OAK HARBOR — As Max lays sprawled on the living room floor, Bruce hovered above and let out barks that reverberated across the room.
For Bruce, a Newfoundland just shy of a year old, it was clearly play time. Max remained motionless except for an occasional paw stuck into the air to pacify the overgrown puppy.
“Max is one in a million,” Stasha Becker said as she looked on in admiration. “He is everything and beyond what we ever thought a dog would be.
“Max sets the tone for the entire family. He’s so happy and calm.”
Max is a 165-pound Newfoundland, but to the Beckers of Oak Harbor, he’s an extension of the family.
The happy-go-lucky dog has been by the side of 6-year-old Julian Becker since he was born.
Their relationship is so special that it was featured in a Purina commercial that was filmed on Whidbey Island in August.
“Julian learned to walk holding on to Max,” Becker said. “Max has always been like Julian’s shadow.”
She has chronicled the story of Julian and Max through the thousands of photos she’s posted on her Instagram account since the family moved from England to Oak Harbor in the summer of 2010.
It started out as a simple way to send family pictures from her iPhone to her husband, Jason Becker, when he was away from home as part of his job with the Navy.
Becker established a daily routine of snapping photos of Julian and Max with different props in front of their garage, then also would get shots of them with scenic backdrops during their hikes around Whidbey Island.
As she posted these images on Instagram, which she described as “Twitter for photographers,” more and more like-minded photography buffs became followers on her account.
When the photographic story of Julian and Max started being linked to popular websites such as My Modern Met, BuzzFeed and Huffington Post, the story went viral.
“When it went viral, I mean it really went viral,” she said, referring to a flood of emails from China and Japan and an Instagram account that has grown to nearly 35,000 followers.
The story of Julian and Max’s bond was shown on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” The Beckers also signed up with a British agency that pitched the story to European newspapers and gave them rights to publish the photos. “All of a sudden, we were in newspapers all over the world,” she said.
Inspired by the story, Purina came calling.
It recognized Julian and Max on the “Better with Pets” section of its website, then filmed a video featured in the commercial, which shows that big dogs can be just as family friendly as little dogs, Becker said.
That point was emphasized in July, when Bruce joined the family. They purchased Bruce from the same breeder they bought Max from in Yorkshire, England. Purina paid to ship Bruce to Oak Harbor.
Now, the Instagram posts include two big dogs and one happy boy.
“Bruce is Julian’s dog in theory,” Becker said. “He likes to call Max his brother.”
“Bruce is more like a cousin,” Julian said.
An only child, Julian has no shortage of company when he returns home from kindergarten.
He’s had Max at his side as far back as he can remember.
“He’s 6. He’s really old in dog years,” Julian said. “I don’t always need to play with him. He’s not always in a playful mood. He’s mostly in a sleepy mood.”
Thanks to Bruce.