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.