Dog born with cleft palate teaches kids kindness and the importance of respecting individuality
They say it takes a village. The phrase is used often in reference to raising a child, but it’s also the phrase that kept coming to me as Deborah Pack told me about Stanley.
Pack has been a teacher for 18 years. She loves it, she says, so enthusiastically I wish I could write that in all capital letters and end with a string of exclamation points and happy face emojis. Pack’s passion for teaching is the same passion she has for pups (and goats and ducks) and her desire to make a difference in the lives of the children she teaches.
She started to see a change in those students, she says, over the years. The changes weren’t good.
“I noticed that so many kids were starting to think of themselves more than each other,” she says. “I saw bullying increase. I saw these young people exclude and criticize others for being heavy or wearing glasses, for not being perfect. What is perfect, anyway? There is no such thing.”
So in 2003, Pack brought a baby goat—an orphan—into her classroom. As her students learned about the goat and worked together to take care of the animal, their dispositions changed. They began to interact in a more positive way.
Pack then brought in Lily and Lacy—ducks—to introduce the lesson of how we as people change and grow into who we are and Junior, a dog who was deaf. Her students taught him sign language commands. While giving these animals care and love and encouraging her students to do the same she saw an uptick in compassion and empathy that buoyed her and inspired to her do more.
Pack also brought a bulldog named Maddie into the classroom next. Maddie became a therapy dog but found her true calling in fund raising. She worked with firefighters and was a sensation at the kissing booth, where she raised an impressive amount of money.
People heard about the work Pack was doing with animals and would call her and ask if she could take their dogs. Not as a rescue, she says, but as part of her family. That’s how she met Oliver, affectionately known as Ollie.
Ollie’s owner contacted Pack so she went to visit. When she met Ollie, she met his brother Stanley, an English bulldog with a cleft palate. She’d never seen a dog with a cleft palate, she says; she didn’t even know such a thing existed.
“I took one look at Stanley and thought ‘we cannot leave him behind’” she says. “Those two boys were so close. We brought them both home.”
Then Pack started researching. She learned there’s very little information about dogs with cleft palates and even fewer medical professionals equipped with the knowledge to take care of them. And she watched Stanley: he couldn’t lie down because he couldn’t breathe properly.
Upon examination the doctor told Pack that Stanley had not one, but two holes in his sinuses and issues with his teeth. She was quoted $2,035.00 for surgery. She and her husband already had dogs at home they were taking care of, and didn’t have reserve funds to cover that expense. So they set out 10 jars in Smithville asking for help.
They raised the necessary funds in 20 days. When they returned to the surgeon for surgery, the doctor said Stanley was fine and to delay the surgery.
Pack knew better. She and her husband took Stanley to Blue Pearl in Overland Park where three surgeons examined him and agreed that he needed surgery. The Packs offered them the money they’d raised and asked if that would cover the procedure; after discussing it, the surgeons and owners of Blue Pearl offered to operate on Stanley for free.
“They wanted to be a part of his mission in helping kids learn about acceptance and to stop bullying,” says Pack. “People really do have open hearts and eyes of compassion that see. They really opened their hearts to Stanley.”
Stanley’s surgery was done and he’s happy and healthy, but his story isn’t over yet. He and Pack are busy raising awareness for pups like him and the message he’s become the face of: that there is something beautiful—and more importantly—worthy about each and every living being.
“There are no records kept of how many dogs are born with cleft palate,” says Pack. “We don’t know how many are destroyed because there’s no funding for research. The defect doesn’t just affect dogs; it also occurs in cows, horses, sheep, cats, and other animals. Stanley is lucky because his previous owners gave him a chance. They sponge fed him every two hours instead of tube feeding him, which is more common but often results in aspiration and bacterial infections.
“When we adopted Stanley we did not want to change his outer appearance. That’s a cosmetic factor, and that’s not important. We only wanted to repair the damage that affected his health.”
Recently Pack attended a Smithville city council meeting to discuss the issue, and the City of Smithville adopted April 21, 2015, as Stand Up for Stanley Day. Edgerton, Camden Point, and Kearney did the same. That was a good start for Pack, but it was just that: a start.
“I wrote the governor—bless his heart—and he opened his heart and issued a proclamation that March 24, 2015, is Stand Up Stanley Day for the entire State of Missouri,” she says.
“Stanley is different in so many ways,” says Pack. “It’s not just his face; his back legs are deformed. But he teaches us so much about compassion, kindness, love and generosity of heart. He shows us how to see others in a different light, how to redefine perfect, and that everyone, not just some, should be accepted.
He’ll be a part of Smile Train, an organization that helps children all over the world with cleft palates,” says Pack, “And we’re having a gathering to celebrate Stanley and Ollie’s first birthday October 10th, from 10 a.m. until noon, at Four Paws in Olathe. Everyone should come!”