Puppy Who’s A Little Different Has A Blind Sister Who Totally Gets Him
"He loves her to death."
Nothing about Freki's life was planned.
Not the litter he was born into - the result of an accidental pregnancy from a dog Tracy Di Bartolo had found in Virginia and brought home.
And certainly not the strange way Freki announced himself to the world.
"He sneezed when he came out," Di Bartolo tells The Dodo.
Then she spotted something else no one expected.
"I looked at his little face and it didn't look the same as the other ones," she recalls.
Freki was born with a cleft palate, a condition that leaves an opening between the nasal passages and the mouth. For dogs, it develops while they're still in their mother's womb, essentially keeping both sides of the palate from fusing.
That often leaves a dog with serious issues eating and drinking.
"The main worry with cleft palate is aspiration pneumonia, which means when the puppies nurse or when they start to eat solid food and drink water it can go to the lungs instead of down the esophagus," Karri McCreary, a veterinarian at Vet Ranch, tells The Dodo. "That causes a terrible infection and without treatment that is usually fatal, and these pups don't live very long."
While Freki's cleft palate wasn't as severe as some cases, it likely would have spelled a short life for the puppy.
Cleft palate puppies, who can't feed on their own, understandably don't survive long as strays. At shelters, they may not fare much better, as repairing cleft palates can be expensive.
"A lot of vets would just euthanize him," Di Bartolo explains.
Besides, who wants a dog with a crooked smile?
Well, Di Bartolo for one. And for another, Freki's sister, Freya. Born blind, Freya didn't care what her brother looked like. She only knew the warmth of a kindred spirit.
"He loves her to death, Di Bartolo says. "They get along great. They cuddle and clean each other's ears."
Di Bartolo, who lives in Mechanicsville, Virginia, decided to keep Freya, Freki and a brother named Einar, as well as their mother.
But Freki needed a little more than his ears cleaned by his sister to thrive.
"He was in a laundry basket with a heating pad and his little stuffy," she explains. "He got bottle-fed every two to three hours."
Freki would soon graduate from drinking his food to mushy kibble.
And soon, he would catch up in size to his brother and sister.
"He's actually taller than his brother right now," Di Bartolo says. "His chest has gotten wide. His head is still kind of small. It's starting to grow into the rest of him."
With help from an online fundraiser, Freki would even overcome the condition he was born with. People from around the world, many of them strangers, pitched in to have his palate surgically repaired.
Freki underwent the operation last November, emerging from the hospital with both sides of his palate fused together - an internal procedure that ensured he could fully eat and drink on his own.
There are, however, lingering issues with Freki - not exactly life-threatening, but rather sleep-threatening. At least for those around him.
"He snores even more now," Di Bartolo says. "He sounds like a grown man in the room."
But the surgeon left Freki with his trademark smile. While it doesn't bother him in any way, it's a healthy reminder that things that don't go according to plan can be perfect.