Puppy with cleft lip, palate helps kids with similar conditions

French Bulldog Lentil came into the world February 2, 2013, one puppy in a litter of four. Sadly, all four pups were born with facial deformities, three losing their lives as a result. Only little Lentil, with his cleft palate and cleft lip, survived.

Lentil’s siblings all died due to facial deformities shortly after they were born. (Photo credit: Facebook)

A cleft palate occurs when the two sides of the palate, or the roof of the mouth, fail to fuse together as the dog — or human — is developing in the womb. The resulting hole creates an opening between the nasal passages and the mouth, making it difficult to eat, drink and sometimes even breathe. A cleft lip is when there is a split or gap in the line of the lips.

Though Lentil had made it through his first couple days, he was unable to eat or drink anything on his own. His palate deformity was so severe food and liquid would flow into his nose, causing the pint-sized Frenchie to cough and choke. To minimize this, Lentil had to be fed every few hours through a tube. It was clear the little guy still had a long road ahead of him if he was going to make it.

When French Bull Dog Rescue Network of Philadelphia volunteer and Street Tails Animal Rescue founder Lindsay Condefer heard about Lentil’s condition and his need for round-the-clock care, she knew she wanted to do something to help. To make sure Lentil was getting the sustenance he needed, Condefer became Lentil’s foster mom, starting a 24/7 feeding program.

“In the beginning, he ate every two hours throughout, over a 24-hour period,” Condefer tells CNN.com, “and then as he got older, we were able to stretch it to three hours.”

As Lentil grew older and stronger, it became clear the little guy would need surgeries to repair his cleft palate. Condefer consulted with experienced veterinarians at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine. Drs. Alexander Reiter and John Lewis, both specialists in the school’s Department of Dentistry and Oral Surgery, knew right away that Lentil, because of the severity of his craniofacial deformities, would be a unique case.

After consulting with Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia plastic surgeon Dr. Jesse Taylor, who’s treated many children with similar craniofacial conditions, the veterinarians concluded it was Lentil’s cleft palate that created the serious problems and affected the puppy’s quality of life. Drs. Reiter and Lewis decided to focus their energies on repairing his palate deformities so the adorable Frenchie could one day eat and drink on his own with ease. His cleft lip is more of a cosmetic issue, the veterinarians determined, and so would not require repair.

Because Lentil would still have his cleft lip after surgery, staff and students at the veterinary school thought he would be the perfect ambassador for their new program, which arranges visits between animals and humans with the same or similar conditions. Lentil would be an ambassador, inspiring people with craniofacial deformities comparable to his own.

“We started to talk about how it may be beneficial to be able to allow some of our veterinary patients who were having some pretty complex craniofacial surgeries and some changes in appearance to be able to meet some children and even adults who are going through some pretty similar procedures and having to deal with some similar problems,” Dr. Lewis tells CNN. “It’s sort of a pet therapy where people can relate a little bit more with those pets that have gone through things that they’ve gone through as well.”

After recovering from his very successful palate repair surgery in May, Lentil went on his first visit to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Since that time, he’s returned hundreds of times, inspiring and bonding with the patients there. He’s also accompanied children to the Children’s Craniofacial Association kids’ camp in Orlando, of which Cher is the national spokesperson.

Lentil has become one very popular puppy. He’s already served as the official mascot for the popular Lentil Festival in Philadelphia, raising money and awareness for craniofacial conditions. In the months since Condefer started Lentil’s blog and his popular Facebook page, “My name is Lentil,” the unique Frenchie pup has received over 90,000 “likes” on the social networking site, making friends and gaining admirers from all over the world. Fans of Lentil have lovingly nicknamed the pup “the Bean” and refer to themselves as “Beanstalkers,” often visiting Condefer’s Philadelphia pet shop to meet the famous Frenchie and drop off donations for Street Tails or the Children’s Craniofacial Association.

But it is Lentil’s role as ambassador and his visits with kids that are the most special for Condefer to witness.

“Seeing him meet these children — and he would just go up to them, sleep on their lap and you could see how they related to him and how he related to these children — it was wonderful,” Condefer says. “He’s here for a reason, and that’s what makes him special.”

Sources: CNN.com, UPenn.edu, “My Name is Lentil” Facebook page