@aspenthemountainpup | Golden | 292K Followers

One picture changed everything for Hunter and Sarah Lawrence. The high school sweethearts were visiting Canada’s Banff National Park with their golden retriever, Aspen, in 2015 when a couple offered them a free pass for Lake Louise. While they were paddling, Hunter captured an image: snowcapped mountains and impossibly turquoise water, Sarah’s back at the front of the canoe, and Aspen facing the camera. They shared it to Aspen’s Instagram account; he had maybe 1,000 followers. Then they got on the cell-service-free road back to the United States.

“As soon as we hit the Washington-Canada border, our phones were blowing up,” Hunter says. The picture got picked up by CNN, then Buzzfeed. As they refreshed Aspen’s page, they watched his follower count balloon. “We were like, Is this really happening for our dog?” Hunter laughs. They soon hired a business counselor to help them figure out what kind of compensation they should demand for various partnerships, like pet food endorsements and the like.

Today, that iconic photo is still eight-year-old Aspen’s profile image, and Hunter and Sarah have built an entire brand—the Lawrence House—around commercial photography. Hunter focuses on outdoors and nature-centric companies; Sarah is drawn to interiors; and Aspen serves as a model when he can. “I think we feel a bit indebted to him,” Hunter says. Luckily for Aspen, though, the couple also works with tourism boards—meaning many more road trips and adventures are in his future.

@backpackingkitty | Boulder | 276K Followers

Photo courtesy of David M. Rule

One of my questions for JJ Yosh—founder of Higher Earth Media, a social media consulting company whose clients include his three-year-old cat, Simon—was going to be, Can you actually make money as a pet influencer? The inquiry becomes unnecessary, however, as he shows me around his new $1.5 million property in the north Boulder foothills. As we head to the second story, Simon follows along, eschewing the stairs in favor of the actual cliff face the home is built into. “I like to say Simon picked this place,” Yosh says. “He’s the breadwinner, after all.”

A guest house holds a photo studio and office space for Yosh’s three employees, and various camping equipment is set up in the mountainscape that counts as the front yard. Yosh explains that they do a lot of shoots on the land—for his outdoor-adventure-focused account (@jjyosh, 367,000 followers) and for Simon’s.

Based on social media, Simon appears to enjoy a bunch of activities not typically associated with cats—hiking, mountain biking, kayaking—but that many of the internet’s #adventurecats can now be found engaging in. If you believe his feed, he also digs PetSafe’s Drinkwell fountain and Oroweat Sandwich Thins.

It’s not all about making money, though. Yosh wants to inspire owners to expand their felines’ comfort zones, as the benefits of exposing cats to more stimuli is increasingly being recognized by vets, scientists, and owners alike. “I’m constantly stretching Simon’s boundaries,” Yosh says—and people’s ideas of what cats can do.

@loki | Lakewood | 2 million Followers

Photo courtesy of Kelly Lund

When Kelly Lund says, “If you’re going to bring a dog home, you better damned well be prepared to restructure your life and give it a hell of a lot of exercise,” they aren’t empty words: In 2016, when he says his higher-ups began hassling him about bringing his wolf-husky-malamute mix, Loki, to the office, Lund quit his dream job with the city of Denver’s outdoor recreation department.

The decision was made easier by the fact that, after only three years online, Loki’s Instagram following had already garnered an endorsement deal with a food company (Boulder’s I and Love and You), and brands like REI and Mercedes-Benz were hiring the pair to star in commercials. Making a career out of Instagram isn’t easy—and requires serious photo skills—but that’s exactly what Lund and Loki are doing today.

They released a coffee-table book called Wild Together: My Adventures with Loki the Wolfdog (co-written by Lund and his girlfriend, Ally Coucke) in 2018, and sponsors such as Toyota and BFGoodrich now help fuel the whole pack’s adventures, like a recent road trip to California. They stopped along the way to shoot Loki at Tractor Supply Co. for a sponsored Instagram post, but Lund is working on diversifying their income streams with a CBD tincture and CBD biscuits under the Loki Naturals brand.

With an audience of two million, Loki’s treats should sell. But even if they don’t, Lund holds firm to his mission: “to help people get out, explore the world, and make memories with their dogs.”

@wolfgang2242 | Denver | 880K Followers

Photo by Aaorn Colussi

Given all the life Steve Greig’s house bustles with—eight senior dogs, two rabbits, four chickens, one pig, two ducks, and one turkey—it’s interesting that his mission to promote senior and special-needs animal adoption began with a death. After his miniature Pinscher, Wolfgang, was hit by a car, he went to a shelter to rescue the oldest dog they had, knowing they are often first in line for euthanasia. “I decided if another dog could live because Wolfgang died,” Greig says, “maybe that would bring some closure to it.”

The irony, of course, is that Greig—who, despite the Instagram fame he’s found, still works full time as an accountant—now faces the deaths of his pets very publicly (and, relatively speaking, frequently). In June, Englebert, a three-pound chihuahua who was uniquely adored by Greig’s followers, died in his arms, a scene he detailed in a heart-wrenching post. “That is maybe the one drawback,” Greig says. “There were people all over the world who loved him too, in their own way. I knew I owed it to people [to share about his death].”

Still, Greig persists in showing his followers that the quality of love senior pets have to give makes up for the decreased quantity of time you have with them. That theme infuses The One & Only Wolfgang, a children’s book published in September, which Greig co-wrote with New York Times best-selling author Mary Rand Hess. “I wanted to teach kids that old is still cool,” Greig says. “You don’t just go out and get new; you appreciate the old.”