Susie and Katie are avid photographers. Katie took some amazing pictures during her travels in Japan her senior year of high school and again in Europe during the summer between freshman and sophomore years at Harvard. Susie excelled at her photography classes as a high school sophomore at The Blake School in Minneapolis. She won the Scholastic Gold Key award for a picture called Shattered Dreams.
After Lucy passed away during the fall of Katie's sophomore year at Harvard and Susie's Junior year at Blake, Susie was worried that Tula was going to be lonely. The family began taking Tula to local dog parks. Initially, she was a total loner. She would catch the scent of a squirrel and proceed spend the entire hour at the park following her nose through the wooded areas. Over time she started to play with other dogs but always on a slightly different timetable than the other dogs. She would typically first run around by herself for 20-30 minutes. After that, she would sit or stand and observe the other dogs running and playing. Eventually, she would throw herself into the play. She would have a lot of fun playing but she rarely changed her pattern at the park.
Susie would bring her camera to the park hoping to capture pictures of the dogs running and playing. At the dinner to table she would talk about her frustration over her lack of success with these photos. Invariably, the dogs would stop their play once a human was nearby or they would simply move so fast that she could not catch the action shots that she envisioned. In a fit of brainstorming, her family came up with the idea of attaching an infrared wild game camera to a tree at the dog park. Every week they would switch out the photo card and upload the photos. The quality was not very good but this process did show that the dogs were doing lots of very cute things when they were running and playing on their own. This experiment was cut short when somebody stole the camera.
Ultimately, this proved to be a good thing because it prompted Susie to come up with the idea of attaching a GoPro to a harness that Tula could wear. It took a few tries to get a harness that fit Tula properly. She first tried videos by attaching the GoPro camera to the back mount on Tula's harness. The results were less than impressive. Lots of ears flapping and bouncing pictures. It made Susie dizzy to watch them. Susie then switched to taking still pictures at the very rapid rate of one every ½ second. Finally, the approach that worked best was to attach the camera at the chest and set it to still mode at one every ½ second.
After an hour long trip to the off-leash dog park, there would be over 7,000 photos. The job of going through all the photos initially seemed daunting. Despite the huge numbers, Susie got really good at scanning through the photos and pulling out the best ones. Typically, there will be 4-5 good photos after an hour at the park. Usually, there was one that stood out from the rest.
Other dog owners at the park were always curious about Tula's camera. When they heard about the photos they would often wonder if there was any way they could see some of the photos. The natural idea was to post them on an Instagram account. Eventually, Facebook and Twitter accounts were also added.
Tula initially visited two parks near to home, Otter Lake Dog Park and Battle Creek Dog Park. Minnesota is the land of 10,000 Lakes and also a surprising number of dog parks. It was time to start exploring. Sidewalk Dog.com publishes a list of dog parks and dog friendly restaurants and bars. What better excuse could there be to start working our way through the list? Minnehaha Dog Park was the first dog park further from home. It was a hit. Located along the shoreline of a quiet portion of the mississippi river, there were endless areas for water play. That combined with large and wonderful varied terrain made it hard to beat. We were hooked.
After a few months of posting pictures, we knew we were on to a good thing but we wanted more people to see our pictures. Katie had stayed on campus during spring break to catch up on her research at the Melton Lab. Since she didn't have homework during this time and she was feeling relaxed and creative. She proposed posting an article to Buzzfeed. She spent some of her free time putting together a fun article about Tula and her GoPro pictures. We all asked everyone we could think of please look at the article and share the link of their own facebook or instagram accounts. A lot of people did this and the instagram followers increased. More exciting was a phone call that we received from Second Chance Rescue. They had been contacted by Jack Williams a reporter with Caters, a UK news agency. He asked if we would be willing to allow him to use some of Tula's photos in an article.
We were visiting colleges with Susie when we did a search to see if anyone picked up the story. We were beyond delighted to see it in the London Daily Mail. Next, it was carried by the London Telegraph. Each of the these institutions then distributed the article to other publications. Needless to say, Tula had suddenly become a bit of an internet sensation. Things just grew from there. You can see the details of all of Tula's publicity on the Media Coverage page.