January 12, 2023
Amaru, a five-year-old rescue dog, waits patiently on his family’s front lawn in Skagway, Alaska, watching for the bus to arrive each morning. “He got used to sitting in that spot. He even looks in the direction he knows they’re going to come,” says his dad, Gary Hisman—who typically does yard work while Amaru awaits his daily transport. “He’s a very smart guy.”
Amaru, along with about 40 other dogs, is part of a play group organized by Mo Mountain Mutts a local dog walking and training business, run by husband-and-wife duo, Mo and Lee Thompson, reports The Washington Post.
The Thompsons lead off-leash pack walks up to three times a day, but what has captured the attention of people worldwide are hilarious videos showing how they collect their canine clients: A recent TikTok video of several dogs confidently boarding the bus on their own with big wagging tails was viewed more than 50 million times.
It documents the Thompsons’ regular pickup routine. At one point, the minibus stops in front of Amaru’s home, where he is seated in the front yard—clearly expecting them. From inside the bus, the Thompsons open the doors for the pup, and he happily leaps in.
Once entering the bus, the dogs typically sniff around and greet the other canine passengers, before climbing onto their assigned seat — which the Thompsons have trained them to do. Then, their harness gets secured, and the same process is repeated as the rest of the pack, about 12 dogs, is picked up.
The seats are carefully selected based on factors such as a pup’s personality, age and manners. Most dogs head directly to their designated seat without being guided.
“Specific areas of the bus are better suited to the dogs,” Mo, 31, explained—adding that senior dogs tend to be assigned seats closer to the front, while rowdier youngsters ride in what she calls the “licky puppy corner,” because they tend to lick each other for most of the journey.
When the dogs board the bus, Mo does a small obedience drill, and passes out treats to reward good behavior. Once they’re settled and buckled in, Mo said, “they have to stay on their seats”—just like humans—while being transported to the trailhead.
Mo and Lee regularly film portions of their bus rides and walks and share videos on social media. Lately they’ve been going viral. Mo Mountain Mutts has around 237,000 followers on Instagram, and 1.3 million followers on TikTok, but they reach far more people than that on social media.
“I originally started posting on social media for my clients,” Mo said, adding that she often shared “class photos” for dog parents.
“Somewhere along the line,” she said, “the puppy bus just took off, and now the Internet is in love.”
In the videos, Amaru has emerged as a fan favorite. “All my friends tease me that he’s going to leave home and go to Hollywood,” Hisman joked.
People often call out the dogs by name in the video comments, to the delight of the pet’s owners. “Otis is all business… straight to his seat. Amaru wants to socialize,” one person observed.
“Jake hopping on his seat is always my fav,” another commented.
Fans of the dog bus say the videos are a guaranteed mood boost. “Can we all agree that this video heals all sadness? Cause I was crying two minutes ago. I am not anymore,” one person wrote.
“It’s bringing me so much joy,” another user commented.
Just as the Thompson’s social media stardom was unexpected, so, too, was the couple’s canine-focused career path. They never set out to start a dog walking company, Mo said—or move permanently to Alaska, for that matter.
The Thompsons both grew up in Michigan and were high school sweethearts who traveled to Alaska in 2014. They initially intended to only spend the summer there, but they ended up staying. About six years ago, Mo was working as a bartender, server and hostess at a hotel restaurant, while her husband worked at the same restaurant as a server, as well as at a local school as a special education paraprofessional, and later, an athletic director.
At the time, Mo, whose parents were dog breeders, had some flexibility in her work schedule, and “it just started with my co-worker and I walking each other’s dogs,” she said. “I ended up having more time available to get them out.”
It grew from there. Given that Skagway has a population of less than 2,000 people, word spread about Mo’s dog walking services, and people reached out to inquire about her availability.
“I just started picking up dogs slowly, to the point where I needed to make a second group,” said Mo, who left her job at the restaurant in 2016 to make more time for dog walking. “It really just evolved out of that.”
Her husband, meanwhile, continued focusing on his own work, until he lost his job in 2021 after the school was closed due to COVID. He started tagging along on Mo’s daily pack walks for fresh air.
The timing, it turned out, could not have been better: During the height of the pandemic, “people were adopting dogs like crazy,” said Mo.
Business began booming, and Lee took on Mo Mountain Mutts as his primary job, too. Eventually, they swapped their van for a bus to keep up with the growing doggy demand.
Now, the couple—who have an eight-month-old son named Vern, as well as three dogs and a cat—often divide and conquer the business. Mo usually handles the morning walks, while Lee tackles the afternoon trails. They also offer training (virtually and in-person), solo walks, socialization lessons and other services.
When it comes to pack walks, “there’s a lot of thought that goes into where we’re going and what we’re going to do,” Mo explained. For instance, “if it’s hot, we need to find a water source. If it’s icy, we’re not going to do an incline. If I have a puppy, we need to be on flat ground. If I have a large group, we can’t go places where there’s tight corners and blind spots.”
She does temperament testing and trail training in advance to ensure she feels comfortable letting a dog go off-leash.
“All the dogs that go on my pack walk need to know my rules and expectations,” she said. “We try to encourage good doggy citizens.”
She added that although she prioritizes obedience and safe behavior, she also encourages playful, messy fun. “My business has been built around dogs being dogs,” she said. “The dogs come first. The dogs are always the priority.”
Research contact: @washingtonpost