Ingrid Nilsen is a YouTube content creator and host of the One Step podcast who currently resides in Brooklyn, New York. In 2014, she became the first YouTuber to become a CoverGirl Ambassador. Ingrid came out as gay in 2015 on YouTube—her video garnered almost one million views in eight hours—and has since then been an activist for LGBTQ rights honored by Out and The Trevor Project. In 2016, she interviewed President Barack Obama about the tampon tax and discrimination against LGBTQ people in the United States, and was appointed a United Nations Change Ambassador. Recently, she collaborated with Fresh on the Sugar in the City Blackberry Tint Lip Balm SPF 15, which features an illustration of her Pomeranian rescue, Tayto, on the tube.
Did you grow up with any pets?
I only had cats growing up—I grew up with a cat that we rescued from a shelter. But Tayto is the first dog I’ve ever had. Having a cat always felt like a family experience; it was never my sole responsibility to take care of a cat, whereas Tayto is definitely my responsibility.
“I feel like every dog has a part of the grooming process that’s their least favorite—kind of like humans do. We all have our favorite part of the beauty routine and his is definitely the dryer.”
So how did you know you were a dog person?
Honestly, when I was younger, I was kind of afraid of dogs, which is why I didn’t get one until I was older. As I got older and started spending time with people who had different kinds of dogs with different personalities, I realized that I was a dog person, too! I always felt like you had to choose between being a cat person or a dog person, but I love both. As I got into my twenties and started developing my own relationships with other people’s dogs, I just really fell in love with them.
I loved your thoughtful video where you talked about all the research you did into adopting a rescue. How did you know Tayto was The One?
I decided to get a rescue because I knew other people who had rescue dogs and they found the experience so fulfilling. I wanted to look into it myself because I wanted to do with a level of expectation of what I’m willing and able to care for. I would visit different shelters for dogs with different needs to really figure what [kind of dog] I would be able to raise.
I didn’t want to get a dog and then not be able to give it the care that it needs, because some dogs have different needs. I learned that adopting from a shelter was different from adopting from a private rescue [organization]. And different shelters operate differently—different rescues operate differently, too.
I got Tayto from a Pit Bull rescue. The woman who runs it is focused on rescuing Pit Bulls, and she was at the shelter, looking to see if there were any Pit Bulls on the kill line. She saw Tayto there, and she thought, “What is this fluffy little Pomeranian doing on the kill line?”
She couldn’t help herself, so she took him in for two weeks and posted his photos on the rescue forums. And that’s how I found him, on a small dog rescue forum, because I had already narrowed it down to wanting a Pomeranian. When I saw his photo, I reached out to her and she said she was having an adoption fair.
She told me it was totally unlike her, that she had been doing this for 20 years and she’s seen a lot of dogs, but she felt that she had to rescue him and get him off that kill line.
Was it love at first sight?
Totally. I got to the adoption fair right when it started, and he was in a little kennel on a table. We made immediate eye contact, and I just knew that this was my dog. I had seen so many other dogs before, and I had meet-and-greets with a few other dogs, and none of them looked at me the way that Tayto had. He also let me hold him—he just totally relaxed in my arms, and oh my goodness, I knew I had found him.
Did you name him Tayto or was that already his name?
I named him Tayto—his rescue name was Oliver, which he doesn’t respond to. I wanted to give him a new name because it was the start of a new life for him—and for me, too. He’s a little tater tot. He’s crispy on the outside, and nice and tender on the inside, and white and fluffy on the bottom. Just a perfectly cooked little tater tot.
Love that. So you got Tayto in California, right?
Tell us about the move from California to New York. I always say that home is wherever I’m with my dog. Did you feel like Tayto helped you with the transition?
Yes, because dogs give you routine and consistency, and they force you into responsibility. Everything in my life was changing when I moved, and Tayto was this one thing that was totally consistent.
He really helped anchor me in this new place, especially because you know you’re taking your dog out every single day. Being with him allowed me to see this new neighborhood not just through my eyes, but also through his eyes, too.
Everyone asks me, “How has Tayto been since moving to New York?” His quality of life has gone up now that he has more proximity to parks, whereas in L.A., there was a lot of dirt and wood chips. He couldn’t roll in lush green grass, which he loves to do!
He’s adjusted really well—he loves it here. He also gets to be around a lot more dogs, too, so that’s been really good for his confidence. He is a rescue and he did come with trauma and anxiety, so being able to be around dogs on a regular basis has been so good for him.
What’s a typical day in the life with you and Tayto?
I have never had an animal like this before, but Tayto is not a morning dog. He will stay in bed longer than me.
He’s a couch potato!
He’s literally a couch potato. Once he hears me making breakfast, then he starts thinking, “Okay, it’s my turn for breakfast.” So that’s what will usually get him up in the morning, and after he eats breakfast, we normally wait a little while ‘cause he’s usually not super eager to go outside yet.
He eats The Farmer’s Dog. He has never been excited about food the way he is with The Farmer’s Dog every morning and evening. It’s like the first time all over again—he spins and is so eager to eat, and it’s a great experience for me, too. It makes everything so much easier.
At some point after eating breakfast, I’ll take him out and we’ll walk around. Since I work from home, he stays with me all day. He will just hang out in his bed or on the rug while I work. I’ll take him out in the evening after he’s eaten dinner. He has a pretty chill life.
It’s a good life.
I normally take him to the park in the morning. He likes to roll in the leaves, and it feels like such a luxury to have a park in such proximity. During off-leash hours, it’s so cool to be surrounded by so many people and their dogs.
Do you take Tayto off leash?
I do take Tayto off leash. I usually try to move into an area where there aren’t as many dogs since he’s smaller, but he loves running through the grass.
He’s got the zoomies!
On the weekends, I love taking him on really long walks—like an hour or two, which is a lot for him because he’s such a small dog. He loves it, and I love being able to just explore different parks in the city. If the weather permits us, we’ll go on an aimless long walk and see where we end up. It’s a chunk of the weekend when I could be running errands, but to me it’s just so worth it. It’s so rejuvenating to be outside—I typically won’t have my phone or I’ll have it on airplane mode. It’s a time for us to disconnect and just be together.
“I don’t think he knows what the camera is. He associates it with getting treats.”
Do you ever take him to work events, since he’s so small?
Not to a large event, but he likes being in a tote bag, so I’ll take him on the subway with me, and he’s just a big fluffy head poking out of a bag. He feels really safe and secure in tote bags, but I think larger events would scare him.
Does Tayto have a grooming routine?
My mom actually loves giving him baths, but he doesn’t always need one. We go to an actual groomer to trim his nails, and he’s really great about it—he doesn’t mind getting a bath or the trimming.
I feel like every dog has a part of the grooming process that’s their least favorite—kind of like humans do. We all have our favorite part of the beauty routine and his is definitely the dryer.
I think finding groomers that are patient and good with your dog makes such a difference. I’ve seen a day and night change with Tayto.
So now it’s a spa day for him?
Exactly. He gets treats. He likes the process of his nails getting trimmed and his fur getting cut. He just seems really relaxed the entire time. It’s really cool to see that just being around the right people totally changed the experience for him.
Does he wear any clothes?
For Pride, I put a little scarf on him. Other than that, I think his natural outfit is pretty great.
You’ve made videos featuring Tayto. Does he enjoy being in front of the camera with you?
Interestingly, he is not really bothered by the camera at all, as long as he is next to me. He just wants to be around people. I don’t think he knows what the camera is. He associates it with getting treats.
Has your community rallied behind him? Have you influenced other people to adopt dogs?
I definitely have people telling me how much they love Tayto, but I hope that people have, at the very least, considered rescuing more because I think there are just preconceived ideas that people have about rescuing a dog. Like, they won’t find a dog that’s the right fit. But there are so many dogs that are available for rescue, and it just takes a little time and energy. Tayto is the perfect dog for me, and it took me months of searching, but it was worth it!
Has Tayto changed your lifestyle in any way, even though he’s the perfect dog for you?
Yes, there’s always another living thing to take into consideration, so if I’m traveling, I have to make plans in advance. Ultimately, what he has taught me is the beauty that comes out of being patient. I’ve learned to be really patient with Tayto, because of his trauma and anxieties from being a rescue. He’s made huge strides, but there are things that will be with him forever because of his past life. I’ve learned to work with him and to not force him into something that he’s not. Learning to communicate to other people about him has been such a learning experience too.
At one point, he was living on the streets, and then he was with a family that was abusing him. One groomer noticed that he’s afraid of bowls, which signals at someone using food to punish the dog. When I first got him, he was scared of his leash—he thought I was going to hit him with the leash, and he would try to cover his head. He’s still nervous about bowls, but he’s not scared of his leash anymore.
We’re proud of you, Tayto.
He’s come a long way. I’m really proud of him in the past three years that I’ve had him. I have a dog who is so much more open to the world and to other people and dogs now. He has so much love inside of himself.
That’s what I love about rescues. When you show them stability and unconditional love, you see how they transform and change. It really demonstrates the power of love.
It feels so special when they start doing things that they’ve never done before. Tayto just started resting on my chest when I’m resting on the couch, which he would never do.
Do you consider yourself a dog mom?
I definitely think of myself as his mom, especially because I don’t have any human children, and I don’t know if I want human children. Having a dog, at least for right now, is definitely the perfect fit for me.
Photography by Tayler Smith
Special thanks to the Brooklyn Museum in Brooklyn, New York