Where Fitness, Wellness, and Care for Our Planet Collide

rē•align Your Workouts With Animal Wellness.

By: Jessica Ourisman
Where Fitness, Wellness, and Care for Our Planet Collide

It all began with a husky named Bramble and an actor and fitness coach, Alex Prange — known for being cause-oriented, and with a self-described soft spot for animals. Upon learning via an Instagram story that Bramble was at-risk of being euthanized due to animal shelter overcrowding, he was determined to intervene. This is how he first connected with Brittnei Schaeffler, a Professor of Environmental and Conservation Science, NASM Personal Trainer, and Fitness Nutritionist — and a passionate animal activist and conservationist. Through their combined efforts, they saw Bramble through to his new home at the Kindness Ranch Animal Sanctuary in Wyoming. 

Their work together did not end there. The two collaborated to expand Schaeffler’s charitable workouts via Sweat to Protect, which gives back proceeds from fitness classes and organized beach cleanups to environmental and animal wellness non-profits. Schaeffler’s work culminates at the holistic intersection of individual wellness (through self-care practices like fitness and nutrition) and its interconnectedness with the planet at-large. It also serves as a profound reminder: So often we turn to nature for healing, and it’s about time that we begin to ask what we can do to help Mother Nature heal in kind.

Sweat to Protect: Making Workouts Matter

Schaeffler’s inspiration behind Sweat to Protect, one branch of her Why You Should Care project, stems from her conviction that proper self-care is what helps her show up for others and the causes she believes in. We have to agree — it’s no secret that you cannot pour from an empty cup. Hence she considers taking care of your body to be one of the most important decisions you can make each day through decisions like exercise and nutrition. 

Her lifelong love of nature (and admiration for the late Steve Irwin) infiltrates her entire worldview. Her workout philosophy itself draws inspiration from the inherent equilibrium to be found in nature and the instinctual self-reliance demonstrated in wildlife. “There is so much more to learn in working out than how to look a certain way,” she says. “For me, it is spiritual — and so is my love for wildlife and connection with this planet. It is all interconnected.”

This spiritual connection that is awakened in her work is what helps to keep her motivated. Through organizing beach cleanups and fitness classes through Sweat to Protect, Schaeffler has been able to raise funds for organizations like the International Anti Poaching Foundation, Kindness Ranch Sanctuary, the Cheetah Outreach, and many more. Oftentimes, these classes are organized for specific projects when there is an acute need. “For example, the Wildlife Waystation needed extra funds for a new enclosure at their facility, so I partnered with them to hold an online workout,” she explains. Participants were able to donate directly to the organization or through a GoFundMe account she set up.

More recently, she helped to organize Sweat to Protect workouts at four different gyms to help raise funds for shelter animals in Ukraine, UAnimals. With so many families having to flee and so much infrastructural damage and loss, former pets that have recently become homeless are now in an especially precarious position. After connecting with the founder of UAnimals, she and Prange worked together to orchestrate Sweat to Protect’s first multi-gym fundraiser. “Each gym used a portion of funds from those who participated to donate towards UAnimals. This did take a lot of coordination and planning, but it was so worth it. Plus, having the options of gyms in different cities really [made it] more available for others around Southern California,” she says.

The digitization of wellness classes onto apps and social media is a global trend — in part due to the lockdowns imposed due to the global pandemic, but also reflecting the increasing prevalence of the tech industry. This trend also helped to grow access to her charitable workouts by making it possible to take part in her classes even if you lived outside of Southern California. “During COVID, I really wanted my friends and followers to stay active for their mental and physical health. So I started Instagram Live Sweat to Protect workouts via @brittfit_live,” she says. At the height of the pandemic, she was hosting up to three classes per week. “Once COVID slowed down, and life picked back up, I decided to open this page up to everyone so that they might benefit from the workouts.”

The Current Cause: The Largest Animal Rescue in US History

Schaeffler is currently devoting her efforts toward the largest animal rescue in US history. As you might have seen on mainstream news outlets from the BBC to CNN, there are approximately 4,000 beagles — from puppies to full-grown adults — in the process of being rescued from the Envigo breeding facility that supplied dogs to research labs. After receiving several citations for animal cruelty that were not remedied, the tireless work of animal rights organizations resulted in the closure of the facility — and for the first time in their lives, these dogs are going to experience the love of a family and life outside of a cage.

While this is incredible news, the sudden influx of beagles in need of homes has placed tremendous financial strain on the non-profit organizations that help to re-home rescued animals. A typical lab closure might result in only a couple of animals needing homes, so 4,000 dogs is going to take time and organization. Take two-year-old Miles, for instance, one of two beagles rescued from a lab in South Korea. The rescue organization Beagle Freedom Project (BFP) orchestrated a foster home in South Korea, a plane ticket and crate to the United States, a foster home in the U.S. and provided the costs for his wellness visit with the new veterinarian. But doing this for 4,000 animals — some of which have special needs due to trauma and medical conditions — will require a tremendous effort on the part of volunteers, organizations, fosters, and adopters.

Schaeffler has been thrilled to see this story picked up by mainstream news outlets, including on television, and has been helping to keep the interest going by filming videos to update viewers on the progress. “Right now, I am working on a team for Kindness Ranch Animal Sanctuary to create weekly update videos on their participation in the rescue,” she says. “Our goal is to share the story of the beagles and to keep the momentum of the animal wellness movement going.” Should you feel inspired, you can donate to the beagle rescue effort and look up local “Beagle Partners” found here to see how to help in your community. You can contact organizations directly to apply to foster or adopt or can fill out an application from Beagle Freedom Project (BFP) here.

Connecting Fitness, Wellness, and Planet

Schaeffler has many dreams for her advocacy work and the actualization of her “bio-ecological” wellness philosophy. One day, she would love to open a Sweat to Protect gym built upon this self-sustaining, charitable business model or to be able to support herself through creating educational content and consulting for animal and conservation organizations. Being a change-maker is a tireless task and an uphill battle, and it is only due to her innate spirituality and sense of connection to herself and the planet that she keeps working so hard on behalf of others. “I want to inspire others to care about themselves and animals,” she says. “I just think we all have the amazing opportunity to make a positive impact while we are here. I want others to believe in their power to do so, while also understanding how intricately connected we all are to animals and nature.”

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