By Aly Semigran
By all accounts, neither Owen Mahan, a 10-year-old boy from Indiana, nor Chi Chi, a 3-year-old Golden Retriever from Arizona, should be here today.
Both Owen and Chi Chi had traumatic beginnings that changed the course of their lives and those around them.
When Owen was 2 years old, he fell into a bathtub full of scalding hot water, which resulted in burns covering 98 percent of his body. (The accident occurred under the care of his biological mother.)
Owen has endured multiple surgeries in his young life, including, most recently, the amputation of both of his legs. Adoptive mother Susan Mahan, who has been raising Owen since the age of 3, describes her son as “joyful and resilient.”
When Chi Chi was a pup, she was found beaten, bound, and near-death inside of a trash bag in South Korea. Her severe injuries led to the amputation of all four of her legs. Chi Chi’s survival story made its way online, thanks to the rescue organizations that helped save her and keep her alive, and captivated pet parent Elizabeth Howell in Arizona.
“I couldn’t get her off my mind. Her eyes stole my heart,” Howell recalls. “I told my husband, ‘We need to find out what’s going on with this dog…she needs to join our family.”
And she did just that. Since then, Howell says Chi Chi has been a “very happy girl” who loves going for walks, playing outside, and meeting people through her work as a certified therapy dog.
Owen recently came across Chi Chi when a teacher introduced him to the dog’s Instagram page. Owen immediately fell in love with the sweet rescue dog, and friends in the community wanted the two of them to meet.
Community members contacted the Howells in hopes of arranging a meeting. Since the Howells couldn’t get Chi Chi on a plane or in the car for such a long ride, they offered to host Owen and Susan in their home for a weekend.
Then, thanks to the generous help of well-wishers around the country (who not only donated to the travel funds for the trip, but also filled Owen’s and his siblings’ Amazon wish lists), the two were finally able to meet. Everyone from total strangers to NASCAR racer Tony Stewart contributed. “So many people wanted this to happen,” Mahan says. “I believe higher powers were working this out for us.”
Owen and Susan got on a Phoenix-bound plane in early November. Their meeting with Chi Chi was, as expected, emotional for all involved.
“When they first met, I had to control my tears,” Mahan recalls, adding that Chi Chi was kindly sniffing Owen and giving him reassuring looks. “They instantly became friends.”
The Howells and the Mahans spent a fun-filled weekend together that included a trip to an Arizona Coyotes hockey game, a party, and lots and lots of cuddles with Chi Chi. “It was a magical thing,” Howell says of watching Owen and Chi Chi bond.
“Chi Chi always has a smile on her face, and so does Owen,” Mahan says. “To see those two together, I don’t have the proper words to express how that felt.”
Both the Howells and the Mahans describe Chi Chi and Owen as spirited and forgiving, despite their circumstances.
“They have challenges and can relate to each other, and that brought them together,” Howell says. “They give people the hope or motivation they need to move on or overcome what they are facing.”
The meeting between these two kindred spirits has struck a chord not only with the Mahans and Howells, but with people all over the world who have heard their story.
This makes complete sense to Mahan. “There are a lot of evil things happening in the world recently,” she says, “and to see there are still kind people out there, it restores your faith that there’s more good and it will prevail.”
Thankfully, this wasn’t the only chapter in the story of Owen and Chi Chi, but rather, just the beginning. Both families have stayed in touch every day since their weekend together—including a recent FaceTime session so Owen could see Chi Chi trying out her new prosthetics. They hope to reunite some time in 2018.