11 min read

Tiny Puppy With Cleft Palate Rescued From Breeder

That was two years ago. Let's find him a home!

<p><a href="http://www.fredsfriends.org/" target="_blank">Fred's Friends</a><span></span><br></p>

At just 4 weeks old, a tiny, as-yet-unnamed puppy weighed just 1 pound.

He was born with a cleft palate, a birth defect where the mouth does not form properly, and was incredibly malnourished. His split lip gave the tiny dog the appearance of a permanent snarl, which would be almost cute if it weren't for the pup's sad state.

Luckily, he was about to be rescued.

Fred's Friends is a nonprofit rescue organization in Penn Valley, California, that specializes in puppies and kittens who need round-the-clock care. The rescue also has an affinity for caring for pups like him with cleft palates.

Later dubbed "Newton," or "Mr. Fig Newton" when the occasion calls for something a bit fancier, the pup ended up in the care of Rachele Keech, the founder of Fred's Friends, who received a call from an individual in nearby Oakland who could no longer care for him.

So, she went to get him.

"He had a cleft lip and partial cleft palate when I first got him," Keech told The Dodo. "Because he was bred by backyard breeders, who weren't breeding for genetics and desirable qualities while trying to reduce the undesirable traits, he ended up with extreme physical and behavioral issues."

Dog breeding is currently legal in the U.S., and while several states have enacted various measures to protect the animals' welfare and restrict large scale breeding operations, illegal breeders continue to operate in the shadows across the country. Animals purchased from puppy mills or inexperienced breeders can become sick or develop permanent physical defects because of a lack of proper care.

"Backyard breeders breed without thinking about where these pups will end up, and usually aren't going to screen potential buyers like reputable breeders will," said Keech. "Also, most reputable breeders restrict breeding rights and will make buyers sign a contract to ensure the pups will not be bred. Some even offer a partial refund to buyers when a spay/neuter certificate can be provided."

Pit bulls in particular are at risk of both the effects of improper breeding and the potential to end up somewhere nefarious after purchased, like a dogfighting ring or getting dumped for not living up to owner expectations.

Though some states have created "puppy lemon laws" aimed at providing consumers recourse for purchasing puppies who become ill, sometimes fatally, as a result of irresponsible breeding, they aren't much help to animals like Newton who continue to be born with serious medical issues.

"He was the hardest case I have ever dealt with," Keech said. "He was so sick when I first took him in, but I did everything in my power to get him healthy. Weekly visits to the vet, lots of antibiotics for numerous things, including his eye issue and skin infection. Learning how to handle a cleft palate puppy and what he could and couldn't eat."

But, Newton was "cute as heck," she said. "He was literally the most ridiculously cute little 'piglet'-looking puppy in the world."

Newton went on to have two corrective surgeries for his cleft palate at the University of California, Davis. "But at the age of about 6 months old, his personality really started to change," Keech said. "He became fearful of everyone and was very reactive. His prey drive became unbearable, and even taking him outside was quite the fiasco."

Keech raised Newton in her home with her boxers, Fred (after who her organization is named), and Beastie Boo.

They became basically inseparable.

Mr. Fig Newton with Beastie Boo | Fred's Friends

But eventually Keech found Newton's "savior," a trainer at a facility outside Sacramento, where Newton made tremendous strides. "It was a proud mom moment," said Keech. "He was my first cleft puppy and he started me on this amazing journey of rescuing cleft pups and learning more and more about them."

Mr. Fig Newton with Fred and Beastie Boo | Fred's Friends

Now, nearly two years after the small little pit bull was rescued, Newton is ready to be adopted.

With the right training and interaction with other dogs, Newton's personality was allowed to not only thrive, but shine.

"He LOVES to run and play! He also loves to cuddle, and boy is he a great cuddler," said Keech. "He also loves to play with the dogs in his play group, running after them and playing nicely. He has slept in his crate since he was a baby, so he prefers to sleep in there still. It's his safe place and he puts himself to bed."

Today, Newton resides with a foster family while he waits for a more permanent home. But that doesn't mean he's forgotten all Keech gave to him as a tiny, skinny puppy.

"I only get to see him once in a while. One day I pulled up and I saw him on his walk with a trainer down the street. I got out of my car and he was already very interested in me," she said. "As soon as ... he heard my voice, he began basically pulling her down the street to get to me. He knew me. I will forever be his 'mom' and he will forever be my little newt."

"He has changed my view on 'it's all how you raise a dog,'" Keech said. "If a dog has been bred for nothing more than to make money, and not for genetics or qualifying traits, you are going to most likely have some behavioral issues that have nothing to do with the way they were raised. He is a sweet sweet boy and he did not ask to be in this world. He did not ask to have the physical and behavioral issues. He is the way he is because of irresponsibility."

"I receive over 20 pages of lists from three shelters in Northern California everyday of dogs in danger of being euthanized. It's horrendous," said Keech. "And these backyard breeders continue to breed. Rescues like myself have to pick up the pieces. We are the ones left to deal with the aftermath of these BYB's. Cleft palate puppies are just the tip of the iceberg."

For more information on how to adopt Mr. Fig Newton, visit his Instagram or Facebook page.

To learn more about Fred's Friends, go here.