Social Media Spotlight: Teddy Bear Tonkey Dog from Edmonton is Newest Internet Sensation
by Linda Hoang
She’s quite paws-ibly Edmonton’s most famous dog.
Tonkey, a four-month old bearcoat shar pei puppy, has shot to stardom after Instagram photos and video of the pup were posted on popular online image sharing site Imgur. The Internet fell in love with Tonkey’s squishy face, rolls, and teddy bear-like appearance.
Mom and owner Christine Park, 26, says her dog’s newfound fame was sudden.
“My phone is literally going off day and night,” Park says.
Thousands of comments are being left on Tonkey’s Instagram page @bearcoat_tonkey, and the dog has gained hundreds of thousands of new followers in just a few weeks. She’s now sitting at over 218,000 followers. Some of her images have more than 30,000 likes.
Park and her boyfriend Dave got Tonkey from a shar pei breeder in Raymond, Alberta, about five hours from Edmonton, back in May 2015.
“All of the dogs in the litter there were not bearcoats and usually bearcoats are the last ones to go,” Park explains, saying long-haired shar peis are typically disqualified in dog shows and can’t compete in certain categories. It wasn’t their intention to get a show dog – they fell in love with shar peis (ironically) after seeing photos of the dog breed online.
They started the Instagram account for the puppy as a way to show off their special shar pei to the online shar pei community.
“We wanted to show how cute a bearcoat could be too so we were hashtagging “#sharpeisofinstagram,” Park says.
“Overnight, her followers skyrocketed. We got over 1,000 followers and thought, whoa that’s so cool.”
After the Imgur post on July 14, popular site Bored Panda reached out and asked Park if she’d be interested in writing an article featuring photos of Tonkey.
The article received more than 250,000 views in its first week of publication and once it hit the Internet, the media calls started coming.
The Internet could not get enough of Tonkey’s face.
“When you put wrinkly and fluffy together, people go crazy,” Park says. “She is really unique.”
Even among her littermates, Park says Tonkey stood out as “exceptionally cute.”
“Tonkey was jumping out, wanted to see us, and her tail was going. Even the breeder said there was something special about her,” Park says. “They called her happy tail.”
While Tonkey isn’t Park’s first dog, she is certainly her most popular.
Maxi is Tonkey’s older adopted sister.
While Maxi is featured in some of Tonkey’s Instagram posts, she’s admittedly, not the star.
“Everyone make way for Tonkey Bear!” Park says.
The NAIT interior design grad says she wasn’t particularly active on social media until she started posting Tonkey’s photos.
In a space dominated primarily by famous Internet cats, Park was pleased to see her pup making waves online.
“I’m really new to this animal community on the world wide web,” she says, laughing. “It’s fun.”
Park’s been trying to keep up with media interviews – locally and around the world. She’s also trying to respond to comments on Tonkey’s Instagram as well as a flood of emails.
“We get really sweet and friendly emails from people who just want to say hi and are showing us their bearcoats,” Park says.
“We really want to stay true to our mission in raising awareness for bearcoat shar peis.”
The whirlwind Internet fame has got them thinking about social media in a more deliberate way, including adding @bearcoat_tonkey watermarks on images, copyrighting and trying to protect Tonkey’s photos.
They’re also trying to post photos more consistently, showing off Tonkey’s unique and funny character. “We want to capture those moments and put them on Instagram.”
As well, they’ve been approached by publishers around the world who want to create a photo book featuring Tonkey’s squishy face.
Locally, Park wants to see how Tonkey can give back to the community – with some people and organizations already reaching out to see if Tonkey can make appearances for fundraising campaigns.
Park says she’s truly seeing the power of the Internet, and is still in shock.
“Right when we think its slowing down, we get a wave of people who see Tonkey featured somewhere, who get attracted to her Instagram page.”
She’s certain her special Tonkey is the most popular Edmonton dog on Instagram – and would bet she’s got more of a following than most dogs in Canada.
Tonkey however, is unaware of her worldwide fame, and is just enjoying playing with her parents and sister Maxi.
“We live a really quiet life,” Park says.
“Nothing has really changed. Maxi and Tonkey really don’t know what’s going on.”
See more photos and video of Tonkey on her Instagram page at @bearcoat_tonkey.