FORT COLLINS, Colo — If you ask EunJi Kwak about her best friend Blue, she’ll tell you without hesitation—he’s the “best scam” she’s ever fallen for.
“They told me that he would be a 30-pound border collie, but he’s clearly some kind of funny 70-pound mix now,” Kwak laughed.
Kwak credits the 70-pound, furry “scam” with saving her life. Six years ago, before her dog Blue entered her life, she was homeless in Los Angeles and battling PTSD after being assaulted.
“I honestly felt like I just didn’t have a reason to go on,” Kwak recalled. “It just didn’t make sense to wake up every morning, to keep trying, because on my own life didn’t make sense.”
She couldn’t see a future ahead of herself, but she did know that she needed companionship she could count on. Perhaps against her better judgment, she met a man selling a puppy in a McDonald’s parking lot.
“For some reason, I felt like my last $200 really would have gone well to him,” Kwan said, gesturing towards Blue sitting by her feet. “Which, wasn’t financially sound, but it absolutely changed my life.”
Raising Blue became a reason for EunJi Kwak to wake up every morning, and to start dreaming of a brighter future that the two of them could build together. She landed a job as a receptionist at a veterinarian’s office, and started taking online classes during the pandemic to get into veterinary school herself. She’s now in her first year at Colorado State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, deemed one of the top programs in the country.
“When I applied to vet school, I applied to as many as I could possibly put on my credit card,” she recalled. “And to get into like the number two school is unbelievable.”
In between her classes, Kwak receives hands-on learning and work at CSU’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital—where fate stepped into her life again. She was working in the emergency room when Knox the golden retriever came in, battling cancer just weeks before he was named the 2022 Top Dog at Odell Brewing Company. Inspired, Kwak began her own mission to get Blue on a can of beer, too.
“I got into vet school because of him,” she said. “But I felt like he deserved something. It just felt like he wasn’t getting recognized for everything he did. So when I moved [to Fort Collins], and I saw that they were having a contest to put a dog on a beer, I thought ‘he’s really handsome.’ I thought he would do really well. I thought people would buy beers if he was on it.”
Kwak thought right. Among a pack of talented and adorable dogs at Odell Brewing Company on Sunday–each showing off in handcrafted costumes and doing routines with their owners—Blue beat out the competition for the2023 ” FoCo Top Dog”, thanks in no small part to the touching story Kwak shared with the crowd. Soon, a candid photo of Blue seeming to wink at the camera will be on an Odell beer label. The event, a fundraiser for the Northern Colorado Wildlife Center, raised $30,000 to aid in rescue efforts for injured and endangered animals throughout the state.
Cracking open a can of Blue’s beer will be gratifying, to be sure, even if Kwak isn’t “much of a drinker” usually. Her real mission behind the beer can, though, is to send a message to others who may find themselves in the dark place she was in years ago. She hopes they can see themselves though Blue’s eyes, like she has learned to do.
“Dogs see us for the way we want to be seen, like who we want to be rather than what we are,” Kwak said. “He sees me as the person I want to be rather than who I was.”
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