Hadara Bilsky wanted a dog more than anything. But begging her parents for one had gotten her nowhere.
She’d heard all the excuses: The family was too busy. They traveled too much. A pet is a lot of responsibility. And her parents, Mark and Wendie, would be the ones to end up taking care of the dog.
Yet, on April 4, her family brought home a fluffy, energetic, 11-week-old Australian labradoodle. Maxamillion (the reason for the unusual spelling will be revealed) is already a beloved family member, despite his tendency to chew on the furniture in the Bilskys’ Gaithersburg home.
“Asking for a dog wasn’t enough. I’d been asking for a dog for multiple years now,” says Hadara, 17 “[Having a dog] is sort of a big responsibility.”
How did Hadara do it? It only happened once she realized that there was a power bigger than her. Bigger than her parents even.
On Jan. 10, the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School junior texted her parents, asking them if they would agree to get her a dog if she managed to get a million “likes” on the social media platform Instagram.
Both of them agreed (Mom’s response: “Yes.” Dad’s response: “Yes, it’ll never happen.”). But no one, not even Hadara, thought it would be more than a stunt.
“I texted my parents on Thursday and my mom responded Thursday night and my dad didn’t respond until the morning, ‘cause he goes to sleep early,” she says. “I thought I’d get a few thousand likes, you know, and then [it] would just sort of die out. It started out as a joke, so I thought a million sounded like a good
But not long after she posted a screenshot of the text on Instagram, it began to gain traction. “I think that saying it wasn’t going to happen is the reason why it happened,” Mark says. “You could say I was kind of secretly rooting for her.”
At first, it was mostly relatives and friends from Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School who liked and shared the post. Growing ambitious, she began messaging celebrities about her scheme for getting a dog: Ellen Degeneres (70.2 million followers), football player Tom Brady (6 million followers), model Chrissy Teigen (23.7 million), YouTube star Shane Dawson (10 million follows).
“That first night, it was pretty big,” she says, sitting in her living room, her dad nearby, holding Maxamillion to keep him from jumping on the furniture. “All my friends were sharing it and I stayed up
virtually all night with my sister and we were direct messaging a lot of these celebrities to get them to share [the post].”
Justin Schuble of dcfoodporn (325,000 followers) and rookie Redskins football player Jonathan Allen (100,000 followers) liked and shared the post. So did presidential daughter and adviser Ivanka Trump (4.8 million followers).
“Once it got out of my own friend circle, I just completely lost track of who was sharing it,” she says. “That sort of surprised me. That people who didn’t know me at all were sharing it.”
When she reached 100,000 likes, Hadara realized that a million might not be such a crazy number after all.
She checked her phone “excessively.”
“My friends and all their parents were [checking Instagram] that first weekend,” she says. “It was sort of like the big talk of the town.”
“Everybody was looking and everybody was rooting for her. I was refreshing Instagram a hundred times a day,” Mark says, still holding onto the bouncy labradoodle.
Then, very early on Feb. 23, a Shabbat and a mere six weeks after throwing her fate to social media, Hadara reached her impossible goal.
“I was sleeping when it happened,” she says. “My friend saw it, though. Everybody texted me. I wasn’t even home. I was at a convention for school.”
Today, Hadara’s post has been liked 1,012,461 times. The Bilskys had considered naming the dog Delano (after President Franklin D. Roosevelt) or Brisket (a favorite food). But that lucky number — a million — seemed right. So Maxamillion it was.
Then Hadara discovered that getting a million likes was easy compared to getting the dog.
There were a lot of factors to take into account: Hadara will be leaving home for college in a little more than a year. She wants her brother, Avishai, 19, who has autism, to have Max as an emotional support dog. And she wanted a breed that was hypoallergenic.
It took several weeks to find and bring home Maxamillion, who arrived on a flight from Winston-Salem, N.C., via Atlanta. This is how Max has changed Hadara’s life: “I have to wake up earlier for school, ‘cause I have to take the dog out and I have to keep my mother happy because she doesn’t exactly love the dog yet, but she will,” she says. “I do more chores now. Like today, I took out the recycling.”
Since getting Maxamillion, her follower count on Instagram has dropped 1,000 from a high of 8,000. But before her quest, she only had 900 followers.
“Some people aren’t so interested in me anymore. Once I got the dog they were like, ‘nah,’” she says.
But otherwise, Hadara sees this experience as a learning opportunity: She’s finding out how much work it is to have a dog, how to defend herself against trolls on social media and the power of social media.
“If anybody wants to share a message, it’s possible with, like, the click of a button. Or just liking a post, sharing a post. Never give up hope, because it was easy just to give up, but I tried to stay positive,” Hadara says, adding, “Also I’ve learned about the vulnerability of middle aged parents.”
Maxamillion’s Instagram: @maxamilliondoodle
Hadara’s Instagram: @hadarabilsky