The little puppy’s owners didn’t think that they had a choice. After all, the dog’s health problems meant that it was unlikely he would survive for more than two weeks – so euthanization seemed like the kindest option. But one of the vets couldn’t bear to see this furry little fella put to death, and she was determined to save his life.
This heartwarming story came to the world’s attention on July 21, 2016 after veterinary technician and social media user Kaffekalle uploaded these pictures to imgur. Kaffekalle, known in everyday life as Chelsea Whitney, wrote that the story began when a big birthday surprise was delivered to her clinic.
You see, Whitney works at the VCA Veterinary Care Animal Hospital and Referral Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico. “On my 30th birthday, a chocolate lab had a c-section at my veterinary clinic and had nine puppies,” Whitney wrote. “One of those puppies had a cleft palate, and the owners opted to euthanize the puppy.”
A cleft palate is a congenital condition that’s not surprising to encounter in purebreds like Labradors, as it has an occurrence rate of approximately 25 percent. Unfortunately, though, the cavity between the nose and mouth can cause a multitude of breathing problems, including coughing and sneezing. It can also result in eating difficulties and pneumonia.
So, without surgery and then around-the-clock care, the chances of this baby dog’s survival were poor. After all, a cleft palate can often lead to difficulty nursing and a lowered immune system, potentially making this otherwise weak pup even weaker.
“It is a blessing to be able to provide humane euthanasia to puppies with cleft palates,” Whitney wrote on imgur. “Depending on the severity of the cleft, and if it affects the hard or soft palate, puppies usually do not thrive.”
Whitney added, “The space in the roof of their mouth does not allow them to suckle properly, and they eventually die of starvation.” But the vets where Whitney works were armed with this knowledge, and it seems that they were determined to intervene. Whitney wrote, “Knowing the sucker I was, another vet tech got the family to sign the puppy over and got me to [foster him].”
Firstly, Whitney was able to satisfy the little pup’s suckling instincts by giving him a binky comforter. Then, as his new mommy saw a fighter in him, Whitney gave the dog an appropriate name. She called him Bronson, inspired by the movie in which Tom Hardy plays one of Britain’s toughest prisoners, Charles Bronson.
Whitney also became an attentive mother to the “little chocolate bean,” bringing Bronson with her to the clinic in order to maintain his feeding schedule. After all, the disabled pooch took his food every two hours by either tube or syringe.
And, as Bronson grew, he ditched the binky in exchange for suckling on Whitney’s fingers. Whitney later described this activity as a “true bonding experience.” His mommy further had to play with him lots in order to keep him active because his cleft palette meant that he couldn’t have chew toys.
But what did Whitney’s colleagues think? “Bronson’s cleft palate was a particularly bad one – it extended from his hard all the way to his soft palate,” Whitney wrote. “The surgeon I worked with was a little skeptical about my taking this type of genetic defect on, [but also wanted] to see how [Bronson] would do.”
The surgeon also kept tabs on Bronson’s cleft palate to decide when was the best time for surgery. Still, the little Labrador got up to all kinds of mischief. In fact, Whitney was no match for the quick puppy, as he loved to put whatever he could in his mouth.
Mind you, this obsession might have had something to do with him moving from his milk feeds to blended food. “As he grew, it became a trial and error session of coming up with the perfect concoction of canned food that would go through the red tube easily,” Whitney wrote.
What’s more, as Bronson’s cleft palate became larger with age, it became more of a problem keeping things out of the inquisitive dog’s mouth. “I always had my hands in his mouth pulling everything out. I was super careful, but he was quick,” Whitney wrote.
In fact, Bronson had been sedated three times to remove objects stuck in his cleft, and Whitney was now preparing to switch him to solid foods. Needless to say, then, Bronson’s mommy was getting anxious for his corrective surgery. Even still, the surgeon didn’t think that the puppy was ready.
In the end, Bronson’s surgery day came when he was nearly a year old. “This was almost an end to him being a sheltered, highly energetic lab with sinus infections and bloody sneezing. Overall, he had done quite well and most of the veterinarians were shocked that he did as well as he did,” Whitney wrote.
So on Whitney’s 31st birthday it was surgery time for the chocolate bean, and his mommy was beside him for the operation. “The surgeon explained to me (as I watched), that he was literally going to lift the skin from the right side, flip it to the left, tuck it, and suture it [but it] was much more complex than that,” she wrote.
Still, the plucky little pooch was a fighter, like his namesake, and he came through the operation with flying colors. In fact, the surgery may have been harder on Whitney as she anxiously waited to see if the procedure would take. “It was extremely nerve-wrecking the first weeks,” she admitted. “Luckily, he did fine.”
Whitney was rightly showered with praise online for the love and dedication she showed in giving a doomed puppy a chance at life. “I have a cleft lip and palate, and I am human. It is a nightmare to deal with. You’re a hero for not giving up on this dog,” wrote one touched commenter.
Indeed, the now three-year-old lab has a new lease on life, and his mom couldn’t be happier. “He is able to play with toys, chew on raw hides, swim in lakes, go on walks, bring me sticks… basically live the rest of his life as a perfectly normal lab,” she concluded. “I love my dogs.”