Despite being man’s best friend for thousands of years, dogs still face unbearable cruelty all over the globe. From the millions of strays scavenging for food in India to the pups poorly bred in puppy mills across in the U.S., not every pooch is given the luxury of a cozy bed and an endlessly-filled water bowl. When it comes to the dogs living an existence of torment and despair, perhaps there is no worse example than the harrowing meat trade in China. Despite the official declaration in 2020 from the government that outlawed the use of dogs for livestock, every year thousands of dogs are stolen, kidnapped, or picked up as strays to be sold to black-market slaughterhouses where they meet their gruesome fate.
Kristina McKean, Founder and CEO of The Elephant Project, the Santa Barbara-based philanthropic toy company that donates all the proceeds from its plushies to animal rescue efforts, is using the power of the company’s latest stuffed animal, Lulu, to raise awareness and funds for these dogs in need. A long-time animal lover, McKean founded the company in 2017 after witnessing the cruelty of tourist elephant rides in Thailand — with a goal to donate all the sales of her toys to the elephant sanctuaries, orphanages, and aligned organizations that are committed to their saving and rehabilitation. Since founding the company, she has released three elephant plushies that have aided in bringing hundreds of elephants to proper sanctuaries where they can be given the livelihood they deserve. Now, McKean is taking this same approach to support organizations dedicated to re-homing rescued dogs from the cruel underground meat-trade in China.
“I hope that with the introduction of Lulu and the animals before her, we can encourage a compassionate mindset in people of all ages, fostering empathy and nurturing a sense of responsibility for animals in need,” said McKean. “With an array of beautiful pups of every breed seeking homes, we truly have the power to make a meaningful difference by providing these precious animals with a safe and loving environment.”
Earlier this year, McKean was able to visit the source of her company’s initial inspiration, Elephant Nature Park, where she finally greeted many of the elephants that The Elephant Project played a key role in saving. During her journey, she had the opportunity to meet the beloved Baby Chaba, a rescued baby elephant and the real-world living counterpart to The Elephant Project’s SaveUs™ collection mini plushie. She also shadowed the work of Lek Chailert, Founder of Elephant Nature Park, who serves as an ongoing source of inspiration to McKean due to her relentless efforts to rescue and take care of thousands of animals from elephants, cats, dogs, horses, monkeys, and more. Despite McKean’s renewed hope in the ability of those like her and Chailert to bring all suffering animals to a place of safety and shelter, she was reminded of the continuous cruel conditions taking place in Thailand, as she witnessed a popular “riding camp” where elephants are chained and treated horribly with bullhooks— a gut-wrenching reminder of why The Elephant Project remains committed to its mission at hand.
“We want to maintain a true, real-time understanding of the work these nonprofits are doing and the various ways our community can get involved through a toy purchase or a direct donation, and beyond,” McKean said in the aftermath of her visit to Thailand. “Ultimately, that’s our core business goal: to support these organizations and amplify the impact they’re having on the protection of these precious creatures.”
In the latest effort to aid the organizations dedicated to protecting the innocent animals of our planet, The Elephant project is unveiling Lulu— the 8-inch long adorable, huggable plushie that proudly bears the message “Adopt, Don’t Shop” on her hangtag. McKean’s inspiration for Lulu came after observing the remarkable efforts of the women at Slaughterhouse Survivors, an organization dedicated to aiding dogs affected by China’s ongoing meat trade. The California-based nonprofit has been rescuing these tortured pups since 2016, having successfully rescued more than 4,500 dogs since— working with the locals in Harbin, China who embrace the mission of bringing these precious pups the protection and well-being they need.
The launch of Lulu represents the company’s efforts to make a tangible and meaningful difference in the lives of dogs in rescues and shelters across the United States and beyond. The new plush toy was carefully crafted out of the softest plush fabric, making it a great gift for kids to serve as their cuddly companions. More importantly, McKean vows to use all the proceeds from Lulu’s sales to support local and international animal rescue initiatives, with a heavy emphasis on helping rehome the abused dogs in China.
“Creating Lulu and others before her was no easy task,” continued McKean. “We constantly strive for quality and focus on detail with every creation. We hope her release prompts us all to remember the importance of adopting and fostering, ultimately contributing to a brighter future for dogs who make incredible companions.”
You can support the company’s efforts by purchasing Lulu or any of the other available plush toys by visiting https://www.theelephantproject.com.