July 9, 2013 at 3:08 PM ET
Lentil is not a dog that you can easily forget. The adorable French bulldog pup born with a cleft palate became a Web sensation when his owner Lindsay Condefer shared his amazing story of survival online.
When TODAY.com first spoke with Condefer in April, Lentil was eating through a tube every 3 hours and fighting to survive. Now, after surgery that fixed his cleft palate, Lentil is able to eat on his own, and Condefer hopes his ever-growing popularity (his Facebook page now has over 100,000 likes) can help those with similar facial conditions.
While attending local events in Philadelphia with groups like the Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania, Lentil is being introduced to kids with craniofacial disorders similar to his own. Even though Lentil’s palate was fixed, he still has a cleft lip and nose. Since these have no ill effect on his health at the moment, they were left alone during the surgery. As a result, Lentil is relatable for kids who also look different because of facial deformities.
“Seeing him with those children [for the first time] and the smiles on their faces as they were with him, I was like ‘yup, this is what we’re doing’,” Condefer told TODAY.com.
Inspired by how much these kids relate to Lentil, Condefer hopes her puppy will one day become a certified therapy dog and an "ambassadog" for people and animals with facial differences. For now, Condefer is focusing on getting Lentil involved in more events in Philadelphia and volunteering nationally, all with the goal of helping kids understand it’s okay to look different.
Condefer and Lentil attended their first national event in June: the Children’s Craniofacial Association’s annual Cher’s family retreat in Orlando, Fla. The retreat is a place where kids with facial differences and their families can interact with others in similar situations.
Seeing kids connect with Lentil at the retreat reiterated for Condefer how this tiny pup can make a difference. Even children unable to speak were able to lock eyes with the energetic pup, who didn’t mind giving every kid his attention, according to his owner.
Char Smith, executive director of the CCA, told TODAY.com that the kids connected with Lentil because they knew he’d been through surgeries and ordeals similar to their own. And the pup could relate to the experiences these kids had gone through, forming an important link between them and Lentil.
“It was wonderful seeing the kids relate to Lentil. He is their little hero!” Smith said.
Even parents felt a connection to the rescue pup, Smith said, because he's as special as their own children, having faced many physical challenges.
Seeing the reaction Lentil caused at this retreat has inspired Condefer to continue volunteering whenever she can.
“Every opportunity that allows Lentil to be with kids, we’re going,” Condefer said. “The plan is to keep going. As much as we can do I want to, especially after this retreat.”
Condefer is also utilizing Lentil’s popularity online to help send more families to the annual CCA retreat in 2014. She started a fund on WePay.com that will accept donations until December 31. The fund has already raised over $21,000.