R.I.P. Smiley, Blind Puppy Mill Survivor Who Became an Inspiring Therapy Dog

smiley golden retriever blind therapy dog

Smiley, a 16-year-old Golden Retriever who spent most of his life inspiring people with special needs, crossed the Rainbow Bridge today.

“Dogs can come back from anything. They forget their past,” his dog mom, Joanne George, a dog trainer who lives in Stouffville, Canada, told CBS News two years ago. “We as humans, dwell on the past.”

The particular dog George she was referring to was Smiley, who spent the first couple years of his life in a puppy mill. If that alone wasn’t bad enough, Smiley was born with dwarfism — and without eyes.

George rescued Smiley when he was 2 years old. “He was very scared,” she told ABC News. “[The dogs] had never been out of that barn.”

Although Smiley initially cowered at the sound of George’s other dog, a partially deaf Great Dane named Tyler, the two became best friends as Tyler helped bring Smiley out of his shell. “Tyler was so bouncy and crazy and happy-go-lucky, and [Smiley] turned into the same dog,” George told ABC News. “He came out from underneath the tables where he was always hiding.”

As Smiley blossomed, George noticed the positive effect he had on people who were naturally drawn to and inspired by her special dog. “I realized this dog has to be a therapy dog — I have to share him,” she told CBS News.

Smiley and George joined the St. John Ambulance therapy dog program in Ontario. Smiley helped children with special needs learn to read through a library literacy program, and also comforted people at funeral homes and nursing homes.

Until Smiley came along, the employees of one nursing home had never seen a mute patient named Teddy express any emotion.

“One day, Smiley put his feet up in front of [Teddy], and he started smiling and making noise,” George told CBS News. “All of the nurses rushed into the room and said they’ve never seen him smile — never seen any kind of reaction.”

Smiley touched hearts around the world when he became a social media sensation, with nearly half a million followers on Facebook and Instagram.

In July, veterinarians found tumors on Smiley’s liver and stomach. As his health quickly deteriorated, George made the difficult decision to end his suffering. “It’s the only way we can repay him for all he’s done,” she wrote on Smiley’s Facebook page yesterday. “He’s had enough.”

Farewell, sweet Smiley. All around the world, many of us are shedding tears for a dog we never had the privilege to meet. My heart goes out to George and her family. How lucky Smiley was to have such a loving and devoted dog mom.

“Please, in honor of Smiley — see the world around you with your ❤️, be kind to others and give back in any way you can,” George wrote on Smiley’s Facebook page today in her announcement of her beloved dog’s death.

Let’s all do it.

Photo via Twitter

Laura Goldman

I am a freelance writer and lifelong dog lover. For five years, I was a staff writer for i Love Dogs. When that site shut down, I started this blog...because I STILL Love Dogs!