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Posting enough about your pet that strangers become emotionally invested in them might seem a bit absurd, but as the barrier between online and offline life vanishes, it’s only natural that more elements of people’s emotional lives begin to migrate to digital spaces. Even for those who don’t maintain accounts specifically dedicated to their pets, a world in which our lives are more public and interconnected than ever presents a challenge. What should you share as your pet’s health inevitably starts to deteriorate, and what happens when you tell thousands of people that something you love is dying?
The best-known version of digital pet cosplay happens on Instagram, where the visual nature of the platform helps some particularly cute and well-photographed pups rise to fame beyond their roles as adored family pets. Dorie Herman is the steward of one such clan of pups, the Kardoggians. She started out with Chloe, who passed away last year, and now she has Cupid and Kimchi—three senior rescue Chihuahuas with a following of 161,000 people.
When you have an older dog, medical problems come with the territory, but that doesn’t make them any easier to share. “When something’s wrong with [your pet], it forces you to say it out loud, which makes it a little too real sometimes,” says Herman. In addition to the well-being of her pets, she worries about how their health affects the strangers who are emotionally invested in them. “If I don’t know what’s going on, I don’t want to worry them, or for people to feel like I’m manipulating their emotions,” Herman says. She’s careful to wait until she has concrete information from her veterinarian before saying anything publicly.
Once Herman began to post about Chloe’s medical problems, people on Instagram who loved her dogs gave her an incredible amount of comfort. “I’ve never felt more surrounded by love and care,” she says. Although it’s been months since Chloe’s death, fans are still grieving with Herman. “People reach out and ask me how I am, and tell me they were looking at pictures of her and missing her,” she says, which makes her own grief less isolating. “I can talk about my dog to so many people who actually know who she was and loved her the way I loved her.”
Hilary Sloan, the dog mom to the Bean family of Instagram-famous rescue pups (and a former co-worker of mine), sees her dogs’ health problems as a way to educate her six-figure following about their own pets’ health. “I have a lot of access, and that’s the privilege of my platform,” she says. “I wouldn’t hoard that knowledge—that’s not who I am as a person. I love dogs.”
She and her husband recently lost Louis, an elderly Cavalier King Charles spaniel who rarely appeared on her account (he didn’t like dressing up, Sloan says). The couple experienced the same outpouring of support Herman did when Chloe died. Now the family is treating 11-year-old Ella Bean for thyroid problems and adding frequent posts about pet health, including videos from vet checkups and live Q&As about things such as doggie CBD and acupuncture. “I chose to share Ella’s condition because maybe someone else will notice their dog changed,” Sloan says. “Maybe they’ll do what I did and get blood work right away instead of waiting.” (Ella is doing great, if you’re worried.)