Louboutina, the “Hugging Dog,” is one of the world’s most famous golden retrievers. Earlier this year, she gained widespread recognition online, becoming a viral sensation recognized for the warm and loving hugs she gives passersby on the streets of her native New York.
Since then, Louboutina — or “Loubie,” for short — has become an Instagram powerhouse, commanding more than 167,000 followers, and appearing on the likes of ABC’s Good Morning America, the Rachael Ray Show, and many more. Along the way, Loubie’s owner, Cesar Fernandez-Chavez, has become a close personal friend of mine.
I have enormous admiration for the love and care Cesar, as Loubie’s “dad,” provides his canine companion. Loubie is truly one of the best-behaved, most endearing dogs I’ve ever met, not to mention she’s a real-life superstar. I’m grateful for their friendship and see how Cesar puts her first every day. That’s why I wanted to know: What’s it like to be the father of a famous dog?
So many people have been inspired to share pictures of their dogs online and on social media because of successful duos like Cesar and Loubie, so what tips does he have for ordinary pet owners out there to follow his example? What are the challenges he faces? And how has Loubie changed his life?
In this interview, Cesar opens up and answers all these questions and more. He’s lucky to go home at the end of the day and get to cuddle with the extraordinary dog who is Loubie — and touches so many people’s lives — and she’s lucky to have him, too. Check out our conversation below, and be sure to follow Loubie on Instagram now: @LouboutinaNYC.
1. You're a medical executive by day, owner of one of the world's most famous dogs by night. In a nutshell, describe yourself to our readers.
In a nutshell, I’m a single gay guy — your average New Yorker who had no idea, and certainly had no intention, of getting into the world of social media and digital influencers. My life in the United States and career for the last 16 years have been focused on serving populations with health disparities like "language" in management in the medical field.
2. Previously you lived in Peru and worked in the television industry. Tell us about your life – did you ever think you'd end up as Loubie's owner, living this life?
My background is in communications. Back when I lived in Peru, I used to be TV producer who was involved in TV commercials, castings, and the like, but when I moved to the US my intention was to switch gears and help people. That's why I decided to get into healthcare. I never thought that having a dog like Loubie would have also been a way to help people, but it was in a very organic, unplanned way. Now, Loubie heals a lot of people on the streets of New York City, with love and hugs. She is a natural healer.
3. Introduce us to Louboutina: She's one of the world's most recognizable dogs, part of the movement that has influenced so many ordinary people to post pictures of their dogs everywhere, too. She's a golden retriever with lots of love to share. Tell us about her!
Louboutina is a six-year-old, hunting field golden retriever, not an American golden retriever — and that's why she is very red and amber in color. She naturally loves people and likes to please them; when you get to meet her, you can experience how affectionate she is firsthand. They said that dogs copy the personality of their owner and I think, in general, Loubie and I are very similar, but she much more extroverted than me (sometimes I can be very shy). Loubie goes to everyone and loves to hug everyone in spite of their gender, race, or sexual orientation. She is a total love bug.
4. I know the story of how Loubie came into your life has deep personal meaning for you. Can you tell us about how she landed in your life?
Exactly six years ago, during the month of September, my best friend Daphne said to me for my birthday: "Cesar, I don’t know what to give you for your birthday, so I have been thinking that a dog could be a good fit now in your life." I started jumping out of happiness and eagerly said, "Yes."
I asked for a female golden retriever, and right away I came out with the name "Louboutina." Her namesake is directly taken from my friend Daphne’s lover of shoes including Christian Louboutin’s, and other brands. What’s more, Daphne knew I was going through a depressing year, because I had just ended a nearly five-year relationship with my ex-boyfriend, whom I nearly married, and that break-up left me in pain for quite a while. When Loubie came into my life, she rescued me.
5. How did Loubie originally reach stardom when you posted her pictures on Instagram?
I was hearing from friends that they were seeing Loubie's photos on different social media platforms, and one of the most popular that they consistently named was Instagram. Given that, I decided to start Loubie’s Instagram page after meeting actor Gerard Butler. I wanted to see all the posts of Loubie on other people’s Instagram pages and I started reposting these pictures on my newly created account.
My main goal was to keep track of the enormous plethora of images featuring Loubie out in the streets of New York which people were posting every day. During this initial phase, I never predicted that Loubie’s Instagram would take off and become as popular as it is now. It was a gradual process of one reporter writing about Loubie, and then another, and another, so that, at one point, everyone was talking about her on different social media platforms and all over the Internet.
6. When Loubie's star began to rise, how did you notice your life beginning to change?
Loubie always caught the attention of people in our neighborhood in Chelsea. Besides being an affectionate dog, she’s actually very pretty, too. I always say that, the first three years of her life, Loubie was primarily going up to people, but during the most recent three years of her life, it was the other way around.
Now, people come up to us, so the big change is that our walks are always with people asking us to pet her, take selfies and pictures, get a hug from her; it’s fair to say that our daily walks are not normal now (in a good way)! We’re always surrounded by people.
7. Describe a normal day to us - you wake up, field interview requests, juggle morning show appearances, and so much more. What's it like being Loubie's dad?
Every morning before our walks, I check Loubie's email, and there’s always a sweet note from a fan somewhere in the world, an email with a media inquiry, or a message from our agent. We go for a walk and luckily the mornings aren’t too busy, meaning that there aren’t too many people waiting to meet her.
During the day at my office in the hospital, I try to answer a few fan emails or press inquiries here or there, and I do the same with direct messages on Instagram. I always go over a few photos I’ve seen of Loubie and plan which ones I will share, paying attention to the quality of the image (elements like color, angle, etc.), and the content of the story or the caption.
The beauty of Loubie’s page is that I keep the original captions from other people’s posts about their encounters with her, so fans can hear directly from the people Loubie has had the chance to meet out in public.
Next up, I exchange emails with Loubie’s agent, and send them materials they might need to pursue a brand opportunity. Once I’m back from the office, Loubie and I go for our afternoon walk which is predominantly when we come across her fans in person — they wait for her! She loves meeting people and is all over them.
I try my best to talk to them but sometimes it can be a bit overwhelming; personally, I’m not used to such a degree of exposure myself, but the love that all these different people bring to Loubie and the love that she brings them in return is something I can’t refuse, of course. These amazing people truly make up our rich and robust Instagram family.
8. How do you balance your work schedule, personal life, and the life of managing a famous canine celebrity?
Something I’ve heard from people over and over again is: “When are you quitting your job?!” It’s true that managing Loubie’s newfound fame can be overwhelming while also balancing a full-time career of my own, and sometimes I end up feeling quite tired because my mind is on so many things — my responsibilities at my day job, interacting with Loubie’s fans (which I love), handling her events and appearances calendar, responding to media inquiries… It’s not all easy but, like I said before: She brings so much love to people (and vice versa), and the happiness she delivers to her fans is the vitamin that keeps me running strong, if that makes sense.
My personal life has been a little sidelined in the past few months as Loubie’s stardom has skyrocketed, but I also joke that, in exchange, Loubie — who meets so many people — ought to find me a boyfriend! I think she could benefit from having a second dad, but I’ve definitely made an effort to continue my social life and time with friends as much as feasibly possible.
All in all, I consider myself a very lucky guy — at the end of the day, I get a hug from Loubie every time I walk in the front door and remind myself how fortunate I am to have this beautiful, affectionate golden retriever as my furry daughter.
9. How has owning Loubie impacted your friendships and brought new people into your life?
Before Loubie became famous, she was instrumental in enabling me to meet my first neighbors in Chelsea, and now I meet people from all over the world. I’ve gained lots of new friends who are becoming close to me and important in my life through her, and she helped me lower my guard somewhat and connect with new people just by walking outside onto the streets of New York… Hopefully one day that will include a future partner or husband!
10. What tips or advice would you have for others who are interested in developing an audience for their pets online? What personal life changes and obligations should they be prepared for?
If you want your dog to become a star — and this is advice that’s coming from someone who never planned to do so — I’d suggest that you be original, not too staged, and authentic throughout. Every dog or pet is beautiful — find what’s unique about yours and enhance that.
Moreover, don’t just thin about your pet as a potential celebrity, but try to use your pet’s joy and positivity to bring a smile to someone else who is sad or suffering; that’s largely why people love Loubie — her hugs and embraces lift their spirits if they’re feeling down. Your message shouldn’t just be “the spotlight,” but should be “healing one or many souls with every post.”
This is not a game of, “Hey, now I’m famous!” There are many responsibilities involved, so be aware that people will start demanding things from you as the star of your pet rises. People will want to see what you’re up to, to talk to you, and it all has a compounding effect that can lessen your private life to some extent. As the owner of a pet, you’re very exposed and in the public eye, so you always need to be cognizant of that and to try to get the best you can out of each new experience, interview, or encounter with your fans.
Most of all, make sure your pet is well taken care of and never exploited. It’s an amazing journey, but your pet’s happiness comes first, so love him or her with all you’ve got!