When Chi Chi the golden retriever was rescued from a trash bag in the South Korean countryside, there was little hope that she’d be able to walk again.
The three-year-old dog had suffered a lifetime of abuse and was soon to be killed for the dog meat trade, but it was her courageous spirit -- and a team of rescuers -- that saved her.
“She was found with her legs bound and they were already worn down to the bone, and at the ties her tissue was already dead,” Elizabeth Howell, Chi Chi’s caretaker, told CTV News Channel.
“At that point [the rescue team] felt she was in a terrible condition, had to be in horrible pain, but she was wagging her tail and she was leaning forward to them almost as if she knew they were there to save her . . . so they decided that she had a will to live and they needed to help her.”
The people who found Chi Chi drove five hours to Seoul, South Korea, where they arranged for a team of veterinarians to help save the dog. Ultimately, the team decided that all of Chi Chi’s legs had to be amputated for the retriever to live.
Just a day after the amputation procedure, Howell and her family saw a video of Chi Chi on social media. She and her husband Richard Howell then made the decision to adopt Chi Chi.
“She was obviously bandaged up and still attached to medical equipment but she was wagging her tail and leaning forward for the person that was taking the video to pet her, and she just captured my heart from that minute,” Howell said.
After two-months of recovery, Chi Chi arrived in Los Angeles and was driven to Phoenix, Arizona where she began a new chapter of her life as a therapy dog.
“When we adopted her, our primary focus obviously was just to care for her, and give her the best quality of life that we could – we didn’t even know if she would be able to walk again,” Howell said. “But as she settled into our home and she learned to trust people again, and she realized that she was safe and protected and no one was ever going to hurt her again, then her true spirit came out as the loving, happy dog that she really is. And it was at that point that we said, ‘Wow she would really make a really great therapy dog.’”
The Howells had been familiar with therapy dogs, having shared their home with several in the past. Howell says Chi Chi is a natural at connecting with people, and has shown a strong ability to love and trust humans again despite her grisly past.
“She loves to go visit with people of all ages. . . . She’ll just snuggle right up to someone and let them pet her, and she makes the connection with people that really is hard to understand and describe, she just meets them where they’re at,” Howell said.
“They really connect with her, people with all kinds of challenges, people hurting, children that are learning to read, veterans -- we meet with all kinds of people through our therapy work.”
Aside from her work as a therapy dog, Chi Chi has become somewhat of a social media celebrity. She’s edging closer to 20,000 followers on Instagram and has more than 36,000 “likes” on her Facebook page.
“People like waking up and seeing what Chi Chi did today and who she saw,” Howell said. “People are just inspired by her.”
The Howells have set up a GoFundMe page for those interested in helping Chi Chi. The retriever requires extra veterinary care and ongoing prosthetics work. She also suffers from Lupus.