A hero puppy from Philadelphia is on a mission to spread cheer and let kids know it's okay to be different.
A French bulldog named Lentil has become an internationally-sought after puppy in his first year of life. The little white and brown pooch was born with a cleft palate last February but that hasn't stopped him from bringing smiles to children's faces. Lentil has become a poster dog for facial and cranial differences.
- IMAGES: Lentil the Puppy Inspires
"It's his destiny and it's been a whirlwind. He's a happy puppy. Everybody has their own bond with him," said Lentil's' dogmom Lindsay Condefer.
Unable to eat alone, two days after he was born, Lentil was taken in and nursed to health for months by Condefer of the Street Tails Animal Rescue in Philadelphia.
Condefer has chronicled his progress on the My name is Lentil Facebook page and has raised awareness for cleft palate, one of the most common birth defects for newborns.
"Lentil's the bridge. He's shown me that just because I look different doesn't mean I should be excluded and that it's okay to kind of look different. He teaches you not bully people who look different," said 15-year-old Daniel Pfeiffer, who underwent craniofacial surgery two years ago at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
Conferfer receives many requests for public appearances for "little bean" as he's affectionately known. But, airfare is not cheap for a canine travel buddy. The cost for roundrip ticket for Lentil alone to ride under a seat is $300. Condefer is torn because he gets so many calls but the cost to travel is just too much for a dog without income.
Despite the monetary hurdle, one thing is clear -- Lentil lights up the room and Condefer wants children with cleft palate to know that they are not alone.
"Lentil makes kids feel good about themselves. He instills power in kids. He's just an amazing little dog. He makes all kids feel great," said Diana Sweeney, who works as a parent liaison coordinating facial reconstruction surgery at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
She came up with the idea to ask as many people as possible to donate $1 to help underwrite Lentil's traveling costs to visit children with craniofacial deformities in Lentil's smile club. Then Conderfer decided to turn to Kickstarter to broaden the effort and to reach a wider audience.
The "Chews Kind" Kickstarter fundraiser proceeds will underwrite her ability to travel with Lentil to meet as many of the 200 children who have facial and cranial differences that she communicates with around the country.
The response has been overwhelming.
For those fans who may never meet Lentil in person, they can keep up with his progress on his Facebook page and watch him eat, play with a ball and bring smiles to children's faces. It's the simplest things that has drawn legions of fans to him.
Lentil had his first surgery to fix his cleft palate last May. 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 is the only surviving member of his litter. He was born in North Jersey with three other pups, all with facial deformities. Condefer recalls Lentil as looking like a “small hamster” when she first saw him. He weighed 5.7 ounces. He gained an ounce a day and now tips the scales at 20 pounds. Lentil's celebrity began when the French Bulldog Rescue Network spread word about Lentil and the need to raise funds for his first surgery.
Condefer plans to take Lentil on the road for the "Chews Kind" tour starting this fall. She will keep Lentil's fans abreast of their travel and plans to post guessing games and quizzes to Facebook so fans can follow along. In addition to the tour, Lentil and craniofacial awareness will be celebrated at Lentil Fest, a multi-day celebration later this year in Philadelphia.
"There's just something special about a fuzzy, sweet little dog that has a facial difference. He's everybody's little pal," said Sweeney.