Rowdy, a 13-year-old black lab from Canby, Oregon, achieved Internet fame yesterday when his picture appeared on The Dogist, a wildly popular photo blog featuring striking portraits of canines.
Vitiligo is a disorder that causes loss of pigmentation in patches of skin—and in Rowdy's case, fur. The cause of the incurable condition, which affects between 0.5% and 1% of the human population, is unknown, though many experts believe it is an autoimmune disease.
According to the website Rowdy's owners, Tim and Niki Umbenhower, created for him, Rowdy started to develop white fur around his eyes at age 12. Within a year, the patches grew into bigger circles (his fans have described him as a "reverse panda"), and his belly and toenails also turned white. Rowdy was eventually diagnosed with vitiligo by a vet dermatologist, who confirmed his condition through a biopsy.
As an ambassador for the American Vitiligo Research Foundation, Rowdy visits children affected by the same pigmentation disorder that's made him so famous (@white-eyed-rowdy has more than 55,000 followers on Instagram). According to his owners, he has "built some relationships with kids with vitiligo who may have also been bullied because of it."
Even before he began his work raising awareness about vitiligo, Rowdy led a remarkable life. According to his website, he was once accidentally shot in the leg by a police officer in a case of mistaken identity. But that wasn't his only near brush with death: After drinking contaminated pond water, he needed to have his stomach pumped. Rowdy has also had surgery on both ears, a toe removed, treatment for a torn ACL, and more.
Well into his golden years now, Rowdy requires frequent therapy and medications. (His family has set up a GoFundMe page where you can contribute to his medical expenses, so he can continue his work with kids for as long as possible.) But Rowdy's ailments haven't dampened his spirit. "He's declining a bit," his owners told The Dogist. "He's got some dementia, senior bladder, and barks for no reason. He still acts like a puppy sometimes, too. And he still smiles."