If people needed a palate cleanser for their pandemic Twitter timelines, this was it.
Late last month, while out for a walk across the Longfellow Bridge, Cambridge resident Taylor Larick stumbled across a half-dozen dogs of various breeds sitting perfectly still in front of one of the historic span’s salt-and-pepper towers.
Some were tucked into a little window ledge, their pinkish tongues hanging out. Below them, the other dogs sat like granite statues, albeit furry ones. They were all facing a man with a camera, who had posed the dogs just so and stepped back into the bike line for the perfect shot, snapping his fingers to keep their attention.
Larick took out his own camera and quickly snapped a picture of the photographer with the very well-trained dogs. He shared it on Twitter on Sunday afternoon.
“Omg went for a walk and saw this man taking a picture of all his dogs and i almost cried,” Larick tweeted.
By Monday, his post had been shared tens of thousands of times, hailed as a source of pure cuteness and impressive command. As the day ticked on, the picture even became a meme, making waves in certain circles on Instagram.
But it also, ahem, begged the question: How in the world did the photographer get those dogs to stay so still? And was this some type of photo shoot for a dog calendar?
“Bowing down to anyone who can get *six* #dogs to sit and behave for a photo!!,” one person wrote on Twitter.
The dog whisperer who posed the pups on the bridge was Steven Watson, Larick later learned, a veteran dog walker from Beacon Hill.
Watson, who has an Instagram account called “The Pied Dog Walker,” is out daily with packs of pooches, often taking images of them in various parts of the city and sharing them online. It’s not often that Watson becomes the subject of a photo, however.
Watson has long had a small social media following locally, but Larick’s tweet sent his popularity into overdrive. Over the past few days, he’s received a huge influx of new fans who spotted the picture of the dogs on the bridge.
His follower count hit 6,500 Monday. It later jumped to 18,000. By Tuesday, it tipped past 30,000. Perhaps the pinnacle of his newfound fandom came when “We Rate Dogs,” which boasts 9 million followers, shared Larick’s tweet.
“I started getting tons of notifications out of nowhere,” he said. “It really hasn’t stopped — it’s still going, which is amazing.”
Watson started walking dogs in Boston in 1996 before taking a brief hiatus a few years later to travel the world. He eventually returned to the area and in 2005 started his latest venture, Dog’s Best Friend. He started his Instagram account in 2016 after being encouraged by his clients.
“I consider myself a dog walker who takes photos — I don’t consider myself a really great photographer,” Watson said. “I have great models and a great city to take pictures in, so it makes the photos shine.”
A native of the Midwest, Watson said he spends his whole day walking dogs around the city and has developed close relationships with them. This has allowed him to place them in picture-perfect poses, at least for a few brief moments.
“We get pretty connected, pretty bonded. There’s a trust between us — an understanding — that enables me to get those shots,” said Watson. “There’s a connection, so that helps.”
The dogs are close with each other, he added, and “are all good friends.”
Krister Svensson, who owns Magnus, a 2 1/2-year-old purebred English Labrador featured in the bridge shot, said Watson has “such a wonderful relationship with all of the dogs.” That bond allows him to get pictures that the dog owners could only dream of.
“The dogs really listen and respond to him,” said Svensson, who met Watson two years ago. “I can’t even get Magnus to sit and stay in one spot.”
Depending on his schedule, Watson — who is a cat owner — can be spotted walking six or more dogs at a time, pausing for a photo shoot when inspiration strikes.
Watson has pictures of the dogs he walks posing in front of the Copley T stop, the Robert Gould Shaw and Massachusetts 54th Regiment Memorial, Trinity Church, and on the river stones that line historic Acorn Street on Beacon Hill.
For the recent shot on the Longfellow Bridge — one that Watson has attempted before — he picked up a few of the dogs and placed them on the window sill of the granite tower, while a third jumped up on his own. Their leashes were hooked into the window. Three other dogs sat stoically below, at Watson’s direction.
“I’m really focused on the dogs when I do these,” he said. “I’m really trying to keep the dogs in place and I don’t want anybody running off or something going wrong, so that’s where my focus is.”
His attention to detail has paid off, though it comes with added responsibility.
“I’m going to have to come up with some good content from now on.”
Watson said while he’s been slightly surprised by the sudden rush of popularity, he hopes that his photographs provide a bit of joy during a difficult time.
“We’ve had a troubled year in the world,” Watson said. “And if my dogs can do something to bring up the level of happiness in the world, then I am very pleased.”