Cliff is a beautiful, beefy pit bull mix who loves to go on runs, has never met a stranger, adores cats and if your lap is empty he considers it a place he'd like to sit.
He's very much like millions of other dogs in neighborhoods, homes and shelters the world over. Except he's not.
Cliff is a very rare canine. He's an adult dog with a cleft palate.
Far from being a simple cosmetic issue, when a dog is born with a cleft palate it's usually a death sentence. They are not able to feed normally from their mother because they are not able to latch on and create the suction needed to nurse. Imagine trying to drink through a straw without being able to close your mouth around it.
Even if they do manage to feed or are fed by tube, liquid will often leak into their sinuses or lungs and can cause pneumonia.
Without human intervention a puppy with a cleft palate will usually die a horrible death within days, purely from starvation.
Because of this, some vets recommend euthanasia for pups born with this genetic deformity.
Cliff is between one and two years old. No one knows how he survived this long.
He was first brought to the attention of authorities early this year when he was found starving and tied to a tree on a neglected property. No one could tell if anyone lived on the property and no owner was ever found.
LifeLine Animal Project was called in to see if they would be willing to help Cliff. There was no other ready place to take a homeless dog so weak, neglected and with a such a serious physical problem.
Gene Stamey, director of LifeLine's Dog House, immediately admitted Cliff into the Avondale Estate's shelter and staff and vets set about trying to help him.
Cliff got lucky. He got better at LifeLine and he soon became a part of their after-school program for high school students.
His lucky streak didn't end there. For three months now Cliff has been living the good life. He's active and happy in a foster home with Decatur residents Matt and Cassy Gayman. He goes on daily runs with them. He has his own bed and toys.
"He's a goofy boy who is part of our family, along with our five cats. He's really good with them," says Matt Gayman.
"He thinks he's a lap dog," he adds with a laugh.
Cliff now has everything any pet could want - food, security, love and a family who wants to adopt him.
However, time is not on his side.
Cliff survived being born with a cleft palate. He survived being tied to a tree and abandoned. But he's now starting to develop the health problems that happen when a cleft palate remains un-fixed. Studies say he will likely develop gum and/or heart disease if his condition isn't remedied. Without needed surgery the prognosis for a long life for this so-far sturdy survivor isn't great.
Georgia Veterinary Specialists has doctors and the expertise to surgically close Cliff's palate and provide this young dog with the ability to eat and live normally for the first time in his life.
The cost of the surgery is $2,300. Neither LifeLine nor Cliff's foster family have the ability to pay the lump sum and the cost of his aftercare without some help. LifeLine cares for over 60 dogs in their Dog House currently and many of them have special needs.
LifeLine is asking the public for donations toward's Cliff's surgery. If they can raise the amount needed, he can get surgery within a month and be well on his way to a successful recovery and more of the happy new life he's tasted thus far.
LifeLine and the Gayman's are asking anyone who wants to help Cliff to please donate by going to LifeLine's web page and click the "Give Life Support" box in the upper right hand corner. When donating, make a note that the funds are for Cliff's surgery.
Donations can also be mailed to: A New Life For Cliff, LifeLine Animal Project, PO Box 15466, Atlanta, GA 30333.
The Gaymans are hoping that animal lovers and pet parents who know what it is to deeply love a family dog or cat will help them in their quest to save Cliff.
"He's young and amazing. There's only this one thing that really needs fixing," says Gayman.
"We are best friends," he says of the rescued dog who is just one surgical step from his happily ever after.