'Compassionate Fatigue' More Common in Shelter Workers
Every year, three to four million animals die in shelters across America because they couldn’t find a forever home. While that number is obviously disconcerting, it’s even more disturbing to shelter workers who often have to do the dirty work of putting them down.
“Animal care professionals are some of the most pain-saturated people I have ever worked with,” explained J. Eric Gentry, a Florida psychotherapist and leader in the study of traumatic stress and compassion fatigue, to the Sacramento Bee. “The very thing that makes them great at their work – their empathy and dedication and love for animals – makes them vulnerable.”
Being responsible for seeing animals being abandoned by owners, tortured by animal abusers or just left behind by an owner who passed away and then having to make a decision on whether than animal lives or is put down takes a toll on those workers. Lately, more and more of them are being diagnosed with a condition called ‘compassion fatigue,’ which was originally only applicable to doctors and nurses dealing with terminal patients.
“I think everyone who works in this field suffers from it to one extent or another,” said Gina Knepp, the city of Sacramento’s Front Street shelter manager. “This is the most stressful job I have ever had. It’s one of the reasons that turnover is high. Not many people retire from this industry.”
Knepp was among a group of sixty other managers, technicians, rescue workers and animal control officers from agencies in the Sacramento area who recently took part in a two day compassion fatigue workshop organized by The Humane Society of the United States. In it, Hilary Anne Hager, a Humane Society specialist, talked to the group about the common symptoms of the condition like depression and guilt and how to deal with their unavoidable task of putting animals down.
“Make sure you have the time and place to do it in the best way you possibly could have done it,” Hager said. “Honor that moment. Be there for that animal. Afterward, take a few minutes to do some breathing and process what has just happened. Then move on.”
People who rescue shelter animals on ‘death roll’ are also susceptible to suffering from compassion fatigue as they realize they can’t save them all.
Gentry suggests that those animal lovers try breathing techniques and things that are within their control like keeping a healthy diet and exercising to help with those symptoms. We, at Ecorazzi have one more tip to add: spay and neuter your pets.
The euthanizing of innocent animals in shelters is closely tied to their overpopulation and controlling the number of puppies and kittens that are out there on the street, along with educating the public on responsible pet ownership, is key to becoming a no kill nation with less killed animals and stressed out animal loving workers.
You can learn more about how to help on www.thenokillnation.org
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