I have a cousin who lives in Texas. She is a 24-year-old first-grade teacher there who dabbles in photography on the side. She also is riding the wave of the good and bad stuff that happens when something you do goes viral — in her case, some unbelievably cute pictures she took of a rescued puppy.
Her name is Carlye Allen. And although our family all loves Carlye and knows how smart and talented she is, she was a complete nobody in terms of nationwide recognition until her 15 minutes of fame began one week ago.
I called her Tuesday to see how she was handling her puppy photos appearing on CNN, “Good Morning America,” Fox News and elsewhere.
What she told me was a story of a puppy found next to the railroad tracks, a couple of old college friends with an idea, a whimsical 15-minute photo shoot. And she told me that while most outlets handled the photos and the backstory well, there was a rush by some other outlets to take what was already a very good story and twist it into something even better.
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Carlye and her friend, Joy Stone, are college friends who have stayed in touch even though they live three hours apart in two small Texas towns. They share a passion for rescued animals. Joy and her husband, Brady, had been looking for the right rescue dog to adopt for several months.
One of Carlye’s other friends, Gracie Gonzalez, lives in yet another Texas town. She was the one who found the puppy who would eventually be named “Rey,” after the Star Wars character, as well as Rey’s four puppy siblings. The puppies — mostly golden retriever but mixed with something else — had all been abandoned by some railroad tracks.
Carlye saw the puppies on Facebook and showed them to Joy, who loved them and picked out one. Carlye drove two hours to pick up the puppy from one friend to give to another because, after all, first-grade teachers in the last month of the school year have tons of spare time to do things like that. (I'm kidding.)
Joy wanted to surprise her husband with the puppy. So a couple of days later, she drove three hours to Carlye’s house to visit overnight and also pick the dog up.
The 'puppy reveal' photo shoot
Are you with me so far? Have I mentioned a human baby in any of this?
No, I didn’t. Because there is no baby in this story. But stay with me, because the idea of one will soon be inserted.
Carlye had a bright idea just before Joy left with the puppy.
“Why don’t we do a photo ‘puppy reveal’ to show the dog to the rest of our Facebook friends and our families,” she said half-jokingly.
“Sounds fun,” Joy said.
Carlye had some supplies in her car from a photo shoot the day before. It had been the rare paying job – she’s only been taking pictures professionally for the past four months.
“But Carlye is just the type of person who you’re not surprised has some balloons and a tank of helium in her trunk,” Joy said.
There were no pink balloons, though, only beige ones. That was OK; it would add to the “reveal” mystery. They grabbed an old cardboard box from Amazon and wrote “It’s A ...” on it.
They found a metal bucket. Joy borrowed one of Carlye’s dresses to wear. They enlisted Carlye’s husband to corral the 5-pound puppy every time Rey decided to hop out of the bucket too early.
“From the idea to the end of the photo shoot, it took maybe 45 minutes,” Carlye said.
'Just a really cute puppy'
Joy then drove home with the puppy. She called her husband out to her car on the pretext of needing to unload some bags and instead revealed Rey, ensconced in a booster seat. Both husband and puppy were thrilled. A few hours later, Carlye sent the “puppy reveal” photos to them. Both young women posted the photos online.
They hoped for maybe a couple of hundred “likes” on Facebook. “I just thought my friends and family would get a kick out of seeing our new dog,” Joy said.
Instead, the number rapidly grew. In the next week, the photos would be viewed over 13 million times in various contexts and would be featured on almost all the major networks in some form. A cute puppy apparently crosses all lines of the political spectrum.
“While people may disagree on a lot of things,” Carlye said, “most people do agree that rescuing and helping animals is a good thing. Plus, Rey is just a really cute puppy. I think that the love between Joy and Rey was evident through the pictures, and everyone who has a pet can relate to something like that.”
So that’s a great story, right? A “puppy reveal” with lots of cuteness.
But after a few days, as the pictures kept showing up in various places, the story changed.
Wait, somebody's pregnant?
“Guy Thinks His Wife Is Announcing Her Pregnancy, Gets Surprise of a Lifetime” blared BoredPanda.com's headline.
“Texas woman’s unique ‘gender reveal’ goes viral,” read another headline, from Texas TV station KHOU's website.
It wasn’t a ‘gender reveal,’ though. There was never a baby involved, nor the thought of the baby. The Stones don’t have children, nor was Joy Stone pregnant. But this story seemed to proliferate, from one website to another.
“Personally, I would not tell my husband I was pregnant and then show him a puppy,” Joy said. “That’d be kind of a mean thing to do.”
Also, some stories started omitting the fact that the “puppy reveal” photos were seen by the husband only several hours after he already had the dog. It made it sound better for him to have been completely surprised by the puppy in the photos, with no advance warning. So that’s the way some sites published the story. It was a small mistake but, still, a mistake. Some sites asked only for permission to publish the photos, with no context for them whatsoever.
“Some of it has seemed to be just made up out of thin air,” Carlye said.
“It does make you think twice when you see stories on the news and wonder, ‘Is all that really true?’” Joy said.
It's a shame that some outlets saw the need to take an already great story and embellish it.
As for Joy, Carlye and Rey, they have mostly enjoyed their unplanned moment in the sun.
She has made friends with the older dog already in the house, has gotten her weight all the way up to 6 pounds and occasionally uses the bathroom outside.
From the wrong side of the railroad tracks, and after 13 million views that she would gladly trade for a single bite of bacon, Rey has found herself a home.