We all take pictures of our dogs. For most of us, these shots aren’t exactly an assured path to monetary success. But for Denver-based Kelly Lund, they’re bringing something that’s starting to look a lot like fame and fortune. The 30-year-old just quit his day job to become a full-time social media manager for his pet and best friend, Loki the Wolfdog.
The pair’s story starts on a snowy day in 2012. An experienced dog lover, Kelly decided that a wolf hybrid could deliver the kind of challenge-to-reward metrics he was looking for in his next companion. A small family breeder in Utah had was he was looking for. Loki is a low-content wolf dog. Simply put, he’s mostly malamute and husky, but at least one of his ancestors only a generation or two back was a wolf.
Malamutes and huskies make notoriously difficult pets. They’re working dogs, bred to pull sleds and hunt seal and bear in the Arctic. Stubborn, high energy, and extremely intelligent, malamutes are mischievous and capable of holding grudges, and they’ll play dominance games if they lack strong leadership. Dogs like this can frustrate even experienced dog owners. Add in a wolf ancestor and you have your hands full. But tame a beast like this and you will be rewarded with a true best friend. “Loki’s an animal that can tell what you’re thinking and knows how you’re feeling,” says Lund. “You have to be able to do the same for him.”
Lund immediately started taking pictures of his new companion and posting them on Instagram. Dog pics soon threatened to take over his account, so Lund made Loki his own account. It was an immediate hit. Started in 2013, @loki_the_wolfdog gathered 50,000 followers in its first year. Companies wanted in: early on, local dog food brand I and Love and You contacted Lund to offer Loki all the food he needed in exchange for the occasional post.
Loki’s stardom wasn’t planned. Lund says he wasn’t trying to commercialize Loki or do anything more than share the good times he was having with his dog. He wasn’t playing the hashtag game and didn’t pay for followers. But sometime in the summer of 2015, one of his photos of Loki got more than 10,000 likes, and the account suddenly accrued 500,000 followers.
How? Lund attributes his success to the connection he shares with Loki, which is obvious in his photos. That he has natural talent as a photographer (even without formal training) doesn’t hurt, nor does Loki’s photogenic appearance. Living in Denver with an athletic owner, Loki is more active than most dogs. A good-looking dog that shares a strong connection with an active owner who can take a decent picture? I guess that’s just a recipe for social media success.
Soon Grounds & Hounds Coffee Co. called and set up a partnership. Lund liked the company’s idea of funding pet adoptions, so later that year, he put together a Loki calendar and used the proceeds to help a young girl adopt a service dog. At that point, Instagram wasn’t making Lund much more than a little extra money, but that was helping him enjoy a little more time outside with Loki than he could previously.
By the end of 2015, Loki had nearly a million followers. A friend called and told Lund he should quit his job, but he had reservations about taking that plunge. Working for the City of Denver as an outdoor recreation coordinator, he had both security and work he enjoyed.
But with the added attention, more offers for part-time creative work started to flow in. Mercedes cast the pair in a commercial, likely netting them a five-figure sum. (Lund couldn’t release specific figures because of NDAs with the brands.) He started struggling to balance his day job with the work that his now-famous wolf dog was bringing in. This September, GoPro asked the pair to attend the launch of its new Hero 5 camera in Squaw Valley, California. That company doesn’t pay Lund, but it funds trips and creates networking opportunities with athletes, photographers, and other creative types. Squaw Valley is a 16-hour drive from Denver. To make it work, Lund took a day off work and drove through the night. Then he turned around and drove straight home after the event. The next day at work, he was predictably exhausted. It was the last straw.
In November, three days after his 30th birthday, Lund quit his job and became a full-time parent to his famous pet.
Earlier this month, Google paid him to shoot a short video promoting an Android Wear watch. Travel time, logistics, and filming took place over a long weekend, but Lund earned the equivalent of two months’ salary at his old job. The video was viewed 300,000 times. A few months ago, Eddie Bauer asked him to speak. The terms were simple: 15 minutes of talking, plus a 45-minute Q&A session, and the company paid him enough to cover his bills for a couple weeks.
Lund just inked a deal with another automaker. He couldn’t share the terms but did say the deal includes a brand-new truck. In January, Lund has a two-week shoot scheduled for Wisconsin’s tourism board. It’s safe to say he’ll earn more doing that than he would have working for Denver for two weeks.
Lund tells us he’s been able to make deals netting $10 per thousand followers per post. With 1.3 million followers, he’s making $13,000 for a photo. Not all of Lund’s posts are commercialized, and not all are that lucrative, but that’s still a rate no professional photographer would scoff at.
He’s only a a month or so into his new career, but Lund is estimating he’ll earn “almost six figures” in his first year. Much more than he used to make working for the city.
While this may sound idyllic, the future’s uncertain. Lund knows that like all models, Loki will eventually fall out of fashion and that his dog’s time chasing snowboards and running alongside snowmobiles can’t last forever. So he’s busy coming up with a plan for the future. Lund and a business partner with a background in e-commerce are launching a line of dog products. That’s a start. He’s also working on a dog-centric children’s book and plans to write one for adults on how to own and live with challenging dogs.
Now that he isn’t working 40 to 50 hours a week in an office, Lund is also using his newfound freedom to improve his skills as a photographer. He’s the first to admit he lacks the technical skill of a professional, and he shoots most of his photos on a $400 Sony A6000 running a $1,000 16-70mm lens. Most pros would consider this hobbyist gear.
But mostly, Lund is just enjoying spending time with his best friend. He’s as surprised by his success as anyone: “A while back, I saw a dog meme that said, ‘Do what you love and success will follow.’ The punch line was, ‘So, I sat on my couch, ate pizza, and took selfies with my dog…I’m still waiting for the money to roll in.’ Turned out that actually worked for me.”