By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior writer, firstname.lastname@example.org
It was love at first sight.
Emmalyn Allgood couldn’t believe it when she came face to face with the little pup named Maverick.
The cockapoo had a sweet, crooked smile that reminded her of herself.
“Mommy, look! He has a cleft just like me!”
A cleft lip happens when the tissue that makes up the lip does not join completely before birth, resulting in an opening in the upper lip. A cleft palate is an opening in the roof of the mouth, generally requiring multiple surgeries over time.
Emmalyn, daughter of April and Jack Allgood of Brownsburg, was born with a cleft lip and palate and had two surgeries at Riley Hospital for Children in her first year of life.
“For sure, she’ll have two more,” April said. “Riley has been our saving grace. They are like angels from heaven.”
Now 5, Emmalyn has not let her cleft get in the way of living her best life. She is active in cheer, soccer and gymnastics.
And now she has a best buddy in the form of a dog named Maverick, thanks to a matchmaking service of sorts and good people.
It all started when Celeste Edwards, owner of a small cockapoo breeder named Heavenly Cockapoos, discovered one of the pups in a new litter had a cleft lip.
She thought it would be fitting for him to go to a cleft-affected family, so she reached out to Caitlin Church, coordinator of Riley’s Cleft & Craniofacial Program, for help.
Church in turn contacted Monica Bush, founder of Legendary Smiles, a local parent-led cleft support group.
Bush and her husband have a 10-year-old son born with a cleft lip and palate who is also treated at Riley. While Legendary Smiles was formed in 2020, Bush has been advocating for the cleft community for the past decade.
“We have been through the gamut of a complicated cleft case, and I think we can help people,” she said. “We birthed Legendary Smiles out of the need we had in our own hearts to be that listening ear for people and help them navigate the journey.”
It’s a lot to handle for any parent, she said, so when she heard about the puppy in need of a good home, she shared a post on her group’s Facebook page, looking for a forever home for Maverick in a cleft-affected family.
Within hours, they had matched Maverick with Emmalyn.
“He is a perfect fit for our family,” said April, recalling how she cried over the phone with Edwards and realized “it was a God thing” that Maverick was to come into their lives.
Still just a few months old, Maverick has found a forever friend in Emmalyn, and the same goes for her.
The relationship is a blessing for both.
“As a cleft-affected family, we’ve been able to buy stuffed animals with cleft and we have a lot of books about it,” April said.
Emmalyn, who just started preschool, even made her own book, which she shared with her classmates.
“She is super proud and loves to tell people about her cleft, but having Maverick has been the best thing ever. His little tooth sticks out and she has a tooth growing in her cleft as well,” April said.
“I think it’s been so powerful for her because she gets to see that every single day. It has really helped her realize she’s perfect just the way she is.”
Bush, whose background is in social work, is thrilled to have played a part in connecting Emmalyn and Maverick.
“She is always going to remember this. To have a little therapy dog right next to you as a best buddy, you couldn’t ask for more,” she said.
And sharing their story is a wonderful way to educate people about the complexities of cleft and craniofacial issues, Bush said.
In the end though, she wants to put a smile on people’s faces.
“If people can look at this story and find a little bit of hope and good faith, that’s all we care about.”