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How an Alaskan 'puppy bus' went viral on TikTok

The Thompsons originally started posting on social media to keep their customers updated on the adventures their dogs go on.
Mo Thompson
The Thompsons originally started posting on social media to keep their customers updated on the adventures their dogs go on.

Mo Thompson never planned to be a dog walker — and she definitely didn't plan to go viral on TikTok. But recently, her videos of the pups she walks have racked up millions of views, especially the ones showcasing how she picks them up: the puppy bus.

"They're getting on the bus and they get in their seat, and the Internet just lost it," she said. "50 million views. That was wild."

The videos feature the groups of dogs Mo and her husband Lee take on their off-leash walking groups as part of their walking and training business, Mo Mountain Mutts.

After picking up the pups from around their small town of Skagway, Alaska, their minibus makes its way to trail walks, hikes and swims. The dogs' dutiful boarding and individual personalities have endeared themselves to viewers.

"There's so many different dogs and there's so many different breeds and ages that there's plenty of dogs on the bus that you can relate to," Thompson said. "So people are like, 'Oh, my dog's like Lola,' or 'I'm like Carl.' They identify themselves, like, with the dog."

There are certain fan favorites, like Jake.

"Somebody made a comment about 'I bet you Jake buckles himself in,' " she said. "He gets on the bus, he says hi to his friends, he does a circle, and then he gets in his seat. Every morning, it's like the same thing. If he was a person, he'd be the kind that, like, has coffee and toast every morning for breakfast and reads the newspaper."

Or Amaru, who's shown in videos sitting out in the snow by himself and waiting for the bus to pull up:

"You pull up and he starts wagging his tail," Thomspon said.

"He gets on the bus just covered in snow."

Their popularity took the Thompsons by surprise.

She originally posted on social media just to keep the parents of her canine clients up to date. But then again, Mo never intended for dog walking to turn into a business either. It just started out as a favor for her coworkers, before she even had a dog of her own.

"It's just kind of a thing in our town where people walk each other's dogs. It's just like a really small, local community," Thompson said.

Mo would take friend's dogs on trails with her, or out around town, to get exercise and keep her company in the wilderness. Once she got her own dogs and partnered up with friends, the groups got bigger and bigger. Eventually, people started calling her up for help with training or behavioral issues.

"And it just kind of turned into like, All right, guys, I'm going through a lot of treats and a lot of poop bags," she said.

"Can you guys, like, throw me some money?"

She didn't always have a bus. She used to cart the dogs around in a van, and before the van, she corralled them on a humble bicycle.

"I've been known in my community for a while, but not on the internet," she said. "That took the bus."

This digital story was edited by Majd Al-Waheidi. contributed to this story

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Carmen Molina Acosta
Carmen Molina Acosta (she/her) is a producer at Morning Edition, where she pitches and produces pieces and two-ways for the air and for the web. In February 2023, she helped produce the network's first bilingual State of the Union special coverage. In a past life, she worked in investigative journalism, where she dug into the use of solitary confinement against ICE detainees and the lack of protections for migrant workers during the pandemic. Her work has been published in The Associated Press and The Washington Post, among other outlets. Molina Acosta is trilingual and spent a year abroad living in central Italy and the south of France. She studied journalism and international development as a Banneker/Key scholar at the University of Maryland.
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