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Activist braves cold and violence for her cause
Ashley Fruno will do almost anything to draw attention to animal suffering

Nicholas Read
Vancouver Sun

April 18, 2006

Ashley Fruno spends two to three hours a day organizing demonstrations against cruelty to animals, writing letters about animals to government and the media, and mobilizing people on behalf of animals. Animals form her first and last thoughts of every day.

She takes part in demonstrations at least three times a month -- more when she's on a break from her studies in the land and food systems faculty at the University of B.C. -- and will do almost anything to draw public attention to animal suffering. Last winter this included wearing a yellow bikini in -39-degree weather outside a Red Deer KFC as a way to urge the company to raise its animal-care standards. She spent 40 minutes talking to passers-by and the media before the cold got the better of her. A colleague worried she had hypothermia, but she refused to see a doctor for fear reporters would learn of it and change their focus from "sick chickens to sick chicks."

She has stood naked outside department stores to protest them selling fur, debated the seal hunt on network TV, and volunteered for years at the SPCA.

She won't eat meat or animal products, or wear leather or fur. All her cosmetics and toiletries are animal-free. When a professor handed out milk chocolates as rewards for work done well, she asked him to switch to vegan candy. He did.

The only reason she enrolled in agriculture was to gain the necessary credentials to argue effectively against intensive farming.

Because of all this, Fruno's detractors may be tempted to dismiss her as a typical animal-rights activist: strident, socially awkward and contemptuous of people. But they would be wrong. For Fruno, 19, also volunteers at a Cloverdale seniors home, grows her hair to make wigs for cancer patients, and gives blood as often as safety will permit. When she was in high school, she formed a global-issues club that adopted an African foster child and raised funds for an Ecuador orphanage.

Why? She doesn't know, except that she has a compulsion to make things better.

"My one goal in life is to make a difference and change the world. I just haven't developed an action plan yet."

Her long-time friend, Lisa Goebel, says Fruno has always been this way. "She loves animals so much and always has. We'd go for a jog and if we ever found a stray dog, we'd spend hours looking for its owner, so the jog would never end. She's always cared about everybody. It's just something in her."

Her mother, Karin, agrees, but worries. With reason. The same week Fruno turned blue in Red Deer someone punched her in Calgary. She also has had food thrown at her and is regularly assaulted verbally.

"It's not the life we would have chosen for her because it's not going to be an easy life," Karin says. But she's not about to change her daughter's mind. "We can't stop her. Nor would I want to. We're very proud of her."

Even Andrew Riseman, the professor who gave out the chocolates, appreciates her views. "She is perfectly suited for our program, and I think our program is perfectly suited for her."

Debra Probert, executive director of the Vancouver Humane Society, for which Fruno worked for last summer, says of her: "I have never met anyone with such a profound and committed sense of caring. If she sees an injustice, she does something about it; she doesn't waste a second lamenting. She is an exceptional person and we'll be seeing great things from her in the future."

As for Fruno, she says simply: "I can't imagine being different. I just can't imagine not caring."

If you know of someone who does extraordinary things for his or her community, please tell us. Write to The Vancouver Sun, Attn. Local Treasures, 1-200 Granville St., Vancouver V6C 3N3 or e-mail us at suntreasures@png.

ANIMAL-FRIENDLY:

If you want to help animals, Ashley Fruno recommends:

- Choose products that aren't tested on animals. Visit www.caringconsumer.com for a list of products that aren't tested on animals.

- If you're looking for a pet, be sure to adopt one from an animal shelter. If you can't have companion animals, consider volunteering at a local shelter.

- Help control the companion animal population by having pets spayed or neutered.

- Don't attend events that use animals, such as rodeos, circuses and exotic animal shows.

- Reduce animal products in your diet, and buy only certified organic eggs. Visit www.humanefood.ca for a list of humane grocers in your area.

Ran with fact box "Animal-friendly", which has been appended to the end of the story.