What inspired you to start the Hugging Dog?
It was nothing planned. Around February 2014, she started holding hands with me. She surprised me one day, asking me to shake hands with her over and over again. At one point, I grabbed her paw with a strong grip and noticed that’s what she wanted. She sat up and then she curled her paws. And from that day on, every single walk, she wanted to hold hands with me every two city blocks. Around September or October, instead of holding hands, she just stood up and went up to my knees.
You didn’t even train her to do that?
No. I don’t have a command for her. A year later, I started getting tagged in a Facebook group called Dog Spotting, and they called her “hug dog.” There are sometimes comments on social media that are mean, and when you’re on social media it’s expected. I was reading comments on a video where people were saying, “He trained her to get the attention of girls” — because a lot of the pictures are with girls. And then someone said, “Except he’s gay.” That last comment canceled the whole thread of hate.
Originally, you were posting pictures of her hugging you. How did she start hugging strangers?
She started hugging people a year after she started hugging me. The Dog Spotting group created a bounty on her — 25 points, which is the highest from that group. The Obama dogs are below Loubie on the bounty scale. So people were looking for her because of this group.
She’s never been scared of strangers?
No. The first three years of her life she was pulling me towards people. She wanted to say hi, she wanted to lean on them, she wanted to kiss them. After three years (now she’s six), it’s the other way around — people come to her.
What was the reaction of the first person, besides you, who hugged her?
I’ve seen people cry, even before she was famous. Sometimes I still see people getting emotional. When she started holding hands with me, I would hear, “Oh, how cute.” But I would also hear, “How weird!” It was hurtful coming from someone who doesn’t know you. When she started hugging other people, and I saw their reaction, I thought “Why do I need to deny [her] this?” So, without planning anything, I was just letting her be herself. She makes people happy.
With all these strangers hugging her, how do you keep Loubie safe?
I don’t post my location anymore. I used to do that at the beginning. I did a video with The Dodo, and we were with a crew of three people. I could see people running from the corners of Union Square, so I got scared. Another time we did an interview for a Chinese TV channel. It was a Sunday morning, and I remember there were pockets of people at every single corner and they started running towards us. I freaked out. Now I bring a friend with me to these interviews.
What will happen if you ever meet Christian Louboutin, her namesake?
We already met the international marketing director from Louboutin — they were already following her since almost the very beginning of her Instagram account. We were featured in a full-page story in the New York Post the Sunday before Valentine’s Day. On Valentine’s, she sent me an email: “Cesar, Christian Louboutin read the New York Post story and was very touched. He wanted me to reach out to say thank you and to see if you would ever consider having Louboutina in one of the photoshoots for Louboutin?” Right away I said yes. We were supposed to talk about it, but then she said we needed to get an agent. I’m pretty sure they want to do it the proper way.
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