Eleven-year-old Gideon Kidd of Cedar Falls is not going to let a pandemic stop him from sharing his love of dogs with the world.
The creator of “I’ve Pet That Dog,” he’s been sharing photos and stories of all the dogs he’s pet — more than 1,000 so far — for the last two years on Twitter, where he has more than 367,000 followers. He also has 65,000 followers on Instagram and more than 9,000 followers on Facebook.
In normal times, he and his mom, Rachel Braunigan, go on walks or drives looking for new dogs to meet. They approach the dogs and their people, introduce themselves and Gideon asks if he can pet the dog and asks the person to tell him about the dog, while Braunigan snaps a photo.
But last week, as guidelines went out on social distancing to fight the spread of coronavirus, they decided it was time to change tactics.
“Because all the experts are saying stay home, me and my mom decided we shouldn’t go out and pet dogs anymore,” Gideon said.
But they didn’t want to give up entirely. So they posted a call-out for people to send in photos of their dogs. Gideon picks two dogs a day. They print out the photo and share a photo of him holding the photo of the dog.
“I’d love to pet this dog,” the posts read, along with biographical details about each pooch. Such as that of Shorty Batman the pit bull mix, who “Gets so happy around people that his body wiggles like he is dancing,” or Leila, a 10-year-old basset hound who is adapting to losing her sight.
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Immediately after posting the call-out, dog photos started to flood in. They’ve received thousands of them — the best way is to send them as direct messages on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.
“I feel happy about that. It’s kind of fun and nice,” Gideon said. “I really do miss petting dogs, but at least I still get to see the dogs, and I get to learn about the dogs.”
Braunigan said they’re going through as many of the submissions as they can. She said she wants people to know that even if they don’t get a response, their dogs are seen and are bringing Gideon happiness.
“It’s been amazing, but it’s very overwhelming,” Braunigan said. You feel that need to respond to people, especially when they’re sharing these adorable sweet dogs, but you can’t.”
With school canceled, Gideon is fitting the virtual dog petting in between other activities, such as tuning into virtual art lessons with children’s book author Mo Willems and virtual craft projects with other families in the neighborhood, where they all share photos of their daily efforts. Braunigan said she’s trying to keep a sense of normalcy for their family, and continuing to post on I’ve Pet That Dog is part of that.
“Like the rest of the world right now, we’re worried, we’re cautious, we’re trying to keep safe,” she said. “I’m glad we’re trying to keep up with this project. It brings us happiness, it brings others happiness with its simple purity. We need that now, the little distractions that aren’t so serious.”
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