A Philly puppy that just had surgery to repair a cleft palate is spreading inspiration online and raising awareness for the most common birth defect for newborns in the United States.
Lentil has become a Facebook celebrity in his short four months of life.
The French bulldog has more than 83,000 fans on his page-- My name is Lentil. He has become a "poster dog" for facial and cranial deformities.
“He’s a round ball of cuteness. He’s spunky," said Lindsay Condefer, a Philadelphia woman who has been caring for Lentil since he was two days old. She's nicknamed him "little bean."
This past Tuesday, Lentil had his first surgery to fix his cleft palate. The surgery was performed by Dr. Alexander Reiter and Dr. John Lewis of Penn's School of Veterinary Medicine. Cleft palate is more common in dogs than cats, and dogs with short noses, according to Reiter. For humans, one out of every 600 newborns is affected by cleft lip or cleft palate, according to the Cleft Palate Foundation.
"He's super cute," said Reiter. "I cannot explain it. He's special."
Lentil has a deep connection with his followers. On his Facebook page, you can see pictures of Lentil smiling, eating, playing, sitting on a motorcycle and photos of his surgery. His fans actively root for him through each stage of his wellness journey.
Last night, a photo of Lentil resting on blankets with a stuffed toy animal received more than 12,000 likes.
Brittany Bessler Mosheim commented on the page's wall: "Hello Lentil! Your sweet face has brightened my day :) I look forward to many more pictures to come. Hope your day is wonderful!!"
Vicky Connell commented on a photo: "Oh Lentil I am so head over heals in love with you (heart) kissy kissy."
Condefer posts multiple times a day to keep fans engaged. She describes the page as "a place to celebrate the little moments we've made it through and to remind people what we are going through."
Fans are also posting photos of their own canines wishing Lentil well. Jessica Godbey wrote: "Manfred here, wishing you a speedy recovery!"
Reiter used Lentil's own tissues to fix the cleft palate and the techniques used were the overlapping flap technique and medically positioned flap technique. Reiter described the area where the surgery was performed as small, 2 inches wide by 2.5 inches high. The doctors and Condefer decided not to fix the cleft lips because it was an elective, cosmetic problem. They wanted to keep the personality in his face.
Just two days following the surgery, Lentil ate solid food for the first time -- a milestone.
"We were all just balling. Oh my God, we did it." Condefer exclaimed. She started to cry as she thought about the collective efforts of donors, supporters online and volunteers who helped her while she nursed him to health.
Lentil was born in North Jersey 17 weeks ago along with three other pups, all with facial deformities. A so-called breeder gave up the puppies. Condefer described Lentil as looking like a “small hamster” when she first saw him. He weighed 5.7 ounces.
The French Bulldog Rescue Network asked Condefer to take the two-day old puppy and a sister and care for them around-the-clock. She owns and operates Street Tails Animal Rescue, known for caring for pets with medical needs, and a pet store, The Chic Petique.
“I was called and asked if I could tube feed the puppies,” said Condefer. “I can’t say 'no.' Special needs dogs are my heart.”
His sister, named Edamame by Condefer, already had aspiration pneumonia and died a day later. Condefer is not certain on the exact whereabouts of the other two pups in the litter. She fed Lentil by tube every two hours for the first three weeks.
"He gained about an ounce a day," she said. "It's been a long ride. I didn't sleep for four months."
Condefer nursed Lentil up to his current weight of 7.6 pounds.
The French Bulldog Rescue Network first circulated word about Lentil to help raise funds for treatment not long after he was born. The surgery and treatment, which has cost about $10,000 so far, has been funded through online donations and money raised at Lentil Fest, a four-day carousel of fund-raising events held earlier this month.
Although this week's surgery was a success, Lentil may require additional surgeries in the future.
"He's not out of the woods. We are celebrating every day. This is the start of our future," Condefer said. "He still needs his neuter down the road."
To date, more than $30,000 has been raised to help defray those medical costs and to support the French Bulldog Rescue Network, Street Tails Animal Rescue and the Children's Craniofacial Association. The online fund-raising campaign ends today.
In the coming months, Lentil will make his visit to CHOP on behalf of the Children's Craniofacial Association. He will visit children with facial deformities as part of a new program to spread the message that they are not alone.
"He knows who he is. I think he has a mission. This mission is that he will do something good for children with craniofacial defects," said Reiter.