At a recent cocktail reception on Cinefamily's back patio — coincidentally for the second-season premiere of HBO's animated series Animals — Marnie the Dog is holding court. Granted, that doesn't involve much more than lounging in her owner's arms with her head cocked, her tongue lolling out of the left side of her mouth and her big, cartoonish eyes glinting in the party lights. Full-grown adults practically scream when they see her. Incredulous, they comment on how she seems like she's not even a real thing. With her fluffy sandy-tan fur, angelic demeanor and limbs that protrude in ways that seem to defy logic, she's like a sentient stuffed animal — one that happens to have 2.1 million Instagram followers.
Some New Yorkers retire to Boca Raton, Florida, in search of warmer climes and perpetual sunshine. Brooklynite Marnie the Dog retired to Los Angeles. Adopted from a shelter in Connecticut at age 11 by first-time dog owner Shirley Braha, Marnie, now 15, is a golden girl with a millennial's social media reach. Her massively popular Instagram posts — which feature funny captions written by Braha in Marnie's "voice" — have made her a late-in-life celebrity and an ambassador for senior dog adoption.
Since the duo relocated to L.A. around eight months ago, Braha and Marnie have become fixtures at Children's Hospital Los Angeles, not far from their Hollywood home, where Marnie visits weekly to cheer up sick kids. "It just seems like a really good use of our time," Braha says modestly. "These are kids who really need it; you're really changing their day."
She also released a book — Marnie the Dog: I Am a Book — that benefited the ASPCA.
A former producer/creator of indie-rock shows on both New York public television and MTV's online portal Hive, Braha had been searching for dogs for two weeks when she discovered a shih tzu named "Stinky" on Petfinder. "There were a couple, but then I saw Marnie and I was like, 'Holy shit, I have to get that dog,'" Braha recalls. After repeated calls to the shelter to express her interest, she took the day off work and took the train to Connecticut. At that point, no matter what, she was taking the dog, but Stinky didn't look so good. "I didn't really care if she was cute or not," Braha says, but quickly corrects herself. "Well, you hope your dog's cute, but more than that it was like: A.) I hope she's nice; and B.) Let's hope she lives, because she really looks kind of sick."
And she was. Besides a case of worms, a vet was concerned that her head tilt was the result of brain cancer. "That was like maybe three days after I adopted her, but it's like $2,000 to get a brain scan so I was like, 'OK, I guess I'll just try to make these last three months of her life happy,'" Braha says. "Then three months passed, four months passed, and I was like, 'Hey, I think we're going to be OK, Marn.'" As it turns out, that now-signature head tilt is a remnant of vestibular syndrome, a sort of extreme case of vertigo.
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Marnie didn't become Instagram-famous overnight. Braha started the @marniethedog account shortly after the adoption and posted a few times to little reaction. "But then, like a year after I got her, someone tagged a picture of her, and then I had like 300 followers. I was like, 'OK, I'll post more pictures. People seem to like this, so I'll put a little more effort in.'"
She continues, "I didn't want to like be like delusional, like 'I'm going to make my dog famous,' because what are the chances of that happening? But it took off pretty fast. If it didn't take off quickly, I don't think I would've kept posting pictures of her."
At the moment, Braha has devoted herself to being Marnie's full-time companion. And, as Instagram frequently indicates, whether they're hiking, eating sushi with friends or hanging out with celebrities, they're both enjoying the L.A. lifestyle.
"Having her has been super magical," Braha says. "To see the world through another creature's eyes is so cool."