For many people with physical disabilities, making oneself useful and needed is the very best therapy.
The same holds true for dogs, apparently. Smiley, a golden retriever born without eyes, has found his place in life: he works as a therapy dog, visiting nursing homes and schools, bringing joy and laughter wherever he goes.
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.”
A great big shout-out to Mrs. George, who not only adopted blind Smiley but also deaf Tyler. She gives Tyler much of the credit for Smiley’s personality, but I think someone who likes dogs as much as she obviously does deserves the lion’s share of the credit.
Domesticated cats and dogs have a natural ability to bewitch total strangers they come in contact with. Of course, it takes a certain kind of disposition — a real love for humans and a keen sense of when to approach and when to back off. Not all dogs and cats have that innate ability and empathy, but those that do perform magic with Alzheimers patients, the sick, the depressed, sick children — anyone institutionalized and in distress.
I’ve seen this magic first hand as my friend’s cat made the rounds at a hospital once a week. Talk about possessing a good disposition. Before hospital staff would allow the cat to interact with patients, she had to have a bath and a check up. But the cat sat patiently while the staff readied her for her rounds.
She was a sensation the moment she hit the ward. She was on a leash and would approach patients in the hallway, rubbing against some she knew and sitting while newcomers would stroke her luxurious fur.
But it was in the hospital rooms where the cat showed her unreal ability. The sicker a patient was, the more tender she appeared to get: nuzzling, purring loudly and insistently head-butting the hand of the patient looking for affection.
I never saw anything but smiles on the faces of patients of all ages after meeting up with her.
Smiley seems to have the same ability. The thoughts of dogs are unknowable, but you like to think Smiley is proud of himself for bringing joy and laughter to so many who need it so desperately.