On May 16th, 2011 our lives were forever changed when the most special little puppy was born into our family. His name is Charlie. This page is dedicated to Charlie's journey !!

Charlie was born with a cleft palate. For most puppies this means imminent death or euthanasia - but Charlie made it clear from the very beginning that he was a fighter -- and I have always been a firm believer that each and every life - no matter how small or frail is precious .... so our story began....

At birth Charlie weighed the same as his littermates and appeared healthy. However within the first 24 hours it became evident that something was terribly wrong and Charlie was actually losing weight whilst his littermates were thriving. Although we had checked all the puppies upon their birth we had not detected the cleft palate until we re-examined Charlie to try and figure out why he was not gaining.

Most resources on the web stated that the most sensible thing to do for a cleft palate puppy was to let them go -- but I found great encouragement in information provided by Hennwood Labradors that spurred me on to help Charlie in his struggle. Another breeder friend of mine who had also nursed a few cleft palate puppies to maturity also shared her wisdom with me and was a great inspiration. For anyone who ever needs guidelines in this area, the resources on this website are extremely helpful Hennwood Labradors.

The early days with Charlie are very much a blur. He required feeding every couple of hours and I did not want to go the route of tube-feeding -- having tried this with an unwell puppy once before who eventually aspirated into her lungs and tragically passed away. So being "unconfident" with tube feeding I opted instead to use a syringe to feed Charlie as often as possible. The trick was to administer the formula through the syringe far enough back into his mouth that it would trickle straight down his throat and into his stomach without coming back out his nose. He hated the syringe which was clear to see -- but a cleft palate puppy has no suction - therefor he cannot nurse and cannot take a bottle. So no matter how much Charlie protested we kept on.... at least when he protested I knew he still had enough spirit in him to fight -- which was a good sign !!

It wasn't long before Charlie developed a sinus infection which is a common issue in cleft palate puppies. This became a reoccuring problem and needed to be treated numerous times with antibiotics -- all before he was barely a month old. I began to seek out other ways to help him battle the infections and found that adding slippery elm bark to his formula as well as some echinacea worked wonders. Since adding these things to his diet (they are not needed as frequently now) we haven't had a single repeat infection.

Charlie - who had started off at a normal weight with his siblings of almost a pound -- had dropped to half of that by the end of the first week despite our round-the-clock efforts and countless prayers. However by the second week he started to gain, albeit very small amounts - and we were all encouraged by his sweet and fearless personality.

By the mid-way mark of the 2nd week he finally surpassed his birthweight !! I know it may sound like a small achievement but it was huge cause for celebration even if the infections lingered and the cloud of developing pneumonia seemed to always be looming. As soon as the other pups were starting on a bit of solid food - we began giving Charlie bits of raw meat in addition to the formula. He may have protested the syringe initially - but he LOVED the raw meat and seemed to finally figure out that the syringe was our way of trying to help him. Mealtimes became much more welcomed by Charlie. (We could not give him "mush" like the other pups for fear the food would travel up into the cleft - so the task was to make the meat small enough that he could swallow but not so small that pieces would lodge or move into his nasal passages.)

Through most of the early weeks Charlie remained with his siblings and even mama Daisy treated him like he was just one of the bunch. It was only by about week 6 that we had to remove Charlie for much of the day as his siblings became like giants beside him and the play was too rough. However - by week 8 Charlie had gained well and was up to almost 8 pounds - so he resumed his time with his littermates until they began to leave for their new homes.

September 17, 2011: Charlie is now a whopping 21 pounds and not only loves puppies his own size but actually prefers to romp with the bigger boys. He loves the lake and is always into something down by the water -- which can be a constant worry as any little thing that goes into his mouth has the potential to become lodged in the cleft. However we can't keep him contained or cut off from the world and not allow him to be a puppy either....

For the most part Charlie eats kibble and a bit of raw meat and has learned to drink water well on his own. From time to time he will go into fits of sneezing and snorting when something finds its way up into the opening. Often he snores because even with our careful watch bits of just about anything become lodged in the cleft. We try to monitor him closely and use a suction tool to pull out whatever we can. It has been disappointing that the cleft has only grown larger -- but the infections have been arrested and no one has told Charlie that he is a "handicapped" puppy -- so he is not aware of his different situation :-) When Charlie is close to slowing down in the growth department we will pursue surgical correction - although it is not a very common surgery and can be quite serious due to the blood vessels etc. located in the area that needs to be addressed.

For now Charlie just takes each day as it comes and has the funniest and most endearing character. He is no "show dog" by any means - and his head has a different look to it -- but his inner beauty far outshines any other shortcomings !! Everyone who meets him can tell that he is a very special boy -- and we feel very blessed to have him as part of our family.

** Despite his fighting spirit and our best efforts, unfortunately our sweet boy passed away on March 13, 2012 due to complications associated with the cleft palate. Charlie will live forever in our hearts as the most special and loving member of our family - and we will miss him every day.**


This is a normal puppy mouth

This is Charlie's mouth at 6 weeks
The cleft palate is not clearly visible but small areas of seperation exist running down the center of the roof of his mouth. At 6 weeks there is an even larger opening as you near the throat area.

Charlie's mouth at 2.5 months old

Charlie's mouth at 4 months.
The opening near the throat has closed but the cleft in the center has widened. You can see the debris that accumulates in the unclosed area.


Charlie at the end of the 1st week losing ground as compared to littermates

Charlie at 2 weeks

Charlie at 4 weeks with littermates

Charlie at 6 weeks


Charlie on the right with his brother from the same litter
At 8 weeks

At 3 months -- Always happy !!

Charlie with his good buddy
Steele watching the geese

Charlie at 4 months