Written by Sara Zarrebini
Professional photography by Strike a Pose Photography
When we met Pingu, she went by the name Liv, short for Lively, which is definitely the understatement of the century. She was a complete blur of energy – jumping, licking, and squealing with joy – all while still being doped up on painkillers from being spayed earlier that day. And we, being the suckers we are, instantly fell in love with this little “pocket rocket”.
After months of nagging by my husband, Ben, we had finally visited Border Collie Rescue in Centurion to find a new four-legged companion. We were literally and figuratively bowled over by Liv when we went to meet potential adoptees.
We agreed then and there that we would adopt her, along with Archer, her slightly calmer partner in crime. Despite being tiny, the ladies at the Border Collie Rescue said she was a lot to handle. At seven months old, Pingu was considerably smaller than the average Border Collie, weighing in at a very slight 8kg. At the time, we assumed she was just petite and that her growth spurt would be just around the corner.
We decided to name her after a little Swiss claymation cartoon penguin called Pingu that my husband and I had grown up watching as children.
What they found in her mouth shocked them
Soon after adopting Pingu, we realised that, above and beyond being super-energetic, she had some quirky behaviours like coughing and sneezing during and after eating food or drinking water.
When we took her to get her booster injections at Craighall Vet, my husband mentioned the coughing and sneezing to Dr Elliot. Ben innocently assumed she might have a deviated septum.
We didn’t think much of it until we heard a huge gasp from Dr Elliot when she opened Pingu’s mouth to see what the problem might be. Pingu had one of the worst cleft palates she’d ever seen in a dog. On looking at the photographs that Dr Elliot took, we saw an approximately 1cm-wide hole extending all the way from the tip of Pingu’s nose down through the back of her throat.
When we saw the photographs, we were both completely and utterly shell-shocked. Neither of us had ever heard of a dog having a cleft palate.
We had to help her
On the way home from the vet we were absolutely distraught; we kept talking about how unfair it is that this could happen. After doing what every good parent would and Googling, we found out that puppies with this condition typically don’t live past a few weeks unless they’re tube-fed every few hours. They’re also at risk of contracting pneumonia because there’s no way to prevent liquids and food getting into their lungs.
Pingu’s size suddenly made sense to us: because she hadn’t been able to suckle properly as a tiny pup, she’d missed out on the critical nutrients she needed to grow up to be a healthy, full-sized pooch.
We were in complete awe of her fighting spirit and that she’d made it through seven months all by herself. She’s a miracle, and we knew we had to help her in any way we could.
The big day
Dr Elliot recommended we connect with Dr Steenkamp at Onderstepoort Veterinary Hospital in Pretoria. Dr Steenkamp is a world-renowned veterinary dentist and maxillofacial surgeon who specialises in surgery on wild animals. Although he’d never seen the condition in a Border Collie before, he was confident that he could help Pingu. After a few consults with him and his team of veterinary nurses and students, it came time for the big day.
The team managed to close around 70% of the cleft palate in one surgery, and they were confident that the last 30% would be able to heal naturally. After two days of causing chaos in ICU and giving all the sisters and nurses a run for their money, Pingu was ready to come home.
We really couldn’t be more grateful to the staff at Onderstepoort Veterinary Hospital who held our hands through this process – and who all fell in love with Pingu as well.
It’s been a month since her surgery, and Pingu has definitely not slowed down. She’s affectionately known as our resident nutcase – a nutcase that will now get to live a long and happy life bothering our cats!
Julie Morris, Rehoming Officer of Border Collie Rescue, adds…
“‘Resident nutcase’ and ‘pocket rocket’ describe Pingu to a tee.
“She had a typical background – the owners were moving to a smaller property, and Liv came with her sister, Ripley, to be rehomed. With her high energy levels and not having a misshapen or ‘skew’ face, none of us suspected anything was amiss at all. Absolutely nothing suggested that anything was wrong, and even her size didn’t worry us too much as her sister (no cleft palate) was only slightly bigger.
“We were all as surprised – and amazed – that she’d made it this far; we’re so happy she was adopted to such a loving home.”