Members of Operation Smile will host the club’s fourth-annual dog show Sunday to raise funds for the facial reconstructive surgeries for children born with cleft lip and cleft palate. Credit: Courtesy of Connor Wagner

Dogs of all breeds will dot the Oval Sunday to entertain Ohio State students with their various talents. But boasting their skills and providing a source of stress relief aren’t the only reasons they’ll be out on the grass.

Operation Smile, an undergraduate student organization, is hosting its fourth annual Spring Dog Show to raise money for facial reconstructive surgeries for children born with cleft lip and palate.

The Ohio State branch of Operation Smile is a subset of the national nonprofit that provides professional volunteers and equipment necessary to perform the reconstructive surgeries in areas where access to health care is limited, Connor Wagner, a fourth-year in neuroscience and president of the club, said.

Destiny Corbett, a second-year in biology and incoming president of the club, said it’s important for children with these disabilities to get medical attention because the lifespan for them is shorter than the average.

“In some countries, children with cleft lip and cleft palate are shunned almost from society, and it causes a lot of other health issues,” Corbett said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cleft conditions occur when a child’s lip or mouth does not fully develop during pregnancy, resulting in malnourishment, difficulties communicating, frequent ear infections and other health issues.

Wagner said that cleft conditions might arise from a variety of causes, but parental smoking and prenatal alcohol consumption are two factors that increase the risk.

Facial reconstructive surgery doesn’t just eliminate the health problems associated with cleft conditions. Wagner said the surgery also restores self-esteem to affected children.

“What happens is that a child may grow up and be 20, and their whole life they’ve had a bandana around their mouth because they don’t want to walk outside and show the world who they are,” Wagner said.

Despite the presence of cleft conditions in all areas of the world, Wagner said that Operation Smile focuses primarily on donating to regions where access to reconstructive surgeries is restricted.

He said in developed countries like the United States, the likelihood of a child being born with cleft lip or palate is much lower than in developing countries.

“I think of [cleft conditions] as something that a lot of people in the states especially don’t realize is such an important medical problem because our access to health care is such that we identify people who need cleft lip and cleft palate repair, even before they’re born with ultrasound,” Wagner said.

Corbett said that for every $240 the club raises, one reconstructive surgery is funded, an amount she believes is attainable for the group.

In addition to the dog show, Operation Smile holds numerous fundraising events throughout the year, and Wagner said the club has already raised enough money to fund about 75 surgeries.

This year, Corbett said there will be an obstacle course in which the dogs must compete and will then be ranked and awarded superlatives by members of Fishbowl Improv, a comedy group at Ohio State.

Although the dogs will be center stage, Corbett said Operation Smile is asking attendees for a $5 donation to help improve the lives of children with cleft conditions.

“The coolest thing about Operation Smile is that just one procedure to fix the visible anomaly in their lip development can make just a huge difference on their life, and it’s really powerful to see that transformation,” Wagner said.

Operation Smile’s Spring Dog Show will take place from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday on the Oval.