Narwhal is by many measures a normal puppy. Caregivers say he likes to nibble on fingers and give kisses and wants to play with anyone nearby.
On the other hand, he also has a second tail sprouting from his forehead - an appendage that's prompted the nickname "unicorn puppy" and captivated dog lovers in the days since a Missouri rescue group brought him in from the side of a road.
"We are so stupid excited about it," said Rochelle Steffen, who founded the Jackson, Missouri-based organization that's caring for Narwhal.
Steffen's group, Mac's Mission, focuses on "special needs" dogs that require extra medical care due to birth defects, injuries or abuse.
Staff see horrific cases of pets who've been shot, run over or abandoned, Steffen told The Washington Post. They rescue animals that might get euthanized elsewhere and then help them find permanent homes.
Narwhal exemplifies the rescue group's philosophy that their charges are all the more lovable for their abnormalities, Steffen said. She's hopeful their "magical" dog's splash of attention can do the same for other dogs in need.
"I am super excited for being the poster child for 'special is awesome'," says a post written in the voice of Narwhal on the Facebook page that propelled the unicorn puppy to fame.
Mac's Mission took Narwhal in last weekend, Steffen said, after someone told her about the strange creature they'd found on the street. The rest of Narwhal's litter quickly scattered, and staff are still trying to track them down.
"It's snowed the last couple of days, so I'm nervous," Steffen said. But Narwhal and an older dog whom they suspect may be his father are now safe.
The puppy, whom rescue workers believe to be about 10 weeks old, was quickly named after the whale with a single, large tusk that's sometimes called the "unicorn of the sea".
Narwhal seems to be a dachshund mix, Steffen said, with a wiener dog's short legs. But he also has the tan coloring, soft fur and head shape reminiscent of a golden retriever.
Taken in from the cold, Narwhal had frostbite on two of his toes and needed medicine for worms, according to Steffen. But compared with many of the animals Mac's Mission treats, he was in great shape.
A visit Tuesday to the vet confirmed that Narwhal's tail, unlike a normal one, doesn't have bones inside. That's why, much to Steffen's disappointment, the head protuberance cannot wag.
Cape Small Animal Clinic's Brian Heuring, who examined Narwhal, said he's used to pets with cleft palates or extra toes but hasn't seen anything like the misplaced tail in 16 years of veterinary practice. He's confident, though, that the oddity won't affect Narwhal's quality of life.
"This puppy could not be happier," he told The Post.
Heuring's not sure what may have caused the face tail. However, the answer could lie in the well-documented phenomenon of canine fetal absorption, in which a puppy dissolves in the womb.
Whatever the cause, Narwhal's deformity has brought unprecedented media attention to Mac's Mission - along with dozens of offers to adopt their latest rescue. Steffen is hoping some of the callers can be persuaded to take one of her group's 20 or so other dogs.
There are no plans to remove Narwhal's second tail.
"He's pretty perfect," she said.
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This article was originally published by The Washington Post.