Just Like A Superhero, His Extraordinary Birth Left Him With Special Powers

It was a rough delivery, and he was the only one of his litter to survive. But it turned out he had a rare ability to do some real good.

His name is Lentil.

Lentil was born with a cleft palate and lip.

The roof of his mouth, or "palate," hadn't fully formed. So the two sides of the palate didn't join in the middle, leaving a gap, or "cleft" at the top. Lined up with this was an empty spot in his lip. In a human, a cleft might look like this:


A cleft lip and palate can be serious or even dangerous because it can make it hard to eat well enough to get the necessary nutrition.

His owner, Lindsay Condefer, brought Lentil to the surgeons at University of Pennsylvania's Veterinary School, who consulted with The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. They decided to fix the palate, since it was an issue threatening Lentil's life, and leave the cleft lip as it was.

After surgery, the doctors approached Condefer with an idea: How about bringing Lentil to schools as an "ambassadog" to help spread the message that what you look like doesn't define who you are.

It turned out to be a wonderful idea.

It's an especially important message for schools with kids who have craniofacial issues, including cleft palates. These kids are often subjected to heartbreaking cruelty from other kids — and grownups — who don't understand that even the most unusual-looking child is still a normal kid inside, with normal needs and, most importantly, normal feelings.

Lentil's message is important for all children to hear, and it's even more welcome for the craniofacial kids.

These children relate to Lentil like crazy, and he's become a beloved friend to many of them. Kids of all kinds have become fans. In addition to his in-person ("in-dog?") school visits, he's got a Facebook page going with over 146,000 Likes where you'll find countless super-sweet messages from the thousands of kids who adore him.

Here's the video of Lentil's story.

Maybe it takes a silly little dog to remind us, but it's what's inside that counts, right?

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Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

RELATED: This aboriginal Australian used kindness and tea to trump the racism he overheard.

Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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