Gizele Oliveira’s heart sank as she scanned the thousands of cages filled with dogs — all rescued from Chinese slaughterhouses.
“Some didn’t have an eye, and some didn’t have a leg,” the Victoria’s Secret model told The Post about her mission to Xi’an and Beijing last month. “I knew they were that way because someone did that to them for money. That’s what killed me.”
Oliveira had traveled to China with the organization No Dogs Left Behind. The Beijing-based group works to bring canines recovered from slaughterhouses — where they would otherwise be butchered for human consumption — to the US for adoption.
Out of the more than 3,000 dogs that had been saved from being eaten, Oliveira could only choose two to bring from the initial holding warehouse — which is run by various rescue organizations in Xi’an — to the No Dogs Left Behind sanctuary in Beijing.
“That was one of the hardest things ever,” said Oliveira, 26, of the decision ruled by limited space and resources.
Ultimately, she had to choose a pair with the best chances of being adopted. “I kept looking at all the dogs, and I didn’t know what to do.”
But when a tiny brown poodle mix stretched its delicate paws up, asking to be petted, she was sold.
“I fell in love,” said the native Brazilian. “Even though she was so scared, she was so sweet.”
The model bonded with a second dog, too, and quickly shuttled the duo to Beijing in a van with the rescue crew. The pups were immediately quarantined and will receive shots, medicine, training and rehab before being flown to the US in about a month.
Though Oliveira couldn’t bring back the dogs herself, nine other canines were ready to travel stateside with her after passing medical examinations and meeting Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approval.
The model accompanied six golden retrievers, a poodle and two mixed breeds — named Cruz and Dash — on the flight from Beijing to JFK Airport.
“I just wish we could have taken all of them,” said Oliveira.
The retrievers were taken in by Yankee Golden Retriever Rescue in Massachusetts, and the poodle has already been adopted. Dash and Cruz went to Garden Rescues in Connecticut and also popped into Manhattan for The Post’s photo shoot. Another dog, Sadie, who was transported from China over the summer, also joined in the session.
Oliveira was excited to get home to her own pup: a 3-year-old Havanese-Bichon Frise mix named Bieber.
“He’s one of the most precious things in my life,” she said.
I kept looking at all the dogs and I didn’t know what to do.
– Gizele Oliveira on having to choose only two dogs in China that will eventually come to the US for adoption
Growing up in the small Brazilian town of Vila Velha, the world of high fashion seemed like a distant dream for Oliveira.
Her parents sometimes struggled to make ends meet for their brood of three daughters.
“There were tough times when my parents didn’t have a job [and] we wouldn’t have food to eat,” Oliveira recalled. “But I had my grandmother who took care of us.”
As a teen, she attended public school and worked at a video store while picking up minor modeling gigs on the side.
At 18, she signed with a Miami modeling agency despite speaking almost no English. Her career quickly took off, taking her to London, Los Angeles and, eventually, New York City.
“The first thing I did when I came here, I went to Times Square and saw all these billboards and thought, ‘I hope one day I’m here,’ ” Oliveira said.
By 2014, she was watching her image flash on one of the big screens in an ad for H&M. “It was so crazy to me!” she said.
Now, Oliveira, who lives in downtown Manhattan and has a boyfriend, is signed to IMG Models.
But one thing has stayed the same as her career has ascended: her unwavering love for animals.
She joined forces with No Dogs Left Behind earlier this year. “The work that they do is so important,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what [animals] go through, they always have so much love to give. They are so precious, and there is nothing that can change that.”
Adopt the sweet pups from our photo shoot
For more information on how to adopt Dash and Cruz, please contact email@example.com. For Sadie, contact Penny at Northwind Kennels in Westchester County at (914) 234-3771; for the golden retrievers, contact Yankee Golden Retriever Rescue at (978) 568-9700.
Volunteer with rescue facility No Dog Left Behind
For more information on how to donate or volunteer with No Dogs Left Behind, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos: Stephen Yang; Stylist: Emma Pritchard/Goldteeth Co.; Hair: Mario Mele/ABTP; Makeup: Alberto Luengo/Creative Space Artists