Toto – The Amazing Cleft Puppy

Toto – The Amazing Cleft Puppy
By David Fowler – AfS Lead Photographer

Fourteen years ago, 5 days before I was to leave for Shenyang, China on my first AfS mission as a photojournalist, I brought home an 8-week old puppy named Max.

I joked to my wife that, by the time I got back home, she would have Max house-trained. That didn’t work. Not only was he not house-trained, he had an intestinal bug that gave him diarrhea, so I was not the most popular guy on the street by the time I got home. Since then, Max has been king of the castle.

Fast forward 10 years and 17 AfS missions later, we decided to get another puppy. We began our search at a no-kill shelter near our town where I was helping a friend walk the shelter dogs a couple of times a week. Because of my wife’s allergies, we wanted a small dog that didn’t shed, but other than that, we really didn’t know what to look for. One day the staff told me about a puppy that had just been brought in the day before and said I should go take a look.



Toto had come from a pedigreed Cairn Terrier litter raised by a lady I knew… someone I trusted who had lots of experience with all kinds of dogs…who knew she wouldn’t be able to sell Toto as a perfect pedigreed puppy, so she took her to the shelter. Why?  Because Toto had a cleft lip.

Really? After traveling all over Asia and Africa on 17 missions with Alliance for Smiles, helping children with cleft lip and palate anomalies, I had the chance to rescue a puppy with a cleft lip? It was meant to be. The vet fixed her cleft lip and now, nobody knows she ever had one. The only lasting effect is she only weighs 6 lbs…about half the normal weight for a female Cairn Terrier.