Tuesday, January 29, 2019


New Name, New Gig

Thursday, September 6, 2018

I have some pretty awesome news for, well I suppose, those of you who are not already following me on social media!

I have decided to change the name of this blog to Cruelty Free With Ashley V. Let's face it- I go back and forth between ombré and brunette, all the time, and whether or not my hair color is changing I will always remain loyal to maintaining and promoting a cruelty free lifestyle. So you may see some changes here and there as you visit the site, or any of my social media pages.

And this one tops the cake. Yesterday morning The National Antivivisection Society introduced their new regular feature, True Beauty is Cruelty-Free, and me as a weekly writer for that feature! It is a great honor and privilege to be introduced as one of their cruelty-free bloggers! On this weekly blog, NAVS is going to share interviews with Leaping Bunny-certified companies, legislation information and fun stuff about all things relating to the cruelty-free beauty world from yours truly.

Read all about this new feature (and my grand introduction) here.

To learn more about The National Antivivisection Society, click here.

What good news do you all have going on? Comment and let me know!

Even Heroes Need To Be Saved

Saturday, July 28, 2018

This post was written in loving memory of Chester Bennington in acknowledgement that there is never a better time to address mental health -specifically here among animal lovers, workers and volunteers- than now. In addition to being one of the lead singers to my favorite band, the voice of a generation and possibly one of the most interesting people to walk the planet, Chester was also an animal lover- a big-time supporter of animal rights and one who always encouraged others to make compassionate choices to protect animals. His heart centered around urging the public to adopt homeless animals in shelters as well as promoting the concept of not buying and wearing genuine fur, going as far as teaming up with Peta2 in an “Ink, Not Mink” ad. He will always be remembered for his caring heart and as one who used his life and platform to unselfishly help others. 

One night at 3:36 am I stared at the words on my screen following my web search. I was bored, couldn't sleep and had been wondering about a question I'd had for awhile but never really thought to ask until that moment at 3:36 am when I chose to ask Google. The answer to that question was "compassion fatigue". I was pretty sure I had some of that, as sure as I was that I wasn't the only one wondering about it.

In caring for animals, my life and worldview was changed completely in ways I could never fully explain to anyone and I will never be the same again. First there was finding Cupcake. Then I donated way too many things to a kitten shower event at a local shelter, where I immediately started volunteering and transporting animals. Soon I would accidentally stumble upon a pamphlet that would educate me on animal testing and convince me to never shop from companies that practiced these vicious experiments on innocent beings ever again, which also prompted me to lose my appetite for meat altogether. I became a vegetarian overnight, pretty effortlessly too. I signed every petition and tortured myself with every picture of an abused animal until I had no money left to donate because I'd feel like a complete monster if I hadn't. I began educating about animal testing realities and promoting cruelty free shopping to everyone in my life. My family and I started taking care of ferals. I found other animals new forever homes as much as I possibly could.

Although being an animal lover brings me so much joy, that rewarding feeling and even many miracles to witness, it has always come with its share of heartache too. 

During my time at the shelter I saw unwanted, terrified animals in cages. There were animals outside of my shelter that I fought and prayed so hard to get connected with forever homes just to find their names still on timestamped lists. I would watch dogs and cats unable to trust the kind hands of loving humans because of their previous violent owners. One stray cat I was about to rush to the clinic just quickly passed away in my arms instead, with an eye rupturing. My family and I were exposed to some shelter shadiness. My one outside feral cat became FIV+ and was required by law to be put down, and staring into his sick eyes, I held his paw as he was injected. Last year I watched as shelters were flooded with rescue animals from Texas and Puerto Rico due to Hurricanes Harvey and Maria. I was educated on things people generally have no idea about (ie: animal brothels, dogfighting, the annual Turkey Trots and Yulin festivals, vivisection and the treatment of animals in factories in the meat and dairy industries). 

The things you can see sometimes are straight-up scarring to the human heart and mind, but as your bond with animals strengthen, your skin becomes thicker. With that, however, your heart is now more sympathetic to their needs and it is fairly easy to go a little nuts after awhile because the grief that come from some of the things you witness in the shelters and in rescue life are real. Each bit of the education you receive changes you and you begin to notice lesser-important things that once consumed your time and energy are not even half as important to you anymore. You become increasingly aware of global ignorance and the lack of compassion of some. You find yourself questioning everything wrong in the world. You may start to even realize that your beliefs have turned you into the black sheep in your own personal life. 

For awhile I couldn't help but to feel as though I wasn't doing enough to save them all so I became obsessed with trying to do my part until I realized one day that I simply had no time to do any more. My heart was already breaking everyday because of the timestamped and abused animals. My mind was consumed, and I was falling apart because I didn't make any time for my own well-being the way I did for animals. Even though I was constantly feeling sad and overloaded from my personal life too, becoming irritable, not eating healthy, not sleeping enough and never getting any exercise I never once took a break from focusing on animals. I was a human being with a big heart and a big mouth that were more than willing to be utilized, and these were babies who couldn't speak up at all. In my own eyes, I had a responsibility that I couldn't do enough to serve. 

In the words of the director at Tulane Traumatology Institute, Charles Figely, Ph.D. explains that compassion fatigue is emotional exhaustion "caused by the stress of caring for traumatized or suffering animals or people." Also known as a secondary-traumatic stress disorder, the symptoms of compassion fatigue mirror many symptoms of PTSD, such as depression and thoughts of suicide. I am positive that the majority of long-term animal lovers and animal workers can relate on some level. 

By the time I had noticed that I was allowing myself to become so smothered and drained, I discovered that I had already neglected a lot of other areas in my life that desperately needed my attention. Animal issues literally had me by the heartstrings. The realization came to me finally, that I would never be able to "save" anyone or take care of anyone if I continued to neglect meI simply could not pour myself from an empty glass. 

For me, the solution wasn't quitting, it was learning balance. I know now that I need to pray for my strength, I need to eat three full meals a day, I need my loved ones in my corner, I need to make time and effort to be in theirs, I need to know when to say no and when to turn off social media because what good do images of bloody animals do for me if I'm already aware of what's going on? I needed to also be reminded that there is good in the world that was worth celebrating and acknowledging as much as other things deserved a good cry in reverence.

Animal welfare is my passion. It's one thing I am proud of about myself and one thing that gets me out of bed in the morning, but I can't do my part well if I don't ever ever come back to being a human being every so often.

According to a study done by National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians in combination with Auburn University and the CDC:

  • 1 in 6 animal workers have contemplated suicide
  • Animal rescue workers have a suicide rate of 5.3 in 1 million workers, and is discovered to be the highest suicide rate among American workers shared only by police officers and firefighters
  • 6.8% of males and 10.9% of females in the profession have significant psychological distress
  • 24.5% of male and 36.7% of female veterinarians have experienced depressive episodes since receiving their veterinary medicine degrees
  • 14.4% of those male and 19.1% of those female veterinarians have considered suicide since graduation
  • 1.1% of those male and 1.4% of those female veterinarians have actually attempted suicide

It is so very possible that each of these individuals were dealing with compassion fatigue as well and had no idea how to handle it before it turned into a serious depression. When we run ourselves down and out emotionally, mentally and physically we set ourselves up for destruction. As human beings, we are simply not in a place to take care of any other living beings without first being in a good place ourselves. Each one of us is only a single person, and this is one hell of a great, big, hurting world we are dealing with as we work so hard to change it for good, and it may ultimately hurt you in the process if that stress -add in your personal life stressors- is too much to take. I say this with so much love and zero judgement. 

People, animal cruelty is a real ugly, devastating issue. It is out there, it is happening in ways you could have never even imagined were possible, and any normal person would be wrecked from enduring sight of even a bit of that. We can't even pretend that animal cruelty is one of the issues in the world that enough people talking about, but one thing that I can promise you is that nothing is getting turned around on this side of the cause if we aren't being kind to ourselves too. If we aren't careful, emotional stress can really get to us on deeper levels. 

Tips For When It's Getting Heavy
  • Start saying no. A break is needed sometimes if you're overcommitting.
  • Keep a daily planner so that you are able to visually see when you're volunteering for too much.
  • Focus on the things you can control. Understand that the bad things are going to still happen even with your involvement but if that doesn't make you feel better, remember that the good things wouldn't happen without you at all. 
  • Read a book that is sure to wrap you in.
  • Watch a truly, hysterical movie. Laughing is soul medicine.
  • Talk to someone you trust. Opening up just may be the thing you need. 
  • Go to therapy. Talking with someone professional and unbiased could definitely be beneficial to you and is usually covered by insurance.
  • Sit in a bubble bath in the dark, with candles.
  • Write in a journal and express exactly how you feel. You will feel tons better afterward.
  • Paint. Sometimes art is the best way to express your emotions when words can't and is also therapeutic. 
  • Go for a walk somewhere scenic and beautiful.
  • Exercise, because endorphins make you happy.
  • Cook something delicious.
  • Pray, and believe.
  • Spend time with your family.
  • Take some time away from social media and if not, choose to skip over certain things or unlike certain pages; not everyone is able to stomach farm factory videos. Share an animal in danger of being PTS, but maybe don't watch that terrible angora harvesting video at 1 am that one animal organization just tweeted. You will be crying all night long.
  • Watch a motivational video on YouTube. Sometimes you just need to be reminded of your strength and capabilities.
  • Listen to music that puts you in a good mood.
  • Start a gratitude journal and write three things you're thankful for every night.
  • Take a multivitamin to ensure you are getting all of the essentials in your body daily.
  • Create a vision board.
  • Take a nap. Sometimes you feel so much better after a power nap, since you feel like you're starting a brand new day with brand new energy.
  • Get a massage (if it's too expensive, book an appointment at a massage therapy school vs. a spa).
  • Give yourself a pep talk. Remind yourself of your good qualities, and then remind yourself that you are only human.
  • Allow yourself to go on a $10-30 shopping spree for small items that will guarantee a few minutes of a happier you (ie: magazine, a pint of vegan ice cream, a cruelty free DIY mask, journal, cruelty free nail polish, etc).
  • Write out your goals and write out your plans to achieve them.
  • Declutter your home.
  • Take a fitness class (ie: yoga, Zumba, pilates, etc).

When It's Getting Too Much To Handle
  • Do NOT feel afraid to get help or to tell someone.
  • Know that you are loved and worthy of getting help.
  • If you or someone you know is in a crisis, contact the 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

If there is one other thing I'd like to stress here as well, it is that no one is weak for their emotions; we are human beings for goodness sake. We were born with a compassionate heart and the weight of the world and the responsibilities on our shoulders is for sure going to feel heavy at times. There is nothing abnormal or wrong with us for that. We just need to learn to give ourselves the unselfish time we need and deserve sometimes to step away, recharge and regroup. Learn that there is nothing selfish about making some time for you. You owe it to yourself. Balance.
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