2017-04-20 / Front Page

Calabasas student fights against dog cruelty

By Sylvie Belmond

RESPECT FOR ALL LIVING THINGS—Sophie Helfend and Marc Ching with a few of their friends. 
SYLVIE BELMOND/Acorn Newspapers RESPECT FOR ALL LIVING THINGS—Sophie Helfend and Marc Ching with a few of their friends. SYLVIE BELMOND/Acorn Newspapers While most Westerners value dogs for their companionship and therapeutic or working skills, some Eastern cultures use canines for food.

Many of the animals destined for slaughter are brutalized prior to death in the belief that high adrenaline will produce tender meat and increase health benefits.

“It’s devastating. These dogs are being beaten for hours at a time when they’re just puppies,” said Sophie Helfend, a junior at Calabasas High who created a club at the school to raise awareness about the dog-meat trade and gather money for a nonprofit called Animal Hope and Wellness Foundation.

Marc Ching, the founder of the Sherman Oaks-based organization, has made a dozen trips to Asia since 2015 to rescue dogs and bring them to his rehabilitation center on Ventura Boulevard.

“Every country and region is different. Some places torture dogs more than others,” said Ching, who poses as a dog-meat buyer to rescue animals and secretly captures video of the brutality. He also works with residents and authorities in the Far East to create sanctuaries and enact laws to protect dogs from abuse.

“What this man does is heroic,” said Yvette Helfend, Sophie’s mother. “Marc risks his life by going there and takes as many dogs that he can possibly get away with and, hopefully, if the dogs survive, he cares for them in a safe place in Asia until they are well enough to make the journey here to his shelter in Sherman Oaks, where he finds them loving homes.”

An estimated 30 million dogs are killed for the meat throughout the Far East. During his latest trip to Cambodia, Mongolia, China and South Korea earlier this month, Ching rescued more than 120 dogs.

On average, Ching said, only a third of the animals he rescues survive.

During a recent visit at Animal Hope and Wellness, Sophie handed Ching a $675 check. She and her club have raised nearly $4,000 for the foundation so far.

“Dogs were put on this earth to just love us,” Sophie said, kneeling by an open cage containing three rescued dogs. “I love how willing they are to have people’s affection again and seeing their little faces. You know how much pain they went through before, and now they’re finally getting love again.”

Altruism is not new for the local teen, who also volunteers with the West Hills Champion baseball league for youths with special needs. About two years ago, Sophie and three friends raised $6,000 for Children’s Hospital Los Angeles during a combined birthday party where they had asked guests to make donations in lieu of bringing gifts. The girls delivered the check in person so they could meet patients.

That inspired Sophie to do more charitable work, turning her attention to helping dogs.

“I’m really passionate about dogs and what happens to them,” she said.

She found out about Ching’s group online and began to raise funds for the organization.

“Marc is inspirational and an amazing person,” said Sophie, whose club of about 20 members organizes donation drives and bake sales to support the foundation.

Ching said he is impressed with Sophie’s initiative.

“What it is for me is hope for humanity,” he said.

Sophie, a varsity soccer player, hopes to attend UC Santa Barbara to study business and psychology.

She is the youngest of three children. Her two brothers, Jake, 20, and Noah, 18, attend college. Sophie and her parents, Jody and Yvette, live in Calabasas with their two golden doodles.

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