Teaching children to accept everyone’s differences is a crucial step in early learning.
Deborah Pack is a retired elementary school teacher from Smithville, Missouri. Back in 2003, she discovered that she could teach her kindergartners valuable lessons about empathy and kindness by bringing in her pets. Over the years, she introduced students to rabbits, kittens, puppies, a pair of Pekin ducklings, and even an orphaned baby goat.
“We quickly saw remarkable things happening, in terms of the children learning to love and work together to help this orphaned animal survive and grow,” Deborah recalled.
Over the years, Deborah’s students learned a lot about compassion. They even helped train her bulldog puppy Madeline to become a therapy dog in the community! But in 2011, the seasoned teacher welcomed a group of students who were in a much more negative headspace than she was used to. She saw a lot of bullying and name-calling, all characteristics she works hard to eliminate in her classroom.
As she pondered what she could do to celebrate differences and create teachable moments, she got an idea: What if she introduced a puppy with special needs to her kids?
Enter Junior, a deaf puppy she found in a local animal shelter. Just as she’d hoped, her students fell madly in love with Junior and threw themselves into teaching him sign commands.
“He really helped drive the lesson home that our differences — and even what may be perceived as shortcomings or disabilities — are worth embracing,” she said.
In 2014, Deborah learned of two special needs English bulldog pups who needed a home. Oliver was deaf, but it was Stanley’s mismatched eyes (one is blue, the other is brown) and the “most unique smile” she’d ever seen that immediately captured her heart. She adopted them both on the spot!
Stanley was born with a bilateral cleft lip. He struggled to breathe and eat, and his brother Oliver helped him by propping up his head at mealtimes. In exchange, Stanley lends Oliver his ears. Deborah knew that the bulldog brothers could open her student’s hearts and help them become more accepting of differences, both in pets and in humans.
“It was the last piece of the puzzle of what I’d been trying to teach for years — that it’s okay to have differences,” she explained. “For me, finding these boys was a real blessing.”
In time, Deborah found a veterinarian who could treat Stanley’s cleft to help him breathe and eat better. He underwent surgery to fix his throat and the inside of his mouth, but Deborah decided to leave the outside of his mouth as it is.
“They also asked if I wanted to have the outside of his mouth corrected — it was a purely cosmetic procedure — but I said no,” said Deborah. “Just as he has one brown eye and one blue and his back legs are irregular, his cleft palate, which looks like a split in the front of his mouth, is how he was born. We are all born with our challenges, our differences, but we can all overcome those things and go on to do great things.”
Once he’d recovered, Deborah started bringing him to local schools and events to spread love and acceptance. She learned about Smile Train, an international charity that provides training, funding, and valuable resources to empower local doctors to provide free cleft surgery and other essential care for children in 70+ countries.
That’s how Stanley became an official ambassador for Smile Train!
Troy Reinhart, Smile Train’s senior vice president of community and development, said joining forces with Deborah and Stanley was a natural fit.
“We’re always looking for new ways to promote our work and to educate the public about the fact that millions of children are suffering from untreated clefts — a condition that, though easily healed, prevents them from eating or speaking properly or even attending school or holding a job,” he stated. “Deborah explained that a big part of her goal was to teach people — kids — about acceptance, and, at the end of the day, that’s really what all of our work is about, too.”
Stanley now travels to public events and schools to teach people about clefts. His first charitable event, a Kissing Booth, raised enough money to pay for a child’s cleft surgery. Since they’ve started their work spreading acceptance and education about clefts, they’ve helped many more children get life-changing cleft surgery!
Stanley’s efforts were formally recognized in 2015 when Missouri’s then-governor named March 24th Stand Up for Stanley Day across the state. Deborah and Stanley are working to take the initiative national to keep spreading their important message about animals who are born with differences like clefts.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, Stanley and Deborah were sidelined by lockdowns. Deborah admits she felt helpless at first, but she found a way to make a difference even under challenging circumstances.
“Even during this pandemic, there has to be a way we can help,” Deborah thought. “Our usual hospital visits and events might have been canceled, but I know there’s still more we can do!”
She decided to make thank-you notes from Stanley to give out to essential workers on the front lines. She called the initiative “Paws Up!” and it quickly caught on. Deborah masked up and brought the notes to grocery stores, police stations, restaurants, gas stations, and hospitals to celebrate, thank, and encourage the workers who kept the world turning.
Stanley has opened so many people’s hearts and minds.
“We can all learn compassion from Stanley, that we’re all not the same,” said Jean Roe, a business owner who befriended Deborah and Stanley. “But yet, under our skin and in our hearts, we’re all the same.
The funds Stanley’s helped raise for Smile Train will directly help people with clefts all over the world. He’s truly making a difference locally and globally!
Share this story to tell more people about Stanley and his mission to end bullying and spread smiles worldwide, and watch the video below to learn more about this pawsitively adorable ambassador.
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