Philadelphia is home to a very small Internet sensation that's already won over the hearts of many.  The 12-week-old special-needs French bulldog named Lentil is under the care of his foster mom, who feeds him through a tube. 

 

Lentil's spending a sunny afternoon doing exactly what he loves: playing with his best friend, a chihuahua named Tabitha.  They're about the same size and like tiny canine wrestlers the two grapple and yip.

In this moment, Lentil looks like any other puppy.  But Lentil's foster mom, Lindsay Condefer says, he's not.

"He's a normal puppy until he puts something in his mouth and you see me running," she said.

Sitting in her home in Fishtown, Condefer explains why Lentil can't just lap up a big bowl of dog food.  

"He has a cleft lip and he has a cleft hard and soft palate.  His nose is kind of open," she said. "I hate to use the word deformed." 

Condefer says for the most part Lentil gets the nutrition he needs through tube-feeding. "When there's no protection to your trachea from your soft palate, anything can do 50/50 almost - into your lungs or your stomach," she said.

Condefer's kept Lentil alive by feeding him formula this way. But that may change after the surgery Lentil is scheduled to have later this month. 

An opportunity to help other dogs and people

One of Lentil's veterinarians, Dr. John Lewis of the University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine, said there's potential for Lentil to help others.

"There's some opportunities to do some genetic testing to look at possible reasons why this litter was particularly affected," said Lewis. "Not just cleft palates, but other spontaneous diseases that occur in our companion animals, and in people."

Condefer says Lentil's many fans have sent him toys, letters and even the necklace she wears with his face on it. They've also raised enough money to cover his medical needs for surgery.

Condefer said Lentil is already helping others by raising funds for rescue dogs and for children with similar physical challenges.  A few days ago, she took him to an event where children with cleft palates got to meet little Lentil.  

"It was about 30 children with craniofacial issues and it was our first appearance at one of these things," she said. "I've never been around so much strength and so much just -- I don't even know the words for it -- these children at 8 years old were seeing me through it like, 'Don't worry about his surgery.  I've had four.  It's OK.  He'll heal.'"

Lentil Fest, a four-day series of events including concerts, a raffle and an adoption event will raise funds as well as celebrate the life of the small dog.  It begins Thursday.