Frida the rescue dog, who lives in Huntington Beach, gets her wings

With the help of prosthetic legs, Frida walks along a sidewalk with her owner Dr. Lisa Chong.
With the help of prosthetic legs, Frida walks along a sidewalk with her owner Dr. Lisa Chong near their home in Huntington Beach. Chong found 3-year-old Frida in Thailand, rescued her and brought her home.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“Feet, what do I need you for when I have wings to fly?” — Frida Kahlo

Frida, a 3-year-old Thai Bangkaew rescue dog, was named after the Mexican painter who endured hardships.

Kahlo found inspiration in her life and transferred it to the canvas. Frida the dog found a home in Surf City and enjoys long walks on the beach, about 2 miles a day.

Just two years ago, that would have been almost inconceivable.

Huntington Beach resident Dr. Lisa Chong and her friend Tara Austin found Frida in Thailand in December 2018, while they were volunteering at the Elephant Nature Park animal shelter.

She was in bad shape, and doctors at the time recommended amputating her hind legs, which were bare of fur and had broken bones in her paws. She also had a lumbar fracture.

With the help of prosthetic legs, Frida walks along a sidewalk near her home in Huntington Beach.
With the help of prosthetic legs, Frida walks along a sidewalk with her owner Dr. Lisa Chong near their home in Huntington Beach.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Chong thought Frida, though paralyzed, could heal. She brought Frida to the Two Hands Four Paws rehabilitation facility in Los Angeles.

Chong and Austin, a Buena Park resident, kept trying to find the right prosthetic legs to help Frida so she could walk again.

“Frida was struggling with a lot of twisting,” Chong said. “Frida’s left leg is weaker, so her left leg would turn inward and she’d fall.”

Then, on a road trip last fall, they stopped in Virginia to meet with Derrick Campana of Animal Orthocare, whose work is highlighted on the television show, “The Wizard of Paws.” Campana had some ideas, and came up with prosthetics to fit Frida.

Campana and a television crew came to Huntington Beach in December to film Frida for four days, Chong said. She will be featured on the second season of “The Wizard of Paws” in late May.

More important to Frida than being a television star is that the new prosthetic legs work.

“She can go in the sand, the grass, dig holes,” Chong said. “She’s not confined to her wheelchair, so she can explore. It’s just a crazy mental relief, as someone caring for her, to not worry about injury from the environment and the terrain. She can even walk on snow in them.”

Frida has meant a lot to Chong and Austin, former elementary school friends who have again grown close as adults. She’s also an inspiration to anyone who knows her story.

Austin said that Jerry Smith, a senior who lives alone in Westwood, had recently lost her dog, Ruby. Smith heard about Frida’s journey and kept visiting her at Two Hands Four Paws.

The distance is a bit further to Chong’s home in downtown Huntington Beach, just two blocks from the ocean, but they want to keep that friendship going.

Jerry Smith, left, and Dr. Lisa Chong are pictured with Frida, a 3-year-old Thai rescue dog.
(Courtesy of Tara Austin)

“Frida is so resilient,” Austin said. “She teaches us so much about being strong and overcoming trauma and hardship. Having mobility issues never stopped her … It’s almost like a ripple effect of goodness has happened in our lives since we found Frida. Everything Frida touches is gold. We call it, ‘the Frida effect.’”

Frida goes swimming at Animal Wellness Center of OC, located in Costa Mesa, once or twice a week. Lourdes Biancardi, the co-founder of the center, has developed a fondness for Frida. She’s also touched by the rescue dog’s story.

“I get emotional when I think about it,” Biancardi said. “If she could only talk and tell us what she’s been through in her life. It just goes to show you what love and care can do for a dog.”

Frida, who has an Instagram page where fans can track her progress at @frida_strong, is nominated for the 2021 American Humane Hero Dog Awards in the “shelter” category. Voting continues through May 6.

Her journey has compelled Chong to found the Frida Project, a nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness about street dog rescue and providing assistance to animals in need of mobility.

Chong and Austin realize there are more animals like Frida who need their wings so they can fly. Frida’s prosthetics actually feature a special type of wing that provides more support to the knee, which makes it come full circle to Frida Kahlo, whose right leg was amputated due to gangrene.

During their dinner in Thailand on that 2018 night that they found Frida, Austin said she shared her love of Kahlo’s work with Chong. That same night, they found their inspiration in the form of a beaten up Frida.

“She’s doing fantastic,” said Chong, who works as an OB GYN, of her 3-year-old wonder dog. “It’s literally a miracle, being able to witness a miracle. I’ve always felt that Frida was so much of a destiny for us. We could have chosen a different way to walk home that night, and she could have not been friendly toward us. There’s so many factors into this that just work out.”

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