Salt Lake City sculptor helps Smiley’s legacy live on

Mar 27, 2018, 4:41 PM | Updated: 9:38 pm

SALT LAKE CITY – There’s a certain amount of pressure to recreate something so special.

“Let’s see your little nose,” said Lena Toritch to a sculpture of a dog she was working on. “I usually talk to my statues when nobody is watching.”

Toritch has sculpted lots of dogs in her shop at the Young Fine Art Studio in Salt Lake City, but when it came time to sculpt Smiley, well, that’s real pressure. “Yes, it’s a responsibility. Everybody knows Smiley. Hopefully, he looks just like they remember him,” she said.

Smiley, who lived in Canada, was born without eyes and was set be euthanized in a puppy mill in 2004. He was adopted at the last minute, though, by the veterinarian technician who was supposed to euthanize him. Smiley became a therapy dog visiting schools and libraries to show children even though you might be different you can still overcome adversity.

“He makes me smile every time I start sculpting him,” said Toritch with a laugh.

Smiley was a social media star in Canada with hundreds of thousands of people following his story when he died this past October. Even Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met Smiley before the dog passed away from cancer. Smiley’s story was shared around the world and his statue will be placed outside the library in his hometown of Stouffville, Ontario.

“I’m sure kids will be touching his nose,” said Toritch. However, before the sculpture went to be bronzed in Lehi, it had to get final approval from Smiley’s owners. When Joanne George and her son Shepherd saw the sculpture for the first time, they started crying. “Oh, hey buddy,” said Joanne with a sniff as she pet the dog as if he were alive. “This is amazing.” The nose, the ears, even his paw held up to shake, this was Smiley.

“We didn’t teach him many tricks because when you’re this cute you don’t have to do tricks. But we did teach him to shake,” said Joanne with a smile. “He changed peoples’ lives and got people through really tough times. I keep getting messages from them since he passed away. He was important to a lot of people all over the world.”

Before giving approval, Joanne and Shepherd put their name and initials in Smiley’s base. It’s something for people to see and talk about in the future. “That was his great-grandchildren can one day come here and say that’s my great-grandfather. Smiley was his dog,” said Joanne. However, the reason for their visit wasn’t only to give approval of the sculpture, it was also to introduce their new puppy, Sunny, to Smiley.

“What’s that,” Joanne asked him playfully as she held Sunny up to the sculpture and it began sniffing its nose.

Sunny is also a golden retriever, and like Smiley was also born without eyes. “To carry on Smiley’s legacy and lessons,” said Joanne.

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Salt Lake City sculptor helps Smiley’s legacy live on