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by Teresa Wagner
What is it?
If you give
of your life energy to help animals, professionally or as a
volunteer, you know this story. You live it. You know the urges of
compassion; you know the driving desire to help. And you know the
pain of seeing how many more there are, and the pain of realizing
you can't save them all. And you know the joy and fulfillment that
comes from helping and saving the ones you can.
and support to animals in need, animals in pain, is a sacred thing.
It fulfills our own healthy need to give, to help, and to love.
Along with the rewards, there can be heartache in helping animals,
deep wrenching heartache. Continued exposure to the results of
cruelty, ignorance and apathy toward animals, seeing the suffering,
the lack of compassion and love in others' actions toward animals
can burn us out. It can turn us hard with anger. It can make us feel
lost in anguish and hopelessness. Whatever our role, wherever we
work--animal rescue work, sheltering work, animal control work,
political activism work, as volunteer, employee, supervisor,
administrator, board member, in an open admission or a limited
admission facility--this work requires more than a mere sentimental
love of animals. It's hard work which requires tremendous emotional
fortitude and can drain our resources physically, emotionally and
spiritually. In devoting ourselves to a cause, we can lose
ourselves. Sometimes all that compassion we feel and give to the
animals and the causes we've dedicated ourselves to can take so much
out of us we don't have much energy left for ourselves. Sometimes it
seems all we have has been given away.
fatigue is what we feel when we've cared for others more than
ourselves, when our sense of responsibility to others has become
exaggerated or out of balance. Do you ever feel that you:
- love and
care for animals or others more than yourself?
take on the suffering of animals or others, actually feel their
suffering and keep it as if it were our own?
compelled to rescue every one, make it all better, fix it or solve
problems for every animal or person you help? And feel like a
failure when you can't?
- focus your
energy on others' pain and trauma as a way of avoiding and working
on your own issues in need of healing?
feel almost addicted to helping and being needed?
If any of
these issues are true of you, you may be experiencing compassion
fatigue. The following pages are offered as resources to help you
balance loving yourself with caring for others--still feeling the
joy of giving and helping but in a way which allows you to be whole
at the same time. Caring for ourselves and not others is
selfishness. Caring for others and not ourselves is martyrdom.
Caring for ourselves and others is the most healthy balance of
loving, and perhaps living, that we can achieve.
of stress or compassion fatigue is the state of inner peace. Inner
peace is easy to experience when no conflict exists for us. If all
humans practiced responsible pet ownership, if all humans wanting a
companion animal rescued through adoption rather than adding to
overpopulation through breeder and pet store purchases, if all pet
owners spayed and neutered their animals, if all pet owners worked
hard to find solutions to keep their animals rather than easily
surrendering them, if all landlords allowed pets, if there were
enough homes for every animal in every shelter, if no animals were
either euthanized or kept long term in cages, if all organizations
and agencies worked in respectful collaboration... well, in such
ideal circumstances, experiencing inner peace in the midst of animal
welfare work would be easy! But we have mountains to climb,
solutions to create and work through together, even when we
disagree. Yet amidst such challenge finding inner peace, and
integrating beliefs, actions and practices which help us maintain
it, is also a tremendous opportunity for growth. It is an
opportunity to deepen our care and love of ourselves and our respect
of others. It is an opportunity to learn to love ourselves and
others in a way that can, perhaps, even match our love of
peace, preventing, coping with and healing compassion fatigue, is
not a once and done activity. It's not a finite project like
building a house. It's more like the ongoing creation of a garden.
It's never done. It requires ongoing attention. Yet, like the joy of
tending and continually creating a garden, there can be great joy
and satisfaction in tending to our own bodies, hearts and souls.
Yes, service to the animals is sacred. And so is taking great care
I hope you
will find the following pages and links to further resources
are dedicated to animal welfare workers everywhere. It is
you--shelter workers, animal control workers, rescue and rehab
workers--who are the true heroes in the circle of all of us who love
animals. It is you who do the hardest work for the animals of our
communities. Thank you for the tireless, endless, thankless work you
do to rescue, love, care for, adopt and sometimes have to euthanize
animals that other members of your community neglect, abuse, abandon
and throw away at your shelters' doors.
Thank you for
enduring the on-going sorrow, anger, frustration and guilt you often
have, for the love, compassion and courage you so freely give. May
you always have the strength, support and resources you need to
carry on. May the care and love you've bestowed upon so many animals
be returned to you tenfold.
Know that you
are acknowledged, deeply respected, and loved.
Thank you for
being there for the animals.