Thor had been through unimaginable trauma.

Last September, the 8-year-old Tibetan mastiff found himself inside a tiny cage at a dog slaughterhouse near Beijing, China. He had to watch as men brutally killed other dogs right in front of him, using them for their meat.

Since Thor was a large and physically strong mastiff, the slaughterhouse owner had hired several men to help kill him. But when the men tried killing Thor, the dog fought back.

“He was attacking them, they got bitten and so the slaughterhouse owner was upset,” Shannon Keith, president and founder of Beagle Freedom Project, a rescue group based in California, told The Dodo. “He had to pay a hospital bill for the person who was attacked by Thor.”

The slaughterhouse owner considered poisoning Thor, but then people wouldn’t be able to eat his meat. So the owner spread the word in the local community that he wanted to get rid of Thor, and asked for someone to take him. When local dog rescuers heard about Thor, they hurried to help him.

But Thor was in terrible shape — the men at the slaughterhouse had beaten him pretty badly.

“He was near death,” Keith said. “They’d tried to kill him, and he was living in a tiny cage before that. They didn’t even think he was alive. They weren’t sure.”

Thor turned out to still be alive, and the rescue team carried him out on a sheet that served as a makeshift stretcher. Then they brought him to a local dog shelter, where Thor got some basic vet care. But this shelter wasn’t a great place for him to be in.

“It’s not what we would think of when we think of a shelter,” Keith said. “It’s a very small cage outside with really nothing in it. They do the best they can there, but it doesn’t live up to any kinds of standards that we would find appropriate in the United States.”

Another Tibetan mastiff named Dolly was at the same shelter. While Dolly hadn’t made it to the slaughterhouse, she’d been put up for sale on a local website that sold dogs to meat traders. Another local rescuer had managed to save Dolly and transport her to the shelter.

When Keith heard about Thor and Dolly, she was determined to get them both to the U.S. and find them loving homes.

“Once I hear about something like that, I can’t close my eyes to it, and I can’t just turn away and say, ‘Well, I hope somebody else will help,’” Keith said. “They had been at the shelter for several months, and nobody could get near Thor except for his rescuer, and they were in horrific condition and needed more veterinary care. So what was I going to do? Of course I was going to rescue them.”

But getting Thor and Dolly to the U.S. wasn’t going to be easy. Both dogs were too big to fit inside an average dog crate, so the team had to get special, custom-made crates for them so they could be loaded onto a plane.

Last month, Thor and Dolly finally touched down in San Francisco, and Keith and a few others from Beagle Freedom Project went up to meet them. But they never expected what happened next.

“Dolly was pretty mellow, but Thor was very upset,” Keith said. “We had trouble getting close to him, even in the cage. He was really aggressive.”

Thor’s distress was understandable on some level — he’d been inside his travel crate for over 48 hours. But Keith worried about moving forward.

“I was scared,” Keith said. “I didn’t know what was going to happen. Here we brought over these two massive dogs from China who had a horrible life — especially Thor — and you want to help them so badly, and you want them to know that everything’s OK.”

“It was a scary time not being able to get near him, and figuring out how we’re going to get him to Los Angeles and what we’re going to do,” she added. “And when we get there, what do we do? And what if he’s not OK? What if he stays aggressive and no one can get near him? How do we treat him medically? How do we do anything?”

Keith and her team managed to safely transport Thor and Dolly back to LA and get them into safe, comfortable runs at a boarding facility. But they weren’t sure what to do next — that is, until Thor started to change.

“Over the next couple of days, he started to mellow out,” Keith said. “The two of them slept a lot, and then after a few days, he became a big teddy bear. He did a complete turnaround. You could hug him and kiss him and run around with him, and he just became the sweetest gentle giant I’d ever known.”

Keith credits Thor’s natural instincts for this turnaround.

“Tibetan mastiffs are extremely intelligent,” Keith said. “They’re an ancient breed, and they are less domesticated than most of the dogs that we know, so their instincts are very, very strong. They know when somebody’s good and they know when somebody’s bad. And in my opinion, Thor just got the rest he needed, he got to unwind, and realized, ‘Wow. This is a good place, and these are good people who love me.’”

“It just goes to show … how resilient these animals are, and how much we have to learn from them,” Keith added. “I don’t think any human being would have gone through what he went through, [and then] would trust so soon and so easily.”

Thor didn’t need to stay at the boarding facility for long — he ended up finding the perfect forever home.

“Thor is in a home with a woman we love,” Keith said. “She has a kind of sanctuary at her house with some of the horses we’ve rescued and rabbits we’ve rescued from laboratory research. And she loves big dogs and she absolutely fell in love with Thor’s picture. And he now lives there with her, and adores her, and she is obsessed with him, and he has an amazing life.”

Rescuing Thor was a big risk for Keith and her organization, but Keith says it was worth it — it only took a little love and patience and faith. And she’d do it again in a heartbeat.

Original Article: The DoDo