Moving can be a lonely experience, as Victoria Stuart and Todd Hutcheson found out when the couple relocated in 2018 from the Calgary area to Canmore, Alberta, a midsize city of around 14,000 near Banff National Park. While they shared an outdoorsy lifestyle that included lots of adventures in the Canadian Rockies, and Todd met some folks on the golf course, branching out was a bit more of a struggle for a self-admitted introvert like Victoria.
However, with the adoption in late March 2020 of a Miniature American Shepherd (often called a Mini Aussie) they named Farley, the couple gained a loving companion whose presence in their lives allowed them to forge connections and friendships in their new neighborhood. (Dog-walking makes for a good icebreaker; so does creating an Instagram profile for Farley that’s amassed more than 76,000 followers).
The Mini Aussie’s oversize presence on Instagram led Victoria to find a home in the Dogstagram community, too, resulting in sunrise hiking meet-ups at the lake and a shared appreciation for canine photo shoots.
A fairly well-behaved pup, Farley has also taught the first-time pet parents a lot about being present, appreciating the beauty of the mountains, and maintaining a positive, loving energy.
“She’s a softie, she’s always giving kisses, she loves cuddling,” Victoria says. “She just knows how to make you feel loved.”
Farley’s Instagram adventures can be found at the handle @JustBeingFarley.
Wesley Coburn, Love, Dog: How did you get Farley?
Victoria Stuart: We found her at the beginning of COVID in 2020, when everything went to working from home. We’d wanted a dog for a really long time before that, and we felt like it was finally the right time.
Todd Hutcheson: Yeah, if there were ever a silver lining with COVID—for us personally—it was the good fortune that we’d be home and get to spend a lot of time with Farley.
LD: How did you decide on a Mini Aussie, specifically?
Victoria: We’re really into being outside, hiking, being out on the water on our paddleboards, so we wanted a dog who would be able to keep up with our adventures. And I think we also just really liked the look of them. They’re very cute. [laughter]
LD: They are! How did you come up with her name?
Victoria: I guess I kind of picked it out years ago—I always dreamed of having a boy dog…he’d be this little rascal, running around, being adventurous and stuff. And then when we met her, and she was a girl, we were like, “Oh, I don’t know if the name is gonna fit…” But it did. She’s kind of a little adventurer, kind of a rascally little pup.
LD: Does she enjoy camping and adventuring? How is she as a companion on hikes and things like that?
Todd: Yeah, she always seems pretty content. In our area, there’s a lot of wildlife that you need to be relatively aware of or concerned about, bears and things—and thus far she’s been pretty good about not being too reactive. Of course, we’re keeping her on lead when we’re on trails, but she has really grown to like it.
Even early on, when we would do a day hike and go back to our campsite, Farley was always the first one who wanted to hang out in the camper van and go to sleep, then go out and do it all again the next day.
Becoming a Pack
LD: What are some of the ways in which you and Farley find yourselves connecting?
Victoria: Farley definitely picks up on our energy. If you’re feeling tense about something, then she’ll kind of behave differently. For example, there was a point a couple months ago when my company was going through layoffs, and it was a very stressful time for me, and I remember she peed on the bed that night, and I thought, “Okay, this must be her picking up on my tense energy and behaving weirdly cause I was.”
But when we’re out hiking, that’s when we’re the calmest and happiest and feeling the most connected…sort of like a pack. I think that’s part of why she enjoys it. She can tell that we’re happy and relaxed and calm, and so she is, too.
LD: What’s your favorite part about having Farley?
Victoria: I think the best part for us about getting Farley was getting out and meeting people. I’m very introverted—Todd’s a little more extroverted—but in 2018 we moved here to Canmore from Calgary, a big city where all of our friends were, and then there’s this little town, so it was hard and awkward to find our people.
Having Farley brought me together with people—it’s so easy, such an icebreaker. You see someone out walking their dog and the dogs want to say hi, and then you’re talking to them—it’s just something that connects people. It’s been really good for me in that way—not just in our community, but also in the Dog Instagram community.
Now I feel like those are my people—we can talk about where to walk our dogs, where to take pictures, when the light is good. We’ll do crazy things like wake up at 3 am to go to Moraine Lake and watch the sunrise with our dogs. So that’s been the best part of it for me—the community that I’ve gained—well, aside from just having Farley herself, cause she’s so amazing and adorable.
When Farley Became an Instagram Star
LD: How did you get started with making Farley an Instagram page?
Victoria: [laughter] Well, I enjoy the process of photography—of taking pictures, editing them—it’s fun for me. So when Farley came along, I really wanted to document her life, and so I started posting pictures to Instagram and people started to like it, and it kind of evolved from there. I got to know some people in the Dog Instagram community, we started meeting up for hikes and camping, and it grew into this community that I’m a part of now.
And then brands started reaching out—I had to learn it all from scratch because I didn’t know anything about social media influencing, so it’s been a fun thing for me to do. And then there’s the fact that she’s adorable and has the cutest little personality, and people like that. Like, who doesn’t look at a picture of a cute dog and just smile? It just makes your day a little bit better.
LD: So what are some of the fun parts and the challenges that come with having an Instagram-famous dog?
Victoria: The fun parts…well, first of all I guess is meeting the other people and dogs who have similar interests. Like, we’ll go on a hike with our dogs and then dress them up in outfits for pictures for Instagram for half an hour. Most of my other friends would be like, “Yeah, we’re not doing that.”
But it can be a lot of work sometimes to keep up with it. Especially when I have to go back to work—I’m an engineer at an energy company and I’m gone for seven days at a time. So then I miss her, and I don’t really have Instagram content to post during that time, except the stuff that Todd takes.
Todd: And that’s questionable at best.
Victoria: He does his best. But he has to write out everything and send it to me because I haven’t handed over the keys to the account to him just yet.
Todd: We share everything financially and house-wise and all that, but Farley’s account, that’s her thing.
LD: So while you’re away, Victoria, Todd pretty much takes care of Farley, is that right?
Victoria: Yeah, that’s right. [sigh] For seven days at a time. [worried frown at Todd]. So I’ve had to teach him how to brush her teeth and which food she gets when, and which supplements, and all this stuff that I’ve been taking care of.
LD: How has that been to learn, has it been complicated?
Todd: I think it’ll be a really good trial by fire, once Victoria does go back to work. One thing about Farley is she’s really easy to please. As long as there’s food involved and she’s got some activity and she gets to see the neighborhood dogs—there’s a Poodle she’s best friends with—then I think we’ll do pretty well.
LD: Did Farley go through a super-destructive chew-on-everything-in-sight puppy phase?
Victoria: It wasn’t that bad compared to what I’ve heard about other dogs, but when she had her baby teeth, she put holes in a lot of my clothes. A lot of my pants, the arms of my jackets….
Todd: Yeah, she’d be playing with us, and then you’d suddenly have a hole in your sweater that you maybe didn’t plan on having a hole in. As far as the furniture, we actually got very fortunate—there’s not a particular leg of the couch or part of the floor or anything like that that she massacred.
Victoria: Also, when she was a puppy she’d attack our ankles, our feet. She would actually untie my shoelaces all the time, so you always had to double-knot them, but she doesn’t really do that much any more. I think that’s part of her herding instinct.
Todd: She has a pretty good off switch, too. I know a lot of people reference that Australian Shepherds are extremely high energy, that they need constant stimulation, but in many ways Farley kind of missed all that. When she’s excited she’s really excited, but when we’re both working, she’s actually really content to just lounge around in proximity with you.
A Loving Companion
LD: What behavior or characteristic best sums her up?
Todd: [long pause for thought] Loving.
Victoria: She’s a softie, she’s always giving kisses, she loves cuddling. She sleeps in bed with us, and in the morning when our alarms go off, that’s like her signal that it’s cuddle time, and she’ll get in there between us on her back, or spread out across our pillows, and it’s just the sweetest part of our day.
LD: How would you guys respond to the following statements: “Remember, we’re just the sidekicks” or “Face it, they’re in the driver’s seat”?
Victoria: Farley definitely runs things. The spotlight’s always on her. Usually when we’re planning any kind of an outing we’re like, “Can Farley come? Will Farley be comfortable?” She’s the star of the show.
Todd: And we know it.
LD: I mean, somebody has to be! So do you guys have an experience that best captures how much fun you have with Farley?
Todd: There have been so many fun experiences—taking her paddleboarding and hiking, sitting around the campfire at night after a fun day, and she’s knocked out asleep—
Victoria: Or she’ll climb right up in your camp chair.
LD: That’s the best, isn’t it, when they lay their head on your leg.
Todd: The other thing—if you’re gone, even if it’s like for an hour, when you come home, the pure excitement. It never gets old.
Victoria: Yeah, when she gets really excited and her little butt’s wagging and her teeth are showing: it’s just the best feeling.
LD: “MY HUMAN’S BACK! EVERYTHING’S RIGHT WITH THE WORLD!”
Todd: I know! And when Victoria has had to travel, picking her up from the airport, Farley will be there and just give her the biggest greeting.
LD: What about Farley makes it so easy to love her?
Todd: She’s got this really—I don’t know how you describe this in a dog—like, welcoming demeanor. There’s this little smile all the time, and it’s infectious. So it’s hard not to feed off of that.
Victoria: My parents came to visit us last summer, and my mom was never really a dog person, but she fell in love with her. Farley would cuddle up next to her on the couch and kind of nudge her way in for cuddles, and it just melted my mom’s heart.
LD: What has Farley taught you?
Todd: Some days it’s easy to forget how fortunate we are to live where we do, near Banff National Park. It’s probably true for everyone, all the positives that you overlook about where you live. And so to be able to introduce her to this environment and feed off of her excitement all the time, it’s just been so helpful for a sense of perspective. You have a bad day at work and honestly, Farley kind of makes you forget about it.
And then watching Victoria’s growth in this space—her introduction to new people, this new community—that’s been pretty exciting to watch.
LD: Was it an adjustment at first, taking care of a tiny little living creature?
Victoria: I grew up as an only child, so this is the first time I’ve really had to focus on taking care of someone else. It’s a way that I think I’ve grown a lot, being compassionate towards something that needs me, and it just….makes you feel better. I don’t know what the phrase is that I’m looking for. It’s kind of like your love grows when you have to share it—something like that.
LD: So, down the road, once everything opens back up again, what do you hope an ideal normal life with Farley will look like?
Todd: I think just continuing that trend of having fun—the three of us—it’s so rewarding.
Victoria: Yeah, I’m hoping it doesn’t look too different than this.