— -- A golden retriever named “Smiley” is living up to his name as a therapy dog who brightens the days of patients and nursing home residents in the small town of Stouffville, Canada.
Smiley was born without eyes, but is still able to work as a St. John’s Ambulance service dog in Ontario. The dog’s owner, Joanne George, rescued the dog from a puppy mill, when he was about 1 or 2 years old.
“He was very scared, [the dogs] had never been out of that barn,” George recalled, adding that Smiley quickly bonded with another one of his dogs, a deaf Great Dane named Tyler.
“Tyler was so bouncy and crazy and happy go lucky and [Smiley] turned into the same dog,” George said. “He came out from underneath the tables where he was always hiding.”
George said seeing Smiley interact with crowds made her realize he would be a perfect therapy dog. She now brings the dogs to hospitals and schools in the area and says the dog almost always brightens people’s days.
She said at one nursing home, she realized how even a small visit with Smiley could make people happy.
“There was this man Teddy, [he had] no speech, no communication at all,” George said of one memorable nursing home resident. “[The staff] had never seen Teddy smile before.”
But once Smiley came up to Teddy, George said the staff was amazed. “[Teddy] smiled when Smiley got into his vision,” George said
George said after caring for Smiley for 10 years, she has learned a lot about how to care for blind dogs.
“Somebody through St. John’s Ambulance is wanting to adopt a dog that’s blind,” George said. “I told her all those things don’ t be his eyes, don’t run his life, don’t’ keep him in a bubble.”
She said it's key for Smiley to figure out how to get around on his own. George said Smiley is mostly able to get around on his own without too much difficulty.
"Does he bump into things? Of course, he does. But he does it very carefully," George said, noting the dog’s "high" steps when he walks. "He’s feeling with his feet."