Vanderpump Dog Foundation Helps Dogs at Home and Abroad
by Elizabeth Xu Contributor
On November 28, 2016, five dogs arrived in Chicago after a very long journey from Shenzhen, China. Previously living in the Shenzhen Dog Protection Association and brought to the United States by the Vanderpump Dog Foundation, these dogs were just starting their new lives in America—lives that wouldn’t have been possible in China due to laws banning them.
“They’re safe and they’re in a wonderful sanctuary where they’re loved and cared for, but they will never really get homes because there’s nowhere to have them,” says Dr. John Sessa, executive director of the Vanderpump Dog Foundation. “If you’re in Shenzhen you can’t have one of these 29 dog breeds.”
The banned breeds include Collies, German Shepherds, and most dogs over 30 centimeters, or 11 inches, tall.
If these dogs weren’t taken in by the sanctuary, chances are they would’ve made their way to the dog meat trade, Sessa says. An early mission for the Vanderpump Dog Foundation was stopping the Yulin Dog Meat Festival, a festival in China that celebrates eating dogs.
“We understand there’s a long tradition in eating dogs, but this tradition of the Yulin Dog Meat Festival only started in 2010, so it’s not like it’s some ancient tradition that’s been going on forever,” Sessa says. “It’s a new tradition that’s celebrating the brutality of slaughter.”
The fight to stop the festival is ongoing. Co-founded by Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Lisa Vanderpump her husband Ken Todd, the Vanderpump Dog Foundation focuses on three things: legislation, awareness, and grassroots campaigns. Legislative work includes working to pass measures like Resolution 752, which aims to stop the Yulin Dog Meat Festival and end the dog meat trade in China. Awareness includes coordinating activities such as World Dog Day, which took place in May 2016 in West Hollywood and brought in over 4,000 attendees. The dogs rescued from China are part of the foundation’s grassroots efforts.
While the Vanderpump Dog Foundation brought these dogs to the U.S. for adoption, they realize there are local animal issues that need addressed, too.
“We’re not really advocating bringing dogs over here because we’re also trying to combat our overpopulation in Los Angeles County,” Sessa says. “Almost 3,000 dogs are euthanized every quarter here . . . . We’re really trying to do some things over there as far as providing vet care, food, and adoption assistance.”
Bringing dogs all the way from China is not without complications, Sessa says. First came the selection process. Of 85 dogs in the Shenzhen Dog Protection Association, only five were chosen to be brought over based on their temperament, health, and adoptability. To make adoption easier, video was taken to shine a light on the dogs’ personalities and also to show how they interact with people. After that, the dogs had to have rabies shots and other vaccinations 30 days prior to leaving. Finally, a pet transporter took the dogs from China to Hong Kong, where they have to stay 12 to 24 hours before being able to leave.
This process costs about $2,000 per dog and it’s not necessarily an easy experience for the dogs to go through.
“They’re in there for, at times, 36 hours, they do have a food and water bowl [in the crate], but it is a process,” Sessa says. “We were nervous what their conditions would be [when they landed], but I was shocked. They were so happy.”
The five dogs brought over in November came from various backgrounds, but Sessa says all likely would’ve ended up in the dog meat trade. In fact, two started out in a slaughterhouse and two others were on a truck bound for a slaughterhouse but were saved because they didn’t have the necessary paperwork.
“In 2013 [the government] said that every dog transported for slaughter needed to have a certificate of origin, but they don’t do that because they’re stolen pets,” Sessa says. “Our activists are surrounding trucks, physically, 200 at a time, calling authorities and making them enact the law. That’s how these dogs are saved.”
Now the dogs are housed in Kentucky and Indiana. Two are still awaiting adoption, but Sessa has no doubt they’ll be adopted soon.
The future looks bright (and busy!) for the Vanderpump Dog Foundation. In 2017, they’re releasing a documentary, potentially partnering with the non-profit organization Marley’s Mutts on a program that helps prison inmates train service dogs, and focusing on local Los Angeles campaigns. They’re also opening a 6,000-square foot rescue center.
“It will be kind of like the cat cafes that are coming up where we’ll have little Lisa Vanderpump living rooms and we’re bringing in 10 to 15 south central and west L.A. kill shelter dogs,” Sessa says. “It gives them a chance to be adopted in a more luxurious and nice setting than having to go to a shelter.”