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Friendship From a Shared Skin Condition
A boy and dog bond over a rare ailment.

Three years ago kindergartener Carter Blanchard was diagnosed with a rare skin condition that developed white patches around his eyes. As you can imagine, it wasn’t easy to come to terms with his transforming face under the scrutiny of his classmates.

“The first thing he’d tell me when he got in the car,” remembers Carter’s mom, Stephanie Adock, “is that he hated his face and the way he looked.”

Now eight years old, Carter is comfortable in his own skin, thanks in part to a dog from Oregon.

Soon after Carter’s diagnosis, Stephanie was browsing Facebook when she saw a photo of a dog named Rowdy who also had white patches around his eyes. The 13-year old pup gained a worldwide social media following because of the unique look.

It turns out Rowdy had vitiligo, the same skin condition as Carter. The disorder is a result of destroyed pigment cells in the skin, but the cause isn’t known.

Carter started watching videos of Rowdy online, which totally changed his outlook.

“Carter used to be very upset but now he is proud that he was chosen to have vitiligo and wouldn’t have it any other way,” said Stephanie. “He thinks that everyone else’s skin is boring.”

Stephanie reached out to Rowdy’s owner, Niki Umbenhower, and they kept in touch for the last few years. Since they lived so far away, Stephanie didn’t think Carter would ever see Rowdy in person. But when a local television station featured their friendship, an anonymous viewer donated $5,000 to fly Carter and his mom from Arkansas to Oregon so they could finally meet Rowdy.

The bond was instantaneous.

“When we walked in I didn’t feel like we were walking in for the very first time, they were family already,” said Stephanie. “You could tell Rowdy knew something was going on and felt the energy of the room.”

Carter spent the first two hours petting Rowdy, and then Rowdy settled down next to Carter as he played with Legos.

Dogs teach us so much and one of those lessons is the power of being nonjudgemental. There’s so much we can learn from Rowdy and Carter’s friendship. Sometimes our pups just know exactly what we need!

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JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

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