The tragic thing about loving pets is how quickly they leave us. Animal lovers the world over are grieving for Smiley, a blind therapy dog with an irresistible grin and an inspiring rescue story.
Smiley was rescued from a Canadian puppy mill in 2004. Veterinary technician Joanne George had been sent to euthanize around 20 of the 80-plus dogs living in this horrific breeding kennel. Smiley — born without eyes, and with a form of dwarfism — was on her list.
“We were in a barn with about 85 dogs,” George told The Washington Post in 2015. “It took us five tries to go in there because we were trying not to vomit from the smell.”
George and another vet tech decided to find homes for the dogs instead of euthanizing them. All were adopted except for Smiley, who continued living with George in Stouffville, Ontario.
At first, the dog was scarred, scared and unsocialized. But over time, George realized that he was also home.
“I just thought, ‘He’s mine,'” she told The Post.
As Smiley adjusted to his new life and his utterly delightful personality began to blossom, George started bringing him to a nursing home to visit her grandmother. She noticed that everyone perked up around her always-smiling dog.
“I thought he’d be such a great therapy dog,” she said to the Toronto Star — and she was right.
For more than a decade, Smiley visited places like nursing homes, libraries and schools. He even had a meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“He does something to people,” George told The Huffington Post. “People say they feel like a different person after meeting Smiley.”
Smiley had the same effect on those who only had the pleasure of knowing him online, building a devoted fan base while spreading awareness about puppy mills and pet adoption, and helping prove that special-needs animals are wonderful companions.
Smiley was certainly that to George and her young son Shepherd, whose loving relationship was well-documented on Smiley's popular social media pages.
Over the summer, Smiley was found to have masses on his liver and stomach. After a short and devastating battle with cancer, the 15-year-old dog was euthanized on Saturday.
On Facebook, George expressed the grief and pain that everyone who has lost a pet understands all too well. In return, those who adored Smiley from afar shared what he's meant to them: kindness and joy, and hope.
George has asked that Smiley's legacy fit the life he lived.
"In Smiley’s honour," she wrote, "please be kind to one another, give back, and always see with your heart."