“It’s rare nowadays to find organizations that don’t give back in some way. We are very fortunate. I would consider purchasing from and promoting companies who give back. It shows they care about others and envision the ultimate benefits.”
Joanne George’s love and compassion for animals and people is evident. She has been taking care of animals as a Veterinary Assistant for over twenty years and had been rescuing, rehabilitating and finding homes for dogs for ten years before her son was born. Joanne is educated in canine behaviour, and is a professional member of the Canadian Association of Professional Pet Dog trainers, as well as a Therapy Dog Evaluator for St. John Ambulance.
While working as a veterinarian technician, Joanne was sent to a puppy mill to treat some dogs that the S.P.C.A. had concerns about. The owner of the puppy mill wanted all the dogs with health issues euthanized, but they convinced the breeder to allow them to take these dogs and find homes for them instead of euthanizing them. One particular golden retriever, just over a year old, had been born without eyes. He was anxious and timid, with scars on his face from where other dogs had bitten him when he tried to get to food. He would hide from everyone. Nobody thought he’d respond to training, but Joanne intended to find him a home; however, nobody wanted him. It’s hard to believe this dog is none other than the wonderfully happy and lovable Smiley, a therapy dog for St. John Ambulance since 2010. Smiley transfers love to others with his uncanny sensitivity as to how people really feel. Joanne takes Smiley on visits to nursing homes and hospitals, where he teaches people much about their own lives. Joanne and Smiley kicked off the anti-bullying campaign in a local elementary school in 2015. This same year, Joanne combined a meet and greet with Smiley and a summer fundraiser to fill backpacks with school supplies, then donated them to the Stouffville Foodbank to be distributed to needy families with school-aged children.
“Smiley would cower and crawl away when he heard dogs eating, associating that sound with being injured. I was able to show him that he could be around other dogs when they are eating and he wouldn’t get bitten anymore. Now they all eat in a line.”
Despite his rough start, Smiley is a testament to second chances. Smiley taught Joanne that dogs can recover from early trauma if you help them to move on. Joanne taught Smiley to face his fears and overcome them, and now Smiley is a beacon of hope for older rescue dogs and dogs with special needs. In every situation Joanne assisted by confidently showing Smiley that all was well. Another positive influence on Smiley was Joanne’s partly deaf Great Dane, Tyler, whose happy demeanour rubbed off on Smiley. With Joanne’s able assistance and training, Smiley can now demonstrate how to rise above adversity, not just by surviving, but by going beyond to give back.
In the local weekly library reading program, children learn to read to Smiley in a non-judgmental environment. They begin to read fluidly out loud without anxiety because Smiley is there, and their parents see a remarkable improvement in the children’s reading skills as a result. In addition to visiting nursing homes and hospitals, this amazing duo are welcomed at schools, group homes, and special needs facilities. Joanne and Smiley have even been asked to attend funerals to help children who are grieving. At Special Needs Facilities for adults with severe mental and physical disabilities, Smiley’s silky soft coat gives that therapeutic tactile feeling for residents who can’t see or speak. And because he has no sight, Smiley is much more sensitive to how a person is feeling than the average dog.
“Smiley has proven himself to me many times. When he’s in a group of people, he will often focus on someone and lean in to them to share his love with them. We would find out later that they were going through some tough things in their life.”
Smiley is a certified child therapy dog and honourary RCMP service dog. Joanne feels strongly that she is a better person for having Smiley in her life, but adults and children alike have benefited because Joanne was willing to give him a home and a second chance.