A statue of Smiley will likely find a permanent home on the grounds of Stouffville’s refurbished public library.
The sightless Golden Retriever, who had become the unofficial Stouffville mascot, died this past fall, but for 14 years he could be seen around town as a goodwill ambassador, always available for a hug and willing to lend a helpful paw. Over time his notoriety grew as he became both a therapy dog and an inspiration for children to overcome their own adversity.
Joanne George, the person who raised Smiley after rescuing him from a puppy mill, says a $30,000 bronze statue has been commissioned through American artist Lena Toritch. The likeness will be ready next summer. All funds are being generated through an online campaign. A Canadian artist was sought for the project but the quoted estimates were prohibitive.
While members of Whitchurch-Stouffville council haven’t given official permission for the installation, it was evident at a recent meeting, the go-ahead will be granted.
Councillors decided to first run the plan through its sponsorship policy and also consider its exact location, but it was clear the library is the favoured site. Afterward, George said she prefers the statue to be outside, but will be satisfied as long as it is connected to the library. She said the library is the proper memorial site for the statue as it will give comfort and inspiration for years to come.
“The library is where he is best known and where the community, especially children, really connected to him,” George said.
While he belongs to Stouffville, Smiley’s found international fame. There’s a book about his life, and a large following on social media, where he counts more than 300,000 people as friends.
Smiley came into George’s life when he, along with other animals, was taken from a puppy farm where they couldn’t be properly cared for and were destined to be euthanized. Born without eyes and underweight, Smiley endured harsh treatment. He bore scratches and scars inflicted by other dogs he could not fend off.
“We were able to find homes for the other dogs, but not for Smiley,” says George who, as a veterinary assistant and dog trainer, began to see his development despite his handicaps. Eventually, Smiley’s true nature became apparent and through the years his soft fur, happy face and welcoming manner melted the hearts of those he came in contact with.
Ultimately, the library is where his reputation was solidified when he would join programs to encourage young children to read without judgement.
“Children loved him, in many ways he resembled a cartoon character, it was a natural fit,” explains George. “But because of what he went through we could show children that anything is possible. Smiley was different and faced many obstacles but he showed he could overcome adversity, that if he could do it, so could you.”
George says even though Smiley was blind, he could see with his heart, and that is what people – no matter what age – came to appreciate and use for inspiration.
So far, $11,000 has been raised for the statue and she foresees no problem meeting the goal as donations have grown steadily in a short time.