Had Instagram existed in the early ’90s, Whisky and Soda would’ve been Hong Kong’s most-liked pups.
The two terriers of former governor Chris Patten were well-known in the territory, both because of their antics (getting lost on walks, eating poisoned chicken) and their habit of nipping government employees. The pair were a frequent sight trotting around the streets of Central and the hills of the New Territories.
Twenty-five years on, Hong Kong’s first canines might not be living in Government House, but they are royalty – of the Instagram sort.
The social media platform isn’t just a platform for sharing images (ha!) any longer – it’s the nine-to-five for some of Hong Kong’s dogs. The most-loved canines in the city attract thousands of followers and a regular stream of heart-eye emojis underneath pictures of them dressed in booties/raincoats/bow ties.
Hong Kong didn’t invent the Instadog (America’s best-loved Instagram dogs have millions of followers and a dedicated social media festival, PetCon, launched last autumn). But while the US has the numbers, Hong Kong has the lunar calendar. This month marks Chinese New Year, ushering in the Year of the Dog. And if that’s not a good excuse to dress up one of Hong Kong’s Instagram dogs, take photos of them and write a flimsy 550 words then I don’t know what is.
There are a handful of dog Instagram stars in Hong Kong – best-known perhaps are Whiskey the yorkie, Sasha the sharpei and the many, many corgis – but the only one I’ve ever had tea with is Japanese shiba inu Yoshi, the super-cute dogchild behind @shiba_adventures.
For this incredibly serious interview, we meet Yoshi, appropriately, on Instagram Pier in Kennedy Town – one of his regular hangouts, according to his ‘momager’ Caryn Yap. His usual doggy dominion is Caine Road, and he’s a frequent visitor to dog-friendly cafe Elephant Grounds. (Despite the obsession, this isn’t the most canine-friendly city, and there are only few places that dogs can hang out in freely – Elephant Grounds being one of them. Only an utterly ordinary dog would ever be papped at Cyberport Waterfront Park.)
Yoshi, ‘a cheeky little shiba living in Hong Kong’, has over 1,800 followers, and ‘lives for adventures, going to the beach and ice cream’. (While he does love the beach, he is diva-ishly scared of water, and won’t put his paws near the pier’s edge.) His Instagram is full of him flopped out on junks, in cashmere jumpers and posing with giant pink flamingoes. He snarfs Gino’s doggy ice cream on The Peak, toro sushi at his favourite in-town Japanese restaurant and is recognised around Hong Kong thanks to a handsome supply of neckerchiefs.
Hong Kong’s dogs provide such effective social media marketing that brands have mushroomed around them.
There’s Sniffie, a luxury dog fashion brand that makes silk bomber jackets, red and black houndstooth capes and the very same khaki camouflage jacket that Yoshi has squeezed his muscular chest into today. It was set up by Hong Kong-based Caroline Roberts last year, and has already enjoyed a showing at London Fashion Week last autumn. Then there’s the personalised gourmet food from Hong Kong-based Dogalicious, which offers meal plans for dogs that include ingredients such as sole fillet, quinoa and kale.
Back on Instagram Pier, Yoshi is the complete professional: he’s absolutely still for the camera in his mini Sniffie camouflage jacket, staring doe-eyed into the middle distance (eyes resolutely fixed on a bag of gourmet snacks held in front of his nose), with amber aviators sliding down his snout.
He cycles smoothly through a couple of costume changes – a pair of McQueen glasses, a camouflage backpack and a pillar-box-red raincoat. The next job: giving Discovery a very exclusive interview.
We settle on some palettes looking out across to West Kowloon’s ICC. I get my notebook out. My first question (what it’s like being an Instagram star?) is met with a friendly little nod, a split grin and quite a lot of panting. In doggy speak? ‘Girl, talk to my agent.’