Chi Chi, a three-and-a-half-year-old golden retriever living in Arizona, seems to be smiling in every picture.
“She’s just happy every day, that’s what I love about her,” says Elizabeth Howell, Chi Chi’s owner.
That’s why it’s so hard to believe all Chi Chi went through before finding her forever home with Elizabeth and her family in Phoenix.
Chi Chi is originally from South Korea where she was found in a dumpster, apparently left for dead.
Richard Howell says, “She was dumped in a trash bin. Her legs were tied up and bound with wire and her leg tissue was severely damaged and she was getting an infection.”
Incredibly, a rescue group found her and got her to a vet who realized the only way to save her was to amputate all four of her legs.
The day after her surgery the group – who also works with an L.A.-based rescue group – posted a video of Chi Chi. She was already smiling and wagging her tail.
Elizabeth saw the video and knew she had to bring Chi Chi home.
She tells PEOPLE, “You could tell she just wanted to be petted and her eyes just stole my heart. She was just in my heart from that minute on.”
In January 2016, Elizabeth reached out to ARME (Animal Rescue and Media (and) Education) the L.A. arm of the rescue group. They worked to get Chi Chi from South Korea to L.A., and finally to Phoenix in March of last year.
“She was afraid of people when she came to us. She obviously had been very poorly treated,” Elizabeth says.
But in just a few months, the recovering dog realized she was safe and she began to relax and trust her new family.
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The Howells had prosthetics made for her. Every morning Richard picks her up, carries her downstairs and puts the prosthetics on each of her legs.
“It’s actually kind of cool, she gets around really well on them,” says fourteen-year old Megan Howell. Elizabeth adds, “She runs some, she jumps on the couch and she can go up and down the stairs. She’s determined to do anything and she does not give up. If she wants to do something she finds a way to do it.”
Fittingly, Chi Chi also works as a therapy dog. She regularly visits the local VA hospital, a rehab facility for amputees and she goes to an elementary school where the kids love to read to her.
Richard tells PEOPLE, “She’s an amazing soul, she’s more than an animal, she really touches everybody she meets in a positive way. Her story proves you can go through something horrendous and with the right attitude you can get through anything.”
Chi Chi recently worked with a woman who’d just had an amputation. That woman told the Howells, if Chi Chi can do it with four prosthetics, I can do it with one.
The family also created a Facebook page for Chi Chi and they get messages daily from people around the world saying her smile helped them get through a difficult day.
Soon Chi Chi is going to get some much needed additional help. Her legs are all amputated at different places which makes things a little complicated when it comes to fitting her prosthetics.
Next month, a Virginia prosthetist will travel to Arizona to personally fit Chi Chi for her new legs. The family has created this GoFundMe page to help pay for the service.
Her family says she is worth every penny because she brings so many people so much joy and she is teaching them important lessons daily.
“She teaches me to never give up and to keep going on when it seems impossible,” Megan says.
Elizabeth adds, “I look at her every day and she makes the most of her life every day. She is not living in the past. She lives for today and that’s the big reminder for all of us – that’s how we need to be living – we can’t get bogged down in the past. That’s how she lives – she’s very present every day and she just inspires people to do the same.”