Mr. Cornelius lacks pigmentation, but he’s got an abundance of personality and thousands of social media followers. He’s popular now, but three years ago, this blue-eyed Pug was the last lonely puppy in the dog bed.
Born in Toronto, Canada, Mr. Cornelius was one of four Pug-mix brothers who came into the world as an accidental litter. His brothers looked like their parents — a fawn Pug father and Pug-Shih Tzu mother — but Mr. Cornelius didn’t look like anybody. He was startlingly un-Pug like.
“Nobody wanted him,” says one of Mr. Cornelius’ humans, Toni Cusson. “Everyone thought he was sick.”
A couple of Pug lovers, Toni and her boyfriend James O’Donnell already shared their hearts and home with Bowie, a Pug-Boston Terrier mix, when they heard a family in their neighborhood was dealing with an unplanned Pug litter. The pair decided to visit the pups and learned Mr. Cornelius was the only one left.
“Once my boyfriend saw him, he fell in love, even though we weren’t really looking for another dog,” Toni recalls.
Intrigued by the light colored pup, Toni went home and started reading up on dogs like Mr. Cornelius. She was relieved to learn the puppy her boyfriend had fallen for likely wasn’t sick after all.
“I just did some Google research and found out that he has leucism, so we went and grabbed him the next day,” she says.
Toni’s search results revealed leucism is a genetic condition that impacts dogs and other animals, resulting in light-colored coats. Leucistic dogs are often mistakenly labelled as albino, but the two conditions are distinct. An albino animal’s lack of color is due to the body’s inability to produce melanin, while leucism impacts all types of pigment cells, but results in only a partial loss of pigmentation.
Mr. Cornelius’ blue eyes are what lead Toni to her Google diagnosis, as albino animals have red eyes due to the total lack of melanin. Albinism is linked to vision problems, but leucism is not.
“Some people ask if he’s blind or deaf , but he’s completely healthy,” says Toni, who had her suspicions about her pup’s phenotype issue confirmed the first time she took Mr. Cornelius to the vet.
“My vet actually had no idea about leucism, but he went and got his vet dictionary to look it up himself. “
With a clean bill of health from the vet, Mr. Cornelius concerned himself with other matters, like ingratiating himself with then 2-year-old Bowie by pulling playfully on her ears. It didn’t take long before the color-contrasting dogs were inseparable.
“They’ve been best friends ever since,” says Toni. “If I take one out without the other, they freak out.”
Mr. Cornelius had a fast friend in Bowie, and eventually he started finding friends online as well. After posting pictures of her pigment challenged Pug on her personal Facebook for some time, Toni listened when friends and family suggested Mr. Cornelius should have his own Instagram account. After a couple months on Instagram, a local TV news crew asked Toni for a interview.
“I was like, what do you mean an interview? I was so surprised. Then they came, with a whole camera crew, over to our house.”
After Mr. Cornelius made the news, more followers flocked to his Instagram and Toni found herself fielding messages from photographers, fans, and reporters.
“It’s just been like a whirlwind, with so many people contacting me. It’s weird when they’re like, ‘he’s so amazing,’ but to me he’s just my dog,” says Toni, adding that she’s glad to see the Pug’s social media success is helping other dogs.
“His newfound fame has helped lot of people because their dogs were actually misdiagnosed.”
For those folks, Toni is happy to explain how leucism doesn’t automatically mean a dog has health problems, and that unusually colored dogs can still be great pets.
Although Toni has received a few nasty online comments about Mr. Cornelius, the vast majority of people who contact him have something positive to say about the photogenic Pug. His humans are happy to read his fan mail for him.
“I love the joy he brings to other people,” says Toni. “We wake up to him and his sibling every day, and it’s so nice that we get to share that joy with other people and the world.”