"My dogs are like family members," says former Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star

By Aili Nahas
November 15, 2019 11:00 AM

She may be a reality star, producer and restaurateur, but Lisa Vanderpump‘s real passion lies with animals, namely her Vanderpump Dog Foundation.

“I hope that will be my legacy,” the former Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star, 59, tells PEOPLE of her impassioned work to protect dogs. “It’s been a slow gradual awareness, but thanks to the vehicle of a reality show, and Bravo so kindly gave us the airtime, it’s been wonderful.”

Three years ago, longtime devoted dog lover Vanderpump, who currently has seven rescues, became aware of the Yulin Dog Meat Festival, an annual celebration in China during which some revelers eat dog meat. Horrified, Vanderpump and her husband, Ken Todd, sprang into action, establishing the Vanderpump Dog Foundation in order to spread awareness and encourage humane treatment of dogs worldwide.

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Lisa Vanderpump
| Credit: Aaron Poole/E! Entertainment/NBCU/Getty

“I’ve worked really hard,” says Vanderpump, whose annual gala will take place Nov. 21 in Los Angeles. “I just want to keep drawing attention to [the cause] and to rescue dogs. They are so grateful for a chance at a second life.”

It was partly due to a mixup over a dog that Vanderpump’s former costar Dorit Kemsley adopted from the foundation that led to Vanderpump’s falling out with the women on the show, and eventual departure last June.

“Everything shifted in my brain,” says Vanderpump, who was also grieving the loss of her brother, who died by suicide in 2018. “All the things that I was involved with became more important. The foundation is of the utmost importance to me.”

Credit: Vanderpump Dogs/Instagram

And Vanderpump has stayed true to her word. Since its inception in 2016, Vanderpump Dog Foundation has saved 1,300 dogs. Their impassioned work has also led to a decreased presence at the Festival in Yulin. In addition, Vanderpump and her team have helped push Congress to pass the PACT Act, which makes animal torture a federal crime, and also advocated for a House resolution urging nations to prohibit trade in dog and cat meat.

“To have success, that excited me,” says Vanderpump, who owns popular restaurants and also executive produces Bravo’s Vanderpump Rules. “But to have success in a philanthropic way, that excites me even more. I never thought I’d be speaking in Congress. So I really don’t know what’s around the corner.”

The Vanderpump Dog Foundation’s annual gala will take place Nov. 21 in Los Angeles. Click here for tickets.