Just before Christmas last year, the RCMP's Toronto North Detachment welcomed a blind golden retriever as an honorary police service dog — complete with a paw-signed oath document and badge.
Born without eyes, Smiley captured global attention and the hearts of many last year when his story went viral.
In 2004, the SPCA rescued the golden retriever from a puppy mill in Stouffville, Ont., where he had endured neglect and bullying from other dogs. Joanne George, a dog trainer, adopted him soon after his rescue.
"It was after making friends with other happy-go-lucky dogs and undergoing corrective surgery to alleviate pain in his eye sockets that the real Smiley came out," she says.
With some nurturing from George, Smiley managed to overcome his terrible beginnings to become a certified St. John Ambulance therapy dog. Since 2010, he has been lifting up the hearts and minds of children, the disabled and mentally ill patients in the Stouffville area.
Cst. Terry Russel, a police-community relations coordinator for the Greater Toronto Area, met Smiley when he was working at the Toronto Royal Winter Fair in November.
He was so inspired by Smiley's ability to rise above adversity to help others that he decided to make the retriever an honorary RCMP service dog.
"You can't help but love him," says Russel. "He's a beautiful dog inside and out, everyone who meets him falls in love with his happy spirit."
Russel says Smiley inspires everyone he meets to volunteer and be more active members of the community. The RCMP and Smiley are now working together — the dog has an open invitation to attend police outreach events.
"We speak to a lot of at-risk youth who have been exposed to violence and injury just like Smiley has," says Russel. "He helps rebuild that trust."
— with files from Amelia Thatcher
Reprinted with permission from the Pony Express (No. 2, 2016).