You may have heard of terms like compassion fatigue or vicarious trauma. Conditions most associated with professionals in caring roles. Vets, social workers, nurses, first responders, police & other frontline workers are regularly exposed to suffering. This exposure can lead to emotional, spiritual, or physical distress for the carer. If left undiagnosed & untreated it can impair the carers ability to function at full capacity in their caring role & negatively impact on relationships.
Many people responsible for the care of rescue dogs are volunteers. People who have responsibilities to others outside their caring role. They may have families and more often than not they will have a full-time job. In the case of animal carers in a paid role many organisations are small with extremely limited budgets. Decision makers in the organisation will be on call 24/7 as dogs do not find themselves in emergency situations to order. Many problems & difficulties occur after office hours, often in the dead of night.
Animal rescuers can be exposed to the most violent of crimes against animals often witnessing heinous acts of cruelty and suffering with regularity. Rescuers are constantly dealing with misery, they see the worst of human nature while at the same time grappling with raising finance to keep their organisation open, a task that is incredibly stressful on its own. They also have compliance, dealing with volunteers, satisfying regulators, marketing, events, and social media, more often than not one person in a small but mighty organisation will be doing this alone. In situations such as this burnout happens quickly. Burnout is similar but not the same as compassion fatigue & vicarious trauma. It can occur before & in conjunction with compassion fatigue. Burnout sufferers feel tired most of the time, they may feel overwhelmed, doubt themselves, feel isolated & think negatively.
Compassion fatigue originates from dealing with the victims of trauma. It is often called the price of caring, and its impact may vary between individuals due to different levels of empathy. Some animal rescuers witnessing violence against animals will describe the event as something that they cannot unsee. The distress they experience lives on way past the point in which their caring has healed the victim. They have flashbacks, nightmares, sometimes difficulty concentrating due to intrusive thoughts regarding or as a result of the trauma. Others lose focus and experience hopelessness. One carer described it to me as a feeling that she was trying to empty the sea with a teaspoon.
Feelings of guilt often invade the minds of animal rescuers further impacting negatively on their well-being. Rescuers may wonder if they did enough in a difficult situation. They may find it impossible to set boundaries & say no to repeated requests for help even when it comes from other organisations or individuals outside of their own organisation.
If you are an animal carer and you are experiencing any of the symptoms we have discussed it is vitally important that you visit your GP for advice. The information provided by our organisation is to support you & prevent or minimise the negative impacts your work may have on you. It is in no way a substitute for professional, medical, or psychiatric support.
Please check back with us over the next few weeks as we look at some of the situations animal carers may find themselves in, possible negative emotions you may experience and ways in which you can protect your emotional well-being and be the best you can without risk to your physical & emotional health. We will be exploring the topis below in text & audio format. We hope you will find the information helpful.
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Coping With Loss
One Hundred Rescuers
Do you know an animal carer who would appreciate a kind gesture?
We have 100 of these heart charms with paw shape cut outs to give away. Please leave us a message in the contact form below with the recipients details & a brief description of their involvement in animal caring. Limited to UK at present due to postage costs, apologies for any inconvenience.
This is a free service but please if you can make a donation to our work we would be very grateful. We are a tiny organisation always critically short of funds. Thank you
Mental Health Crisis Helplines
Saneline 0300 304 7000
National Suicide Prevention Helpline 0800 689 5652