Tuna, the tiny Chiweenie, is helping to change society’s definition of beauty.
The first time you see a photo of Tuna, you’re liable to do a double take. Is this little guy for real? Is he making faces for the camera? Has the image been manipulated? Yes, he’s for real, and no, the photo hasn’t been changed!
Tuna is a four-year-old Chiweenie, a cross between a Chihuahua and a dachshund. That may sound out of the ordinary in itself, but it still doesn’t explain his funny buck-toothed grin. “He was born with a pronounced overbite and a recessed jawline,” says his person, Courtney Dasher, who adopted him as a rescue puppy in 2010. “He was originally found on the side of the road somewhere in San Diego by a rescue group. He was then transported to a private rescuer in Los Angeles, who was showing him for adoption at a local farmers’ market.”
At the time, Courtney wasn’t looking for a dog – she was too busy with her job and an active social life. But the tiny puppy intrigued her. “I was drawn to his unique physical features, but what attracted me the most was his desperation to be loved. He sat in his crate with two other dogs, looking downcast, insecure and self-conscious. The look on his unusual face was pitiful, and he possessed no will to even lift up his head.”
Unable to walk away, Courtney agreed to foster the puppy and try to find him a permanent home. She quickly fell in love with him and ended up adopting him after a series of serendipitous events. “When I had to leave town for a few days, I returned him to his rescuer, saying that I wasn’t sure if I was ready to commit to being a full-time dog parent. She told me that if he didn’t get adopted that Sunday at the farmers’ market, or if the market was cancelled because of rain, I could take him for another week to make my decision. Well, it poured rain that Sunday, so he came home to live permanently with me.”
Courtney at first called her new friend Mr. Burns, after Homer’s toothy boss in The Simpsons. “I then nicknamed him Tooney after ‘cartoon’. Shortly after that, my nephew, who was six at the time, called him Tuna. At that moment, I changed his name to Tuna. It fits him!”
And so did his new life. Thanks to lots of TLC from Courtney and her friends and family, Tuna grew from a forlorn and defeated puppy into a confident, zesty little dog with loads of personality. Despite his odd appearance, Courtney says he doesn’t have any health problems, nor does he have difficulty eating. “He just chews with his back teeth like the rest of us do!”
Little did Courtney know that Tuna’s unique looks would turn him into a world-famous social media star – and a “spokesdog” for the body positive movement. It all began at the end of 2011, when Courtney created an Instagram account dedicated to photos of Tuna. “I had no agenda to garner a large following, but I did recognize that Tuna’s pictures, showcasing his cartoonish looks and charming personality, could bring people joy. My original IG handle was @dasherlikethereindeer but I later changed it to @tunameltmyheart because I was constantly getting comments that he was changing people’s days and melting their hearts!”
A year later, Instagram featured a picture of Tuna on their personal page, and he went viral. Courtney eventually started posting about Tuna on Facebook and Twitter as well. Along with photos, Courtney includes content designed to amuse and entertain Tuna’s fans, while giving them a glimpse into his life and personality. He now has over 900,000 followers all over the world. Although Courtney never dreamed Tuna would attract such a huge response, she is more than happy about it – not only because he’s bringing people joy and laughter, but also because he’s helping them re-define their idea of beauty by looking beyond appearances.
“I think people connect to Tuna because he represents a beauty that is unfamiliar to how we have been programmed to perceive it,” she explains. “His looks may be unconventional, but his character and charm are beautiful. He teaches us to accept and love others without limitations, despite how they appear on the outside. Unfortunately, we have been conditioned to accept an unrealistic definition of ‘beautiful’ that has been projected on us through the media. That false standard of beauty makes us feel inferior to others, and ruins our self-esteem. I try to show people that Tuna is absolutely beautiful even if his looks are unconventional. I am grateful that I have been given the opportunity to utilize Tuna’s popularity as a platform to encourage people to love the seemingly unlovable.”
Maintaining Tuna’s online presence is a time-consuming job, but Courtney finds it more than rewarding. “I receive many daily comments from old and new followers about how Tuna has helped them with their self-esteem and body image. I also get a ton of comments from those who are struggling with a major illness such as cancer, or are having a terrible day, but that Tuna helped them through it. Comments like that inspire and motivate me to keep posting. It has become my mission.”
Given the love, laughter, beauty and inspiration Tuna has shared with so many people, what a blessing it is that Courtney decided to adopt that strange little Chiweenie pup at the farmers’ market four years ago!
Ann Brightman is Managing Editor for Animal Wellness Magazine and Integrative Veterinary Care Journal. A lifelong animal lover, she has also been a writer and editor for over 25 years. Ann is a member of the Professional Writers Association of Canada and is also a Tai Chi instructor.