Updated: Tuesday, April 9, 2013, 3:01 AM
HE SOUNDS like an Ewok when he gets excited, he's named after a legume, he eats from a tube and he's taking over the Internet.
Lentil, a 9-week-old French bulldog rescue puppy with a severe cleft palate and lip, is making humans from Taiwan to Germany drool, but it's Philadelphia that he calls home.
His Facebook fan page, called "My name is Lentil," has more than 48,000 likes, and people the world over look forward to the daily video and photo posts from Lentil's "foster mom," Lindsay Condefer, of Fishtown.
Lentil has been featured on German television, BuzzFeed and the Huffington Post, but his greatest work may yet be ahead of him.
Condefer and area doctors hope that Lentil can usher in a visitation program between patients at the University of Pennsylvania's Veterinary School of Medicine and those at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Condefer also plans to have Lentil work with the Children's Craniofacial Association to bring a greater understanding of those with facial deformities.
Lentil was one of a litter of four French bulldog puppies, all of whom had facial deformities, born to a breeder in New Jersey at the beginning of February.
Two of the pups died at birth, and the other two were turned over to the French Bulldog Rescue Network, which is now raising money for Lentil's treatment. The president of the network called Condefer, a volunteer, and asked if she'd be interested in two "tube feeders." The pups could not eat on their own because the absence of a soft palate to protect their trachea pushed the milk into their lungs when they fed.
Condefer, who owns Chic Petique in Northern Liberties and runs Street Tails Animal Rescue, a nonprofit that specializes in special-needs animals, couldn't say no.
She picked up Lentil and his sister, Edamame, when they were 4 days old. Edamame died just 17 hours later. Lentil weighed in at only 5.7 ounces, but Condefer wasn't giving up on him.
On Feb. 18, Condefer began blogging about Lentil's progress. On Feb. 23, she created the Facebook page so she could post photos and videos.
She now posts several photos and usually one video a day of the pup, also known as "The Bean." When a couple of hours go by without a post, people - his fans have taken to calling themselves "Beaners" - start asking questions.
"Where's the Bean? Everything alright? Gotta check in on the baby!" one fan wrote Monday, when Condefer had not yet posted a photo or video by 8 a.m.
Condefer has been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and interest in Lentil.
"What I found in his page, it's a lot of mothers who have children with cleft palates and children that are surviving these facial deformities, and they're all following him," she said. "It's like Lentil is this amazing outlet for these kids."
A woman in Taiwan wrote to Condefer and told her that she had taken her daughter, who has a cleft palate, into a clinic recently and they recommended she check out Lentil's page. But the most touching correspondence Condefer recalled was one from Alison Morrissey in Peoria, Ill.
Morrissey's daughter, Rachael, now 19, was born with a bilateral cleft lip and palate, and has undergone 15 surgeries. A friend found Lentil on Facebook and alerted the Morrisseys.
"It was a surprise. We had never even thought of a dog or any other animal having a cleft or any cranial-facial issue," Morrissey said. "It was sweet, different and an inspiration, because we love animals."
Morrissey said she felt compelled to reach out to Condefer.
"I thought it was profound that it didn't matter if Lentil had a facial anomaly, because people love puppies," she said. "For children who become adults who go through this, once they get in school, people don't always view them as cute. It's just different for humans, and I thought that was interesting."
Condefer called Morrissey and asked her what one organization most helped her and her family.
Without hesitation, Morrissey told her the Children's Craniofacial Association (CCA).
One day, Condefer hopes to bring him to CCA retreats.
Char Smith, executive director of CCA, said the organization is excited to work with Lentil and she hopes CCA can bring a "human element" to Lentil's story.
"Our kids are just like Lentil with the cleft palates and lips," she said. "The public awareness is such a great thing, too, because it shows other people that aren't familiar with CCA issues that just because you have a difference doesn't mean you are different."
But, before that, Lentil has a lot of doctor visits to make to his friends at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.
Condefer says she plans to have Lentil get only the surgeries necessary on his nose, lip, hard palate and soft palate to get him eating and functioning on his own.
"I don't care about cosmetic. Just leave it," she said. "We're just going with the major stuff."
Dr. John Lewis, assistant professor of dentistry and oral surgery at Penn Vet, said it's rare to see so many defects in one puppy. Still, he said, Lentil is a good patient.
"He is very inspiring, full of energy and full of confidence already at such a young age," Lewis said.
Lewis said the goal, when Lentil is a big enough for surgery, is to create barriers in his oral and nasal cavities to prevent food and liquids from getting where they're not supposed to.
"I think Lindsay is OK with his appearance - he's pretty cute now," Lewis said. "Our emphasis on the veterinary side will be to allow for normal function and to prevent additional medical problems."
Lewis said Lentil came in to his life just months after he gave a talk at Penn's medical school about how dogs bounce back from surgery and how they adapt to anomalies in their physical appearance.
"We talked about how wonderful it would be for these dogs to visit children and perhaps adults with similar issues in their life," Lewis said. "When Lentil came along, both myself and Lindsay felt like this dog could be the one that could be a great representative for this program.
"I think at some point, when we get him taken care of surgically, we expect he'll play a major role in this visitation program between the veterinary hospital and the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia," Lewis said.
Until then, Lentil will keep regaling his online followers with his unbearable cuteness and his inspiring story.
"I feel like he has such a huge family and it's just people smiling over him, people who are like, 'God, I needed that this morning,' " Condefer said.
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