Meet the Minneapolis couple who rule dog cuteness on Instagram

  • Article by: KATIE HUMPHREY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 3, 2014 - 10:58 AM

Ahmed El Shourbagy and his girlfriend, Ashley Paguyo, are the the humans behind the wildly popular account Dogs of Instagram.

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Ashley Paguyo and Ahmed El Shourbagy, the duo behind Dogs of Instagram, with Lucy, a Boston terrier and pug mix.

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

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Sophie, the heeler-mix from Oklahoma, is on the cusp of Internet stardom, or at least an incredible burst of admiration on the photo-sharing social network Instagram.

“Likes” are the currency of the Internet and once her photo gets posted by the Instagram account @dogsofinstagram, she’ll hit the jackpot. Within 10 seconds the photo has 28 likes. Within a minute, it shoots up to 382. Ten minutes later it blasts past 3,000. After 24 hours, the photo has reached 25,591 likes and counting.

“People feel good about dogs,” said Ahmed El Shourbagy.

He would know. El Shourbagy and his girlfriend, Ashley Paguyo, are the Instagram equivalent of talent scouts — the humans behind the wildly popular account Dogs of Instagram.

They look like any other pair of smartphone-toting twenty-somethings from Minneapolis, but they’re anonymously orchestrating one of social media’s biggest dog shows.

Their account, which posts other people’s dog photos, has 600,000 followers. Instagram users submit pics to them by e-mail — 300 to 400 a day — often pleading to see their pooches posted. El Shourbagy and Paguyo, both of whom have full-time day jobs, sift through the digital firehose of cuteness to find the OMG!-LOL! best.

Yet in an era when savvy digital entrepreneurs will gladly grab 15 minutes of online fame, El Shourbagy’s and Paguyo’s names are nowhere to be seen on the account.

They say they’re content to let the dogs shine: the griffon in a plaid shirt, tie and glasses; the pile of snoozing golden retrievers. Their account has become a round-the-clock labor of puppy love, which also has started to reap a financial reward as dog-centric companies beg to advertise.

Before work, at lunch, in elevators, on weekends while out shopping, dog talk rules their lives.

“We do this all the time,” said El Shourbagy, 28.

Gone to the dogs

The sharing of cute animal photos is one of the essential activities of the Internet. More often than not, it seems cats are in the spotlight. There’s Grumpy Cat, Li’l Bub and the celebrity feline list goes on.

El Shourbagy wasn’t necessarily on a mission to boost dogs’ digital lives when he created Dogs of Instagram. In fact, he grew up scared of dogs. Cats are more common as pets in his native Egypt. (He moved to Minnesota with his family in 1995.)

He just loved Instagram and wanted to see if he could create an account that would attract followers. Plus, by then he had Lucy, his admittedly “odd-looking” but charming Boston Terrier-pug.

With a picture of Lucy, Dogs of Instagram was born in July 2011. In search of followers, he started “liking” every dog picture he could find on the social network, hoping to draw people back to the Dogs of Instagram profile.

“I remember getting my first submission,” he said, figuring the account had about 70 followers at the time. “I was like, ‘This is going to work.’ ”

Indeed, a couple of similar cat-centric accounts were catching on at the same time. The now massive @cats_of_instagram, with more than 1.2 million followers, posted its first feline in August 2011. Erin Filtness, of Vancouver, British Columbia, snagged a similar handle, @catsofinstagram, after noticing the canine account, and has since accumulated more than 350,000 followers.

“It’s a crazy world,” Filtness said.

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