What’s a life without a calling? Many of those involved in animal rescue and welfare work feel the deep satisfaction of a calling realized. In the world of pet portraits, there is one woman combining her love of dogs and animal rescue groups with her artistic abilities and experiencing the bliss of pursuing her calling. Her name is Ashley Beech Reid and even if you have never heard of her, chances are she has sent a donated portion of her painting commission to your favorite rescue group.
On the day that I interviewed her, Ashley Beach Reid was brushing the finishing touches on her 669th pet portrait. Bella, a distinguished-looking chocolate lab, was the subject du jour. Bella’s humans gushed about her and the place that she has had in their family since her adoption from their local SPCA in 2009. As with every pet portrait she paints, Ashley will donate 10% of her commission to the animal welfare organization of the customer’s choice. On behalf of Bella’s portrait, Forgotten Dogs of the Fifth Ward in Texas will receive a donation and be mentioned on Ashley’s professional Facebook page. The donations range from $19.50 on up depending on the size of the canvas the customer chooses.
Growing up in Conway, Pennsylvania, north of Pittsburgh, Ashley first realized she had some artistic ability in second grade when she made a horse’s head out of glued tissue paper squares; compared to some of her classmates’ works, hers was recognizable as a horse instead of the blob of tissue and glue that I would have produced in a second grade art glass. After high school she attended Edinboro University, where she discovered she had a talent for painting. Ashley recognized what she calls the childhood dream of a lonely only child, owning a dog, at age 29. After careful consideration and research, she adopted a Vizsla from a Maryland breeder and named him Sayge.
Sayge will be 14 in December this year. He’s happy, healthy, and a little hard of hearing except when it comes to hearing the hinge of the cupboard where his treats are hidden. Life with Sayge is good: “We take walks, he naps on the couch all day, tolerates/loves my two young boys when they return from school, attacks my husband with kisses and wiggles when he gets home from work,” Ashley exclaimed.
Being her first dog, he has also served as her Muse. These days, he can be found snoozing or snuggling next to her on the couch when she sketches portraits for clients, but the first pet portrait Ashley painted was of Sayge as The Mona Lisa with his paws, face, chest, and neck. She calls it “The Mona Vizsla”. Friends and family loved The Mona Vizsla, and requests for pet portraits followed. Ashley then partnered at events with the WPA Humane society, donating 10% of commissions she received at events back to the organization.
As technology and social media progressed, a friend convinced her in 2010 to create a Facebook page for her business, Ashley Beech Reid’s Pet Portraits. Ashley continued to donate 10% of her commission to the animal welfare organization of the customer’s choice. Not only was the donation a positive experience for her and her customers, she began to learn more about the plight of homeless pets in her backyard and throughout America. “Through Facebook, I have discovered a world of animal rescue, and the people who give their time, money, sweat and tears to it, that I never knew existed,“ Ashley explains. “A dog owner myself, I had no idea that 3–4 million homeless pets are euthanized in the United States each year.”
Ashley’s business keeps rolling. She painted over 100 portraits each year for the last 4.5 years. A portrait takes about 3 days to complete and she has 3-month waiting list. She not only paints the portraits, she gets a glimpse into her customers’ lives and hearts as they give her the specs for each job. “It’s hard to convey the connection between my clients and their pets; I’ve had many clients tell me that they don’t have children and that their pets are their babies,” Ashley said. “The bond with their animal is as strong as any mother to a child.”
She has painted dogs of all ages over the years. The oldest pup that she painted was around 16 or 17 years old. For senior pet portraits, some clients ask Ashley to paint them with less gray/white on their face, while others want them painted in all their senior glory. Clients also come to Ashley to memorialize pets that have already passed. They tell her that the portraits bring tears, then comfort, and finally, fond memories and happiness. They memorialize a special time and place in the family’s life or celebrate important members of the family.
Ashley says that the best thing about her line of work is “everything!” She struggled for years to develop her own style, to find her creative niche in the art world. Being a stay-at-home mom to her two boys and a full-time artist is truly her dream come true. She calls the donations to the animal welfare organizations icing on the cake. Talking with Ashley, it is easy to see that her commitment to animal rescues runs deep in her soul. When I asked her what she would like people to know about her work and her world, she told me that she wants people to know that giving is good for the soul. “In the world of animal rescue, every donation counts, whether it’s $1 or $100, blankets, food, or cleaning supplies,” she explained. “You can volunteer to walk dogs in your local shelter, foster, transport an animal to its forever home, organize fundraisers and events—help is always needed and truly appreciated.”
Carrie Collins-Fadell is an executive director for United Way. She lives in New York with her husband and cats, Lilo and Meatball.