Kevin Bubolz's dogs Ellie and Emma travel the world with him, snapping sweet shots along the way
Kevin Bubolz started sharing videos of himself and his golden retrievers Ellie and Emma on TikTok and Instagram at @elliegoldenlife several years ago.
At the end of 2023, he shared a video showing all of the amazing cities in which he and his dogs took selfies.
Bubolz and his wife Katie travel the globe with their dogs with the mission of spreading smiles.
On a trip to Prague, Kevin and Katie Bubolz had people recognizing them from their social channels @elliegoldenlife. They did stand out, walking the streets with their golden retrievers Ellie, 7, and Emma, 1, who have become famous for videos in which they snap smiley selfies on their owners’ shoulders.
“You have this ability to connect with people around the world that don’t even speak the same language,” Kevin, 33, tells PEOPLE of the family’s capacity to spread joy through the clips. “It really keeps you going.”
Ellie has "always loved the camera," Kevin shares, in part because she knows that snapping a photo often leads to a treat or extra playtime.
"So anytime you bring up a phone, or you set up a tripod, she smiles instantly and just comes running, it's so funny to watch," he says. "She had this joy for it, and I thought, well, let's turn it into something."
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He soon noticed how Ellie could "smile" on cue when rewarded, and "that's where the genesis of the selfies came from," Kevin says of his clips.
"I notice when I watch the videos that I'm smiling when I say 'Smile,' and I think it has the same effect on people watching. It's joyful." (The addition of Emma only brought more smiles once she learned to copy her big sis.)
Pre-pandemic, Katie, 34, and Kevin took Ellie, a therapy dog, to volunteer events near their home outside of Washington, D.C., pivoting to TikTok and Instagram when COVID put them on pause.
But now interacting with people both in-person and via video is “really neat,” says Kevin.
“Something as small as a smile can make all the difference.” In fact, plans for 2024 include opportunities in which fans and followers will be able to volunteer alongside the foursome, helping out at a local children's hospital and other area non-profits.
On top of their charitable work, the Bubolzes also love to travel — Kevin formerly served abroad as a member of the Army — and knew they wanted to make that a part of the dogs' lives, too. Though many of their TikToks feature recognizable international landmarks like the Eiffel Tower of Paris and London's Big Ben, "we road trip most of the time," Kevin says.
"We actually bought a minivan and often go across the country visiting different places with Ellie and Emma."
The dogs are "best friends," Kevin says, despite their differences ("Emma is a wild one!" he jokes). "Their personalities are very different, but they both love to learn. And they both have the ability, when they're in situations where they're interacting with people, where they'll change their demeanor. They'll be these crazy, wild, fun puppies one moment, then we'll walk into a hospital room and there's a child on the bed and Ellie will just lay there with them, nice and calm. It's incredible. They really are great dogs."
So great that they have a combined 10 million followers between Instagram and TikTok alone. "I could never have imagined we'd be where we are today," says Kevin. "Talking about it, I'm just happy. It's so fun. It's always been our mission to spread smiles, and this year I think we'll be able to do that even more."
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