Alaska’s “Puppy Bus” is a social media sensation

Alaska’s ‘puppy bus’ is a social media sensation | A tail-wagging success story.

What started as a side hustle has now grown into Mo Thompson’s full-time job, complete with a spectacular “puppy bus” she uses to pick up clients for their walks.

Business started slowly for Mo Thompson (31). A Michigan native, the Washington Post reported. Thompson moved to Skagway, Alaska with her husband Lee in 2014. While working at a restaurant, Thompson began walking her colleague’s dogs in her free time.

“It just started with my co-worker and I walking each other’s dogs,” Thompson told the Washington Post. “I ended up having more time to get them out.”

With a population of less than 2,000, word of Thompson’s ability to charm dogs quickly spread in Skagway. With three dogs of her own and parents who are dog breeders, she recalls, “I was slow to adopt dogs to the point where I had to form a second group. It really just grew out of that.” Thompson became a full-time dog handler in 2016.

When the school Lee Thompson worked for closed due to Covid in 2020, he and his wife ran their business, Mo Mountain Mutts. The pandemic sparked a surge in dog ownership, and the Thompsons began going on off-leash pack walks up to three times a day.

go viral
Things started when the couple bought a used passenger bus last winter and outfitted it for the dogs they walk with.

“Lee and I are just a bunch of fools together. So Lee just started pointing the camera at me, otherwise he’d have a stupid idea on the bus. And that’s really gone viral,” Thompson said in an interview with KTOO.

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The photos and videos that Thompsons posted of the dogs on Instagram were initially only for their customers. As they hit one million TikTok subscribers on New Year’s Eve, they popped some champagne and opened a new bag of treats for their dogs.

Then a video of the couple gathering several dogs for their daily walks garnered more attention than the others. It has now garnered more than 50 million views on TikTok alone and has garnered fans mentioning the dogs by name in their comments.

The video highlights the Thompsons’ regular pick-up routine, according to People. As the video stops at the home of Amaru, a 5-year-old rescue dog, he is expectantly waiting for them. The door to the bus opens and Amaru happily jumps in, sniffs and greets his fellow passengers and makes his way to his ‘assigned’ seat where he is secured with a seat belt.

As they board the bus, Thompson performs an obedience exercise with the dogs and hands out treats for good behavior. Just like humans, the dogs must remain buckled in their seats while the bus travels to the route they will be walking that day. According to the Washington Post, the dogs are placed based on their age, personality, and demeanor.

Comments on the video often tag the dogs by name. “Otis is in full swing…straight to his seat. Amaru wants to socialize,” one person noted. “Jake bouncing in his seat is always my favorite,” commented another.

Puppy Bus admirers claim the videos improve their spirits. “Can we all agree that this video heals all sadness? Because I cried two minutes ago. I’m not anymore,” one person wrote. “It makes me so happy,” commented another user.

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Planning is for the dogs
The couple have an 8-month-old son named Vern, who often accompanies them on their daily outings. She conducts the morning walks while her husband oversees the afternoon excursions.

When it comes to planning the dog walks, “there’s a lot of thinking about where we’re going and what we’re going to do,” Thompson told The Washington Post. “When it’s hot, we need to find a source of water. If it’s freezing, we don’t do a climb. If I have a puppy we need to be on level ground. When I have a large group, we can’t go to places where there are tight corners and blind spots.”

The dogs are trained to behave well before participating in the off-leash excursions. “Any dogs that come on my pack walks need to know my rules and expectations,” she said. “We try to encourage good canine citizens.”

“Usually we have everything to ourselves. Normally nobody is outside. And we can play the in and out game. I usually leave my vehicle running and the dogs can kind of come and go and warm up their little toes in their seats and come out again,” Thompson shared with KTOO.

The Thompsons admit how fortunate they are to do something they love for a living. “Sometimes I look in the rearview mirror of the bus while driving. And I see all the dogs over there. And I can’t believe we do this for a living,” she said.

The puppy bus operates year-round and the Thompsons have no plans to expand their operations. They hope to benefit from their TikTok and YouTube videos. Mo Mountain Mutts offers training (virtual and in-person), one-on-one hikes, socialization classes, and other services. So off to the puppy bus!

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