All this week, join us for a delightfully unwell celebration of our Internet Boyfriends. They’re sweet, beautiful men we’ve never met, and we can’t wait to share the fully formed relationships we have with each of them.
Once in a while, somebody notes that I have quite a following on Twitter. Maybe they’ll send a post of mine that went viral enough to end up in their group chats, or on the big meme accounts, impressed by how far and wide the content has traveled. If they’re not especially active online, they might even suggest that I’m an internet celebrity. I laugh these comments off, knowing I am but a cog in the great machinery of digital life, no more visible than millions of others like me.
Also, I will never be as famous or beloved as my sister Isabel’s dog, Simon.
Isabel adopted Simon, a foxy-looking mutt, through the nonprofit Korean K9 Rescue, which saves homeless and mistreated dogs like him from South Korea. Initially, he was one in a string of foster dogs, but she was looking to adopt — and once they’d bonded, she found she couldn’t part with him. Early in 2019, she made it official: Simon was hers to keep. The first post on his new Instagram page, @simonsits, announced the so-called #fosterfail. In no time, he commanded a legion of groupies, the likes of which most can only dream about.
The account @simonsits was, in a sense, unavoidable. Isabel works as a director of content for The Dogist — a photography brand she often describes as Humans of New York, but for dogs. Their Instagram page, full of eye-catching dog portraits by photographer Elias Weiss Friedman, currently boasts 4 million followers. When that fandom got wind of Isabel adopting Simon, they “were pretty much demanding” a spinoff page for him. “I think he got 30,000 followers overnight,” she recalls. Today, he has more than 80,000, as well as branding partnerships with Whistle (smart collars), Wisdom Panel (dog DNA testing) and Diggs Pet (beds and crates). Last fall, he promoted Clifford the Big Red Dog, a movie adaptation of the children’s book series.
Suffice it to say, Simon is an influencer. He’s recognized by fans all over Brooklyn. I’ve had acquaintances shocked to learn that I’m Simon’s “uncle.” (Yes, I’ve given him belly rubs. He’s somehow softer than he looks.) Isabel marvels that “he came into this world like it was built for him,” taking all the admiration as his due, never “shy or overwhelmed in his entire life.”
“Some people are so invested in him, and it really blows my mind,” she tells me. “I can’t imagine loving an animal that I’ve never met, but it does make me happy to know how loved he is, even by strangers. So many people have photos of him as their phone background, even if they have their own dogs. Also he has two fan pages.” (Those are @simonsitslover and @simonsitsfan.) Enough people have sent in drawings and paintings that The Dogist once held an art contest.
The attention gets weird, however, when Isabel’s personal life comes under scrutiny. After a breakup in 2020, followers speculated on the state of her relationship — and one creep went so far as to secretly take photos of her on a date, then send the images to her ex. After that, she limited her own appearances on Simon’s account. “It felt like there was a boundary crossed, and that’s not what I signed up for when I made my dog an Instagram page,” she says.
Still, some “99 percent” of her interactions with Simon’s adoring public have been positive, and Isabel has even been greeted by strangers across multiple states without Simon by her side. Some of the online feedback is incredibly touching. “One woman told me she’s a nurse, and her patient hadn’t spoken in years,” Isabel tells me. “She started showing him videos of Simon, and one day he said that he was a lovely dog.” It was the first the nurse had ever heard him speak. “Kids love Simon,” she goes on, “and I have parents write to me about it all the time. So many say that their kid’s first few words are ‘Simon’ or ‘dog.’”
“Which is ironic, because Simon hates kids,” she says.
While there are “people who definitely feel entitled to content and access to Simon,” Isabel says, and the account is partly an extension of her full-time work, “for the most part I think people respect social media as a job at this point.” And the pleasure of meeting Simon’s devotees when out and about has yet to wear thin — and probably never will. Noting that he doesn’t have that huge a platform, at least on the larger scale of Instagram influencers, she says he’s in a real “sweet spot,” just under-the-radar enough to avoid the dreaded haters that come for every prominent personality. That means “it just feels like I’m talking and interacting with internet friends who are cheering us on,” Isabel explains.
But what advice does Simon have for other pets — or jealous humans like me — who want to master the art of social media fame? “To never stop being true to yourself,” Isabel says. “For Simon, that means eating other animals’ poop, an entire chocolate cake and one sewing needle.”
“Don’t worry,” she adds, “he’s fine.”