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Meet the woman saving cleft lip and cleft palate puppies

Believing every puppy deserves a chance, Crystal Mills continues to open her heart and home to those who need extra care to thrive.

ELYRIA, Ohio — For Crystal Mills, a longtime dog lover and employee in the veterinary industry, it all began with a request she just couldn't turn down. 

"I started about two years ago when I received my first cleft lip puppy. And it was let's see if we can do it," she said. 

Sometimes puppies are born with a cleft lip or palate, making nursing all but impossible. Brachycephalic dog breeds -- those with short muzzles and flat faces -- are at greater risk.

Sadly, owners may opt for euthanasia because the care is so demanding. 

Mills said she believed she could make a difference. 

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Credit: Crystal Mills
Mills works to find these dogs loving homes, teaching adoptive families how to care for them.

"I think every puppy deserves a chance. So, one of the doctors decided to give me a chance and allow me to take care of her, and she made it," Mills said of the experience. 

And that's how Crystal's Clefts was born. The small, non-profit rescue takes in special needs pups. Mills does most of the work -- and it was challenging in those early days and weeks. 

"Tube fed every two hours. They have other medical issues usually, and it just takes a lot of work."  

But she lovingly tends to them one by one, watching them grow into the amazing dogs they were meant to be.

"I get them learning how to eat food, they do really well, just like any other puppy, they, you know, they learn how to chew their food, swallow their food." 

Mills now also takes on puppies who have failed to thrive, her patience and knowledge with feeding issues, making her an experienced caregiver in these cases, too. 

"Nebulizing them if they have pneumonia, you know, extra care that they typically wouldn't get, because mom can't do that for them," Mills said. 

And when the pups are strong and ready, she finds them loving homes where they will continue to blossom.

"I feel like they're just so loving. They just want to please, they understand that they have a purpose in this life," Mills said. 

She works with families to teach them how to care for the pups, many of whom have adapted well to the way in which they must eat. 

Crystal's Clefts is a 501c3 non-profit organization in the Northeast Ohio area specializing in dogs with clefts and other special medical needs. Learn more HERE.

Like many rescues, they rely on support for supplies, food and medication. To learn how you can help click HERE

Editor's note: Video in the player above was originally published in a previous edition of Ready Pet GO! on Jan. 25, 2023.

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