Twitter’s @EmergencyPuppy has more than half a million followers. The account, as you might have guessed from its name, is devoted to all things cute and canine, with the occasional guest appearance from a particularly tiny kitten or fuzzy ducklings. At least, that was its intention when then–Twitter employee Brian Truebe founded it, back in 2011. “We had some stressful days [at Twitter] and I found that if I sent people pictures of cute puppies it helped keep the stress down,” Truebe told Select All. “The whole thing was about trying to promote better self-care, just look at something cute, remember to breathe.”
The account quickly took off, thanks to “a bit of time on the Suggested User List” and a tweet about the account from Twitter’s CEO (“I’m not sure he knew it was one of his own employees”). But after the sudden surge in followers early on, Truebe felt he needed to take a step back. “I stopped posting for basically a year or so because it became personally stressful to maintain an account with over half a million followers,” he explained. That all changed after the election, when Truebe returned to Twitter and “shifted gears.”
“After the election I was in a pit of emotion, along with what felt like most of my friends and colleagues. People kept asking for more puppies to cheer them up,” Truebe said. “And I was thinking, puppies aren’t going to solve this alone. What good is a puppy in the face of such fresh horrors?” This week, Truebe resumed tweeting. This time, the pictures of pups were accompanied by a mix of commentary on the current political climate and self-care tips. The account’s description now reads “Government Watch Dog.”
Truebe isn’t the only dog account getting into politics these days. The extremely popular @dog_rates – of “they’re good dogs, Brent” fame – has also begun tweeting in response to the Trump administration.
The reaction to @EmergencyPuppy’s new brand of tweets has been “overwhelmingly positive.” “Add @EmergencyPuppy to the list of freedom fighters with @TeenVogue and rogue scientists,” wrote one Twitter user, describing several other unexpected groups that have risen to become the face of the resistance. Still, Truebe says he’s also experienced some flak. “The extremely negative responses seem to come from privilege — almost exclusively white men — who feel as if I have violated some contract by switching the content up,” he said. “As if they were entitled to cute puppies and only cute puppies and that it is their right to complain about a free service I’m providing.” Truebe says for these users, his response is often to just tweet back using one particular picture of a dog with its tongue out, “it’s a good dog.”
Truebe plans to keep up with the political tweets as long as he has a captive audience. “There are many, many voices that should be listened to instead of mine,” Truebe explained, noting he hopes his followers won’t just “stick to Twitter” as an echo chamber for outrage. Instead, his goal with @EmergencyPuppy is, ideally, to move people to take real actions, from writing letters and making phone calls to elected officials to attending local government meetings.
“I hope I can empower and support those who might be afraid to speak, and will listen when they do,” Truebe said. “Which is, admittedly, a tall order for a cute-puppy Twitter account.”