Chi Chi, who visits hospitals as a therapy dog three times a week, recently developed several mast cell tumors that she had surgically removed

By Michelle Boudin
February 08, 2018 10:56 AM

Even on her way home from surgery to remove a potentially cancerous tumor last week, Chi Chi, a golden retriever therapy dog, was still smiling.

Her owner Elizabeth Howell says, “It’s amazing when I picked her up she was still under meds but just smiling and happy to be riding in the car to go home. She’s just very resilient. Maybe in her mind this is no big deal because of all that she’s been through.”

Chi Chi first came to live with the Howell family in Phoenix, Arizona, two years ago after being rescued from a dumpster in South Korea where she’d apparently been left for dead. Her legs had been tied together with wire and were severely infected. The only way to save her was to amputate all four paws. Now, she gets around with four prosthetics and seems to love working as a therapy dog in schools and hospitals. She’s an especially big hit with fellow amputees.

The Howell Family

Howell tells PEOPLE, “She has lots of love to share, she really inspires people. It’s amazing the way she touches people that are facing so many different situations. She has a lot more work to do so we just want her to be healthy.”

The Howell Family

Chi Chi is now facing a new hurdle. Last October, Howell found a mole near Chi Chi’s tail that concerned the vet. They removed it, ran tests, and learned it was a mast cell tumor. “When the vet called to say that it was cancer, we were stunned.”

The Howell Family

The family was equally shocked a month later when, just before Thanksgiving, Chi Chi had a second cancerous tumor removed.

The vet has told the Howells that this kind of cancer is genetic and that the family will have to continually keep an eye out for new tumors.

The Howell Family

“It’s been really difficult. She’s been through so much, and survived so much, and she’s a fighter, and to have her have to go through all of this too – it isn’t fair. She has so much more love and joy to give and share with the world.”

Chi Chi has had to take a brief break from her thrice-weekly therapy visits to recover from her operations, but she had her own very special visitor a few months ago. Ten-year-old Owen Mahan flew from Indiana to visit Chi Chi after falling in love with her through the dog’s Instagram and Facebook accounts. Mahan has burns over 98 percent of his body and had both of his legs amputated last year. He immediately felt a connection with Chi Chi.

Courtesy Chi Chi Rescue Dog

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Owen’s mom Susan says, “They both had to endure such horrible things and they both still have such a positive outlook on life. To see them together was amazing. There’s a lot of mean in the world and these two bring out the good.”

Courtesy Chi Chi Rescue Dog

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Mahan’s family has a GoFundMe account set up to help raise money for a return visit.

Howell says that would be good for everyone.

The Howell Family

Right now, Chi Chi and her supportive network of family and friends are focused on cherishing every day, instead of worrying about what the future may hold.

“Chi Chi makes the most of her life every day and we are committed to giving her a life filled with love,” Howell says.