Updated: Aug 9
Many individuals get into animal rescue because they have a heart that desires to help, to make a difference, and to save lives. Well meaning people find themselves heartbroken, tired, overwhelmed, frustrated, and more. It isn't just a slew of negative emotions though, there is also a lot of happiness & heartwarming moments.
Today we're going to focus on compassion fatigue since it's a reality many face. Many animal shelter workers and rescues experience compassion fatigue. They can feel themselves drifting, sinking, and in a place of not knowing what to do anymore.
When you continue to give and give some more, without also taking care of yourself, taking breaks, and saying 'no;' then you'll eventually hit the stage of compassion fatigue where you don't know how to get back up. You'll start feel isolated even, regardless of the other rescuers or shelter workers you're around. Because it's one thing after another.
Unfortunately, our society & community is our biggest battle in animal rescue. Without the complete support of the community we will continue to see overpopulation and euthanasia around us. This means you occasionally need to remove yourself when you start to feel too overwhelmed & drained. It doesn't have to mean completely getting away from helping or making a difference.
You deserve to care for YOU. Your mental health & well-being MATTER. It isn't selfish to focus on you & step away when you NEED it. Honestly, you should take time for you BEFORE you need it, that would be the most proactive approach & help avoid/decrease your chances of severe compassion fatigue. If you won't allow yourself to care for you then you'll eventually not be able to help animals in need.
Doing good things often makes you feel good. In animal rescue and shelter work doing good things also comes with doing things that don't make you feel good; behavioral euthanasia, owner surrenders, adhering to ineffective policies, angry community members, other rescuers who attack you as a person, etc. Those are the parts that are draining. You get 1 adoption, 5 returns, and 2 owner surrenders. That can be incredibly draining. You save an animal from the euthanasia list but then there are 10 more on it tomorrow. It's an incredibly repetitive cycle, that's when compassion fatigue hits and you start to feel yourself drowning.
Before you completely deteriorate, pause, step back, breathe, allow yourself to say no. Saying no is one of the BEST things you can learn how to do in animal rescue. Learning when to take a break is also one of the BEST things you can learn how to do in animal rescue.
If you are really struggling it may be best to seek out a mental health professional and take an extended break from animal rescue and shelter work. It's okay to ask for help, it's okay to step away. YOU also MATTER. If you are starting to feel like you DON'T matter, please seek help now, you deserve to feel BETTER.