Correction: The original version of this story misstated Claymon’s Instagram account. The account is @the3retrievers.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020, most programs and events came to a sudden halt. For Melanie Claymon, that meant her work with Paws & Think – a nonprofit focusing on the at-risk community, both human and canine – was put on hold.
“This was exactly the kind of work I had always dreamed of doing,” Claymon said. “Seeing how much benefit my son received from our dogs encouraged me to want to give more individuals the opportunity to reap those benefits.”
It also led, however, to the creation of the @the3retrievers Instagram page, which has grown from something Claymon initially thought was a “silly idea” to an account with 118,000 followers.
Before the pandemic began, Claymon, a Carmel resident, had two dogs, Georgia and Katie. She had completed the therapy skills training with both pups and became certified.
“Katie passed away suddenly from hemangiosarcoma in November 2019, and I wasn’t planning on getting another puppy right away,” she said. “But I was helping a friend find a golden (retriever) and was referred to this incredible breeder who had two puppies available.”
Oakley joined the family in February 2020 and became a therapy dog in 2021.
Claymon had been posting pictures and videos of Oakley on her personal Instagram and had several friends suggest she create an account just for her dog content.
“At first, I didn’t think it would be successful,” Claymon said. “But the more I thought about it, I realized it would give me the opportunity to spread cheer to individuals during this stressful time as well as give me a place to document all of the special moments with my pups.”
Since beginning the account, Claymon has gotten another golden retreiver, Winston.
“When we added Winston to the gang in January 2022, I debated changing our handle, but we already had established 25,000 followers at the time, so I decided to keep it ‘the3retrievers,’” she said.
Claymon admits she didn’t have a strategy when she first started the page.
“I had no idea what I was doing – I just posted cute and funny content and waited to see how it did,” Claymon said. “However, as I began gaining followers, I found myself wanting to do better. I was inspired by the well-known dog accounts such as @tuckerbudzyn and @agoldennamedkevin so I started doing research and learning from other similar pages.”
The best piece of advice she received: “spend time engaging with other accounts and you will grow organically.” The first big feature Claymon received was about six months after she created the page.
“I gained about 5,000 followers in one week,” she said. “Having more followers helped us get future features and brand ambassador positions with dog product businesses.”
Claymon believes she still would have eventually created her account even if COVID-19 hadn’t shut everything down.
“In the end, I just hope people will continue to find joy in watching our dogs’ journey through my lens and will gain insights into the benefits of the human-dog connection.”
Learn more at instagram.com/the3retrievers.
Melanie Claymon’s Instagram account featuring her pups led her to a like-minded friend with ties to the area. It began when she saw the account @indy.on.insta, which featured another golden retriever.
“Of course, the name Indy grabbed my attention. I read their bio and saw they lived in Washington, D.C., but I was curious and sent them a DM asking if they happened to be from Indianapolis,” Claymon said. “This is how I met Cristina Reinbold. She told me her husband is from Carmel, so they did name Indy after his hometown.”
That one DM led to more conversations, and then a friendship.
“We bonded over mutual Carmel connections and similarities between our dogs and our love for them. Melanie’s Instagram account is funny and sweet,” Reinbold said. “Also, having four dogs under one roof makes her account unique and full of content. Her dogs are always doing something cute or hilarious. Each one has their own distinct personality and their own distinct relationship with one another.”
The two met in-person in early January 2022 when Reinbold was in Carmel to visit family for the holidays.
“Meeting face-to-face after forming a bond online was organic and exciting. It was so fun to meet her and her dogs, and it was special to know that a friendship formed online can be just as genuine as one formed in person,” Reinbold said. “Essentially, we picked up in-person right where we left off online. Our conversation flowed easily, and we had a blast getting photos and videos of our dogs (to post on Instagram, of course).”
Claymon said it quickly felt like they were “old friends.”
“We immediately bonded over our passion for goldens,” Claymon said. “We’ve had several more get-togethers with the dogs since then, and we communicate frequently.”
Unfortunately, Indy was diagnosed with T-cell lymphoma at age 3 in September 2022.
“Melanie was one of the first people I spoke to when we got the diagnosis. She comforted me, and we cried together on the phone,” Reinbold said.
After learning of a potential cure – a bone marrow stem cell transplant done at North Carolina State Veterinary Hospital in Raleigh, N.C., – the first step was finding Indy a bone marrow stem cell donor.
During Reinbold’s search she and Claymon compared their dogs’ breeding lines and discovered that two of Claymon’s dogs, Archie and Oakley, were relatives of Indy. Testing, however, revealed they weren’t a match.
“She went further and posted step-by-step photos depicting the testing experience in an effort to encourage others to participate. We ultimately tested 35 dogs and found Indy a genetically identical donor,” Reinbold said. “Melanie’s involvement in Indy’s donor search meant everything to me and, I think, played a significant role in its success. She understands how much Indy means to my husband and I because her dogs mean the same to her and her family.”