Rowdy the dog has vitiligo, and he’s showing children with the same disorder that there’s nothing wrong with being different.
Dog with strange condition has even stranger past
No, it’s not face paint, it’s vitiligo. Thankfully, vitiligo is not life threatening, but Rowdy’s strange new appearance is only the latest odd development in the dog’s exceptional life. He’s survived both a poisoning and shooting, but it’s his rare skin condition and an unusual set of spots that have recently made Rowdy the dog a local celebrity in Oregon.
Self-confidence: one of the greatest challenges facing a child with vitiligo
For parents like Stephanie Adcock, one of the greatest challenges of having a child with vitiligo — a skin condition that causes white patches due to loss of pigmentation — is teaching them to embrace their appearance and feel confident in their own skin.
Adcock’s son, Carter, 8, was diagnosed with vitiligo at age 5, and after watching her son examine his skin in the mirror and panic over increases in white spotting, the Arkansas mom was at a loss for ways to help her son handle the changes in his skin.
"As a mother, there was nothing that I could do or say that would make him feel better," Adcock told TODAY. "Carter would tell me every day after school that he hated his face, but that was before we knew about Rowdy."
Vitiligo is just the icing on the cake for this amazing pup
Rowdy, a 14-year-old black lab who lives in Oregon with his owner, Niki Umbenhower, began showing signs of vitiligo when he was 11. Umbenhower says she first noticed faint, white patches around Rowdy’s eyes, but quickly saw his skin pigmentation change, resulting in white spots throughout his black fur.
"It was a crazy-fast transition, and we didn’t know what was going on," said Umbenhower, adding that a physician she worked with saw a photo of Rowdy and suggested he may have vitiligo.
Umbenhower says she was not surprised by Rowdy’s new, rare condition. Since he was a young dog, Rowdy has had multiple accidents and incidents, from accidentally ingesting poison to being shot by a police officer during an incident mistaken for an home invasion.
"There are a lot of parts in there that make up the crazy part of Rowdy’s life," said Umbenhower. "And then, this vitiligo is just the icing on the cake for this amazing pup."
Rowdy has his own social media pages
Umbenhower says after being stopped constantly on the street and asked by passers by about Rowdy’s unique markings, she decided to share his face with the world. After sharing an image of Rowdy with a local news station, a news report about the lab went viral. Soon after, Umbenhower started Instagram and Facebook pages for her dog, feeling that his unique face would make others smile.
"People started reaching out to me and telling me stories of their kids who had vitiligo," said Umbenhower, explaining that within a few months, she was contacted by Stella Pavlides, the founder and president of the Americn Vitiligo Research Foundation (AVRF,) about getting Rowdy involved with the organization.
Before bringing Rowdy on board as the mascot of the AVRF, Pavlides wanted to be sure of Rowdy’s vitiligo. Umbenhower sought the help of an animal dermatologist, who performed a biopsy to confirm that Rowdy did, indeed, have the rare condition.
"I receive many emails from parents whose children have vitiligo, telling me how their children relate to Rowdy," said Pavlides. "I also receive emails from adults with vitiligo saying how liberating it is to see Rowdy with his white patches. There is something magical about this dog."
Vitiligo affects between just one and two percent of the population
Emily Rothstein is a veterinarian who works with the American College of Veterinary Dermatology. According to Rothstein, while there is not specific data on the frequency of vitiligo in dogs, the condition is extremely rare.
"This disorder is cosmetic only, and although the pet appears different, it is not a health issue," explained Rothstein. "That is why there have been very few recent studies on how often it occurs…some dermatology specialists, including myself, may see 1 case every 1 to 3 years.”
Vitiligo is also rare in humans. According to the ARVF, only 1 to 2 percent of the population is affected by vitiligo, with half of cases being diagnosed between the ages of 10 and 30.
Julie Brown’s daughter, Ava, 10, was diagnosed with vitiligo at age 4. Brown says she discovered Rowdy’s Instagram account and immediately wanted her daughter to meet the dog. After messaging Umbenhower, the two struck up a friendship.
"As a young girl, Ava is already dealing with body image issues," the Canadian mom explained. "As a parent to a child with vitiligo, it is amazing to know that there is such an adorable dog for these children to look up to."
Stephanie Adcock also reached out to Umbenhower after seeing a photo of Rowdy on Facebook.
"As soon as I read his story about his vitiligo, I was blown away," said Adcock. "I thought this may be what Carter needed to build up his self esteem and make him feel more accepted, so I decided to reach out to Niki."
Pictured below, Carter and Ava with Rowdy on their recent visit to Oregon.
“My dog is unique. He’s beautiful — and so is every other person who has this condition,”
Umbenhower says while Rowdy’s future is uncertain due to his health, she will continue letting people who want to come and meet him do so. And, the AVRF will hold their annual conference this summer in Oregon, in hopes that Rowdy will be well enough to attend.
"When I figured out we have the ability to change these kids’ lives, I thought, ‘We could really do something with this,’" said Umbenhower.
"My dog is unique," Umbenhower continued. "He’s beautiful — and so is every other person who has this condition. You just need to see them that way."
Rowdy's medical GoFundMe: White Eyed Rowdy Needs YOUR Help
Rowdy is usually the one out helping children, people, and the spirits of thousands by advocating for those who have Vitiligo. Unfortunately, he is approaching 14 years old and has some very serious issues going on with his health. If you would consider donating to his Campaign, his owners would be beyond grateful. Click to find out how you can help.