When rescuers found Smiley the dog, he’d spent his whole life alone and in the dark – literally. And the golden retriever born without eyes in a barbaric puppy farm had almost certainly never known happiness. However, no one could take away the one thing that made him special: his smile.
Puppy mills pretty much anywhere are brutal places for dogs to be born. The commercial breeding facilities are notorious for their squalid living conditions and lack of basic animal care. For any canine living there with a disability, though, life is even tougher.
But in 2004 Smiley’s own life in these cruel conditions would finally change. And that was all down to Joanne George, who was working as a veterinary technician in Ontario, Canada. That year, she and a colleague had the task of visiting a nearby puppy mill under investigation. Sadly, though, their job was to euthanize 20 of the mill’s sick dogs.
“We were in a barn with about 85 dogs. It took us five tries to go in there because we were trying not to vomit from the smell,” George told the Washington Post in 2015. Once inside the barn, however, the technician spotted Smiley.
And what she saw was heartbreaking: little Smiley had been born with no eyes. Most likely, the defect was a result of the dog’s dwarfism. Worse still, someone had sewn his eyes shut, giving him a constantly “happy” look. But that wasn’t all: George noted that the dog also had bowed legs, an oversized jaw and a crooked gait.
But Smiley was far from being the happy camper that his name suggests, not least because the two-year-old pup had further injuries on his face and ears. No doubt he had been in some fights with other dogs at the mill. And the devastated George couldn’t help but rescue the poor animal along with ten other pups there.
Of course, though, each and every rescued dog would need a home. And as a result, George and her colleague posted adverts for the pups in an Ontario veterinary clinic. One by one, then, each pooch found a home until, finally, just one dog remained: Smiley.
Until Smiley found his perfect family, he went to live with George. And the dog was not without his problems. “He was extremely destructive and had zero house training,” the technician revealed on her website.
“He was nervous and had many anxieties about coming into a home. He cowered at the sound of another dog eating,” George continued. “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.”
But after months had passed with Smiley under George’s charge, the dog still remained homeless. “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,” George told the Washington Post. “Then I realized, ‘Why am I looking so hard? Why don’t I keep him?’ I just thought, ‘He’s mine.’”
So Smiley settled down permanently with George and her partially deaf Great Dane, Tyler. And thanks to his boundless energy, Tyler brought Smiley out of his shell. “Tyler was so bouncy and crazy and happy-go-lucky, and [Smiley] turned into the same dog,” George explained to ABC News in 2015.
Indeed, as George slowly got to see more of Smiley’s personality, she knew he was a special dog. In particular, the canine was especially good at interacting with humans. “He does something to people,” George told The Huffington Post in 2015. “People say they feel like a different person after meeting Smiley.”
And Smiley’s seemingly magical abilities with humans led George to decide to train the golden retriever as a therapy dog. “People were so drawn to him, so inspired by him,” George told CBS News in 2015. “I realized this dog has to be a therapy dog – I have to share him.”
As a consequence, George and Smiley began working with the St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog program – and the adorable retriever now spends his days visiting hospitals, schools and care homes. According to his owner, Smiley connects well with people because, being blind, he is more attuned to their emotions.
“Because he needs to feel you, he sits there forever waiting to be patted and stroked,” George revealed in her Huffington Post interview. “He leans up right against you,” she continued. “He’s never been able to see, so he’s had to learn to understand his other amazing senses. Smiley just makes people smile.”
Much of Smiley’s work, meanwhile, is with children – in particular, as a support dog for kids experiencing bereavement. In addition, he has also visited children with autism and other special needs. “These kids who were born with different disabilities are able to see that dogs, too, are born with the same disabilities,” George explained to the The Huffington Post. “It’s important for them to see that Smiley has overcome, and that he’s happy.”
And during Smiley’s work, it seemed that the cute canine was a natural at putting people at ease. During one visit to a nursing home, moreover, George realized her dog could touch even the hardest to reach people. This ability was poignantly demonstrated with a resident named Teddy.
Teddy had no way of communicating. He couldn’t speak, and some members of staff said they’d never even seen him smile. That was, of course, until Smiley came along. According to George, Teddy couldn’t help but grin at the mere sight of the doggy.
What’s more, while seeing Smiley in action it’s easy to forget that he has had to overcome his own disability. And this alone is enough for George to consider her pet an inspiration. “Dogs can come back from anything, they forget their past,” she told CBS News. “We, as humans, dwell on the past.”
Smiley has now been helping other people for almost a decade. And although his fur may be slightly graying and his steps are becoming ever slower, the dog can still make people happy with a wag of his tail. Simply through his infectious cheer, in fact, Smiley has changed hundreds of lives. And his own life has changed, too – for the better.