If you’ve ever seen Violet Rizzieri ’23 sprint across the quad, odds are she was chasing down a dog, camera in hand. While her love of canines may be obvious, her motivations for snapping pictures of dogs on campus have long remained a secret.
For the past two years, Rizzieri has been anonymously running @bowdoindogspotter, an Instagram account well-known for posting playful photos of dogs on campus and in the wider Bowdoin community. Boasting over 4,000 followers, @bowdoindogspotter has become a key feature of the College’s social media presence, regularly attracting the attention of prospective and current students, the Brunswick community and general dog enthusiasts alike.
Rizzieri took over running the account after its creator Audrey Reuman ’21 graduated. As her time on campus comes to a close, Rizzieri shares her dog-spotting memories and canine photography tricks as she prepares to pass the baton along to the next anonymous dog spotter.
[This interview has been edited for clarity.]
Q: What does it take to run @bowdoindogspotter?
A: It mostly comes with me just wanting to go and say ‘hi’ to dogs and to interact with people around campus walking their dogs. And then, of course, I got a lot of people to send me pictures of dogs in Brunswick, on campus and also their dogs from home. So I try to get them all incorporated.
When taking photos, I always go up and ask if I can say ‘hi’ to their dog. It’s always what I do. Then I say ‘hi’ to the dog for a while, give them some pats and then I ask the owner if it’d be okay if I took a photo of their dog, and I tell him I run an account called ‘Bowdoin dog spotter.’ Often they say ‘Oh my god, I love that account! We really wanted to get … I don’t know … ‘Fluffy’ on it.’
Sometimes, I really track them down.… Once, I was by the art museum, and I saw this really big fluffy dog close to Massachusetts Hall walking away quickly, and I hadn’t had a big fluffy dog in a while. I like to kind of vary the types of dogs … so I ran across the quad. The key is you can’t approach them too out of breath, so I had to run and then walk.
Q: How do you get a good picture of a dog?
A: Sometimes the dogs don’t like cameras. A lot of the dogs don’t like having their photo taken at first so you have to just really get to know them first. And then sometimes you kind of hide your phone in your sleeve. You have to just figure out the dog’s natural modeling positions and really just work with the dog [laughter]. You’re not trying to make all dogs the same. I try to just first have the dog sit … but then a lot of my favorite photos are when the dog looks back at their owner or is doing something strange—just getting at their playfulness.
Q: Despite running after dogs across campus, you’ve remained anonymous throughout your time running the account. Why keep your identity a secret, and why reveal yourself now?
A: The fun of the @bowdoindogspotter account is the anonymity.… They are just the dogs of Bowdoin and in Brunswick and dogs spotted by Bowdoin people. That’s kind of my motto.
As I am going to graduate in a couple of weeks, it’s important to pass the account on. I think it’s important for me leaving Bowdoin to say goodbye to the account. It’s one of my favorite things I do on campus. As I took over from Audrey two years ago, some unnamed dog spotter will take over and run the account for a couple years.
Q: Have you come close to sharing your identity in the past?
A: I was at the library once, and as a break from homework, I posted something, and a table of people next to me started talking about the post. They were just talking about how they really liked the account, and they were trying to guess who it was. I actually knew two of them, and it was really tempting to tell them in that moment.
Q: Your account is followed by many dog fans and even some copycats. How do you feel about emerging accounts such as @bowdoinsquirrelspotter and @bowdoinkittyspotter?
A: I think the whole idea of the dog spotter is lighthearted silliness and animals. So I think it’s in the right vein. I feel only camaraderie.
Q: What are you going to take away from running this account?
A: I really, really loved getting to talk with the people who live in Brunswick and around Bowdoin. I probably never would have talked to all these random people before. Probably at least every day or every other day, I’m chatting with someone and their dog and saying ‘hi.’ It gave me a lot of confidence to just walk up to people and ask them to say ‘hi’ to their dog.
Q: What are your dog-spotting plans post-grad?
A: I’m thinking of doing @bostondogspotter. I’ve got to secure the handle.