Meet Smiley. The 12-year-old golden retriever was born without eyes, a condition associated with dwarfism. His legs are a little bowed, his head is a little large and he stands “a little crooked,” his owner said. But Smiley’s disability hasn’t slowed him down. It has given him a reason to keep going.
Smiley, a certified therapy dog, has lived up to his name, working with people at nursing homes, schools and even a local library where he helps special needs kids in his hometown in Stouffville, 30 miles from Toronto, Ontario.
“We try to share him,” his owner, 42-year-old Joanne George, told The Washington Post. “I’ve known from the beginning that this is a dog that’s going to be on earth for a short while, and I want to share him as much as I can.”
George, a former vet technician, rescued Smiley nearly a decade ago from a puppy mill in a small town in Ontario. The mill had been under investigation and George, along with another tech, were sent there to euthanize about 20 dogs that would have required medical care, she said.
“We were in a barn with about 85 dogs,” she said. “It took us five tries to go in there because we were trying not to vomit from the smell.”
George said she left the mill with about a dozen dogs from the euthanasia list. The other tech took the rest. They advertised through a local veterinary clinic and found homes for all of them — except one. No one wanted Smiley, who was 2 at the time.
“He was nervous and had many anxieties about coming into a home,” she wrote on her blog. “He cowered at the sound of another dog eating — the scars on his face and ears told me the stories of what it was like living with so many dogs in such deplorable conditions.”
George said she spent many months trying to find him a family.
“I couldn’t find a perfect home for him. It wasn’t out there, which seems strange because now I could find him a home 1,000 times over,” she told The Post. “Then I realized, ‘Why am I looking so hard? Why don’t I keep him?
“I just thought, ‘He’s mine.'”
George, who now runs her own dog training business, started working with Smiley. She started socializing him, taking him to visit her grandmother at a nearby nursing home. That’s when she noticed “he really did something to people.” So she got him certified to be a therapy dog — a job, she said, you can’t train a dog to do. “It’s a trait in the dog, a quality … which you can’t teach.”
Since then, Smiley has been teaching people to “live in the moment,” she said.
During his weekly visit at the local library last year, Smiley sat down with an autistic child who, George was told, had never been able to focus on anything for more than a few minutes at a time. During a reading program for special needs children, the girl flipped through pages in a picture book with Smiley for 30 minutes, George said. “Her mother was just floored that she was able to do that,” she said.
Indeed, Smiley has grown a little gray over the years. A few months ago, he ruptured a disc in his back just above his tail. How? “Ironically, overuse,” George said. “He just never stops wagging his tail. He’s always happy.”
“Don’t turn an eye to a rescue dog, especially a special needs dog,” she said. “It doesn’t matter where they come from. If Smiley can do it, any dog can.”