Put a 6-month-old bulldog together with a human-sized likeness of one and what do you get? Viral cuteness.
That’s what Martha Roelkey, Blane Marable and Hairy Dawg have learned since Saturday’s game between Georgia and Notre Dame.
Roelkey and her husband Allen are the owners of Kirby, a pure white English bulldog puppy who looks remarkably like the University of Georgia’s real-life mascots.
Marable is a local photographer who makes his living shooting weddings and university events in the city of Athens.
Hairy Dawg is a 6-feet tall, anthropomorphic bulldog with a humongous, fierce-looking head that sits atop a shoulder-padded body in a Georgia football uniform. The person inside the costume on this particular day was Ian McGraw, a UGA graduate student in financial planning from Senoia and member of the Bulldogs’ cheerleading team.
Their paths crossed during ESPN’s College Football Game Day broadcast on the Myers Hall Quadrangle several hours before Saturday night’s game between the No. 3-ranked Georgia Bulldogs and No. 7 Notre Dame. Roelkey was in the front row behind the barriers holding up Kirby up so he could see all the action -- and be seen.
“Hairy Dawg kept walking by and petting Kirby, and he was just fascinated by him,” Roelkey said. “He growled at first, but then he just wanted to play with him. He thought Hairy was just this big, ol' huge chew toy. So, I put him down and he just started jumping up and down on Hairy. Hairy sat down and they just started playing and Kirby loved it.”
ESPN’s broadcast crew briefly caught the interplay. GameDay hostess and and UGA alum Maria Taylor picked up Kirby and carried it onto the set for one brief shot with retired wrestling star and UGA football fan Ric Flair.
Then she returned the dog, and that's when he ended up playing with Hairy Dawg.
What Roelkey didn’t realize at the time was that Marable was observing the scene from across the way. He took several still shots first, then decided to capture a 45-second video on his cell phone.
“I just kind of did it on a whim,” he said.
Marable came up to the Roelkeys and introduced himself, gave them his business card and asked for everybody's names. He told them to check Facebook later as he would probably share the video on his pages.
The next thing everybody knew, the cute scene was being shared and re-shared thousands of times over on social media. It ended up making several television newscasts over the next couple of days, then was picked up by TheDodo.com, a mobile-first media outlet that specializes in blasting out cute animal videos via its vast social media network.
As of Thursday, Marable’s video had 6.3 million views from his personal Facebook page, 500,000 on his professional site, and nobody seems to know how many other likes and shares on other social media platforms.
“I posted it on Instagram and Facebook and it went viral,” said Marable, who owns Blane Marable Photography. “Before I knew it, it had over five million views, 70,000 shares and over 17,000 comments.”
In the last 24 hours, Marable said ABC News and Good Morning America have reached out to him about possibly using his video on the air.
“It has been crazy how it went viral almost overnight,” he said.
The Roelkey’s have been blown away by all the attention, too. And a little wary of it.
“I had no idea anything like this was going to happen,” Martha Roelkey said. “But I told Blane thanks. As long as it’s putting smiles on people’s faces, I’m fine with it.”
A whole lot of faces, apparently. And Kirby, she said, is no worse for the wear. He remains blissfully unaware of the affect all his cuteness has had on the world.
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