Chi Chi, a three-year-old golden retriever, is energetic and loving. She likes squeaky toys and carrots and cuddles with her owners, Elizabeth Howell, her husband and their daughter.
But Chi Chi is no ordinary dog: She’s a quadruple amputee who walks with four custom prosthetic legs. And her story of redemption — one that began at a South Korean dog meat operation and now continues across the world in the Howells’ comfortable Phoenix home — has earned her a strong online following, as well as a growing one in her in own community.
Chi Chi, who Howell says is a “blessing,” finished a therapy dog training course last month and now visits a veterans center, an assisted-living facility and special-needs students at an elementary school.
It’s a remarkable transformation for a dog who was left in a trash bag outside a meat market in 2016. Her legs had been bound with wire, leaving bones and tissue exposed. The rescue group that found her was going to euthanize her but had second thoughts after rescuers saw her wagging tail, Howell said. Instead, they decided to amputate her legs.
Kelly O’Meara, senior director for companion animals with Humane Society International, said an estimated 2.5 million dogs are slaughtered for consumption each year in South Korea. Activists say the centuries-old practice of eating dog meat is falling out of favor among younger generations, but slowly.
Nabiya Irion Hope Project, an animal welfare group in South Korea, sent Chi Chi to the Animal Rescue Media and Education (ARME) group in Los Angeles, where she stood a better chance of adoption. Howell said she saw one video of the dog and “couldn’t get her off my mind.”
The Howells decided they wanted to make Chi Chi their next dog. ARME drove her from Los Angeles to Phoenix in March 2016. Six months later, she was fitted with custom prosthetics that allow her to walk and run.
After a short but traumatic lifetime of abuse, Howell said, Chi Chi was reticent to interact at first. But that changed in a matter of months.
“Dogs aren’t judging. They love everyone the same. Somehow dogs can just reach a person in ways humans can’t,” Howell said. “Is that compassion? Understanding? I don’t know. But it’s really special to be able to see. I can’t tell you how many people meet her and just start crying.”