautiful. And so funny!”
I smiled and said nothing.
My vague yet growing bitterness concerned me. Was I becoming the ultimate stage mom -- jealous of my own child prodigy? Wanting him to succeed for my own sake but also kind of wanting people to calm the fuck down?
“I don’t think I have the time for it right now. It’s just not a priority,” I told my friend one day when she asked why Gus hadn’t been posting lately. His following had stopped growing and I had no time or energy to grow engagement, which involved a lot of following and commenting and liking others’ accounts in the hopes they’ll return the favor. I couldn’t tell if his stalled fame was a relief or a letdown.
“You have to work more on his brand,” she insisted. I knew what she meant. Is he a hipster? An academic? Is he witty? Does he have an affinity for Russian literature and does he spell “though” t-h-o?
But I was tired. I told my friend I needed to work more on my own brand before I could devote attention to his.
“But what if Gus is your brand?”
I smirked. I knew she was probably right -- and I’m maybe OK with it.