The Austin Chronicle

Meet Social Media Star Sid, the Regal Beagle, the Inspiration Behind Zilker Bark

Man's best friend, and life coach

By Sarah Marloff, February 16, 2018, Features

In 2018, the hardworking dog – or fox, or goat – can live a much more glamorous life than its predecessors. Save Lassie and Flipper, most pre-social media pets were never touched by fame. That is, until Instagram unknowingly created the perfect platform to transform the average house cat or pet pug into the stars their owners always knew they were.

Take Austin's own Sid, the Regal Beagle. On April 21, 2015, his owner Alex Hopes treated him to Home Slice with a piece of pizza, and put a video of Sid – holding said slice in his mouth – on social media. The world went wild. Hopes, who many of you should know as the creator of Zilker Bark, says Sid's "pizza dog" video was shared by pop star (and avid animal lover) Miley Cyrus, inspired a Buzzfeed listicle, and today has been viewed approximately 250 million times. Sid, who already had a devoted Instagram following, shot right into the proverbial spotlight. The eight-second video launched his spokesdog career – in the years since, Sid has worked with names such as the PGA Tour, Purina Dog Food, and Domino's Pizza. As a (food- and) people-loving mutt, Hopes says Sid handles the fame well, and estimates that Sid brings home about 30% of their shared bacon.

Just as Sid was achieving superstar status (he was named Austin Dog Mayor in fall 2015), Hopes was beginning Zilker Bark. Nearly three years later, the Instagram account filled with portraits of local dogs zooming around Zilker Park has become an iconic Austin brand. And it's no secret why: Hopes captures dogs "being themselves in situations where they should be themselves." With 127,000 followers, Hopes believes the account's appeal lies in its simplicity. "Three years ago it wasn't any different than it is now," he says. "Just me, going to the park with my dogs, taking pictures."

The truth of the matter is, Zilker Bark wouldn't exist without Sid. It all started eight years ago when Hopes adopted Sid, his first dog, whom he credits as his "catalyst" for getting into photography. "I bought a point-and-shoot and was instantly infatuated. And I had a model who wouldn't say no." The two moved to Austin on a whim in 2012. As Hopes' photography career took off, they decided to make another life change. On April 30, 2014, Hopes sold everything he owned – intending to move to Croatia with Sid and two friends. That same night Sid was hit by a car and nearly died. Luckily, he pulled through, but the accident rerouted Hopes. Instead of boarding a plane to the Mediterranean, he loaded up his car and left on a six-month road trip with Sid. When the duo returned in January 2015, everything clicked – thanks in part to Sid's uncanny ability to hold food in his mouth without eating it (a feat few dogs have mastered).

Last weekend, Zilker Bark released Dogs of Austin: Stories From Elsewhere, a photobook tribute to local dogs. The project includes pup portraits spanning the past two-and-a-half years, and is divided into beloved ZB caption categories including "Down to Party Corgis" and "Head Tilts for World Peace." For Hopes, one of the most gratifying aspects of Zilker Bark's success is that it proves Sid's insta-success wasn't a fluke. As the brand continues on toward greatness, it's already grown beyond its humble one-man, one-dog beginnings. Behind the 'gram, two copywriters have been hired to assist with captions, which he says are equally as important as the photos themselves, and an additional photographer is assisting with portrait sessions.

In front of the lens, Hopes' newer Here's a Puppy vertical spotlights puppies (obviously) and will likely become the parent account for Zilker Bark if it expands to other cities (Hopes aims to kick off in Denver later this year). That's not Hopes' only new account though. Little Polly Dog – aka Sid's little sis Polly, a Great Pyrenees/border collie mix – went live in September and already has more than 8,200 followers. Hopes admits that he adopted her partially to soften the blow of Sid's aging. "It's hard for me to watch," he confesses, having never lost an animal before. But Polly's appearance has "gotten Sid more spunked up," Hopes smiles.

From Sid's celebrity status to Zilker Bark's local following, Hopes is humbled by Austin's continued support. To give back, the photographer donates a significant portion of his time and earnings to the city's animal shelters. Yet, he can't help but wonder if "our obsession with social media masks some really serious issues going on in the world." It's a question that clearly haunts him, and one he struggles to answer. He admits he's taken a step back from social media when he's not working, but applauds accounts like Doug the Pug's for doing "incredible things." At the end of the day – or at least our coffee chat – Hopes concluded "there are times when I'm conflicted ... but, to make an impact you have to meet negativity with positivity. With Zilker Bark I'm trying to make the community around me better and people happier."

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