Compassion Fatigue

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Re: Compassion Fatigue

Postby greenkozi » Wed Feb 23, 2011 10:46 am

Amie wrote:I wrote up the quiz here. The leader of our seminar (Doug Fakkema) said we could share it with proper attribution, and mentioned the name of the originator (which I think, but am not positive, was Carrie LaJeuness) but I don't see it in my paperwork, so the attribution I have is what he gave us.


wow- you had a negative experience with doug? i think my seminar with him was one of the reasons i'm still doing this- it must be 4 years, 5 years ago. i can't really imagine him saying some of the things you've written, either. i took his euth certification- one day of euthanasia training then a full day of compassion fatigue workshop.

here's a couple things that have worked for me (we'll talk later)

- have a hobby. heartbullies mentioned this, but it's so important to have a hobby that is not animal related. i never forget when fakkema went around the room and had everyone raise their hands if they had a hobby. almost everyone raised their hands. then he had everyone who had a non-dog related hobby keep their hands up. i think 2 people (not me!) kept their hands up. this is what has saved me- i went out and found a hobby. i haven't put my camera down since then. it's been crucial to do something that is NOT my dog (or anyone else's dog) and NOT with shelter/dog/training people. this is not to say that dog/shelter/training people aren't great- they are, and they understand, it's great to have that, but it's so important to Do Something Else.

- don't volunteer and work in the same field. this was advice i got from a friend/boss when i first started working in shelters in 2003. i dismissed it because teh group i volunteered with was about dogs, but wasn't related. well, yeah, it's related. the politics, the headspace, the fundamental wear and tear- they're all related. i miss doing the "fun" part that i got out of the volunteer stuff, but i like having the time to myself, now that i can see it that way. (i might add stay off the interwebs, because getting too into dog boards was kinda the same thing. i pulled way away once i realized that she was right.)

of course, there's a million other things, but those are the only two that i actually DO. eat right, exercise regularly (when i do this, i feel a million times better), go outside (i do this when it's not winter), take vacations, etc. go to therapy. all of these are so important. but these are the two things i tell new friends at the shelter. i'm working really hard right now on the vacation thing, because i'm having burnout big time. it tends to come in waves for me, like every ktiten season is the worst, so i always plan ahead and schedule time off. but it's not kitten season, so i'm trying to wok out things to look forward to.

and on that note, i have to go to work. :wow
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Re: Compassion Fatigue

Postby Amie » Thu Feb 24, 2011 7:36 am

That stinks that our experiences with him varied so much! Many of us felt the same way about him - the first morning break we got the kennel staff all had smoke coming out of their ears, and almost everyone was as offended as I was. One of the vet techs who does euthanasia told me she felt like it was eight hours spent making us resent each other and that he was way too hard on those of us who don't do it.
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Re: Compassion Fatigue

Postby dogs4jen » Thu Feb 24, 2011 11:15 am

I would be annoyed and resentful if someone was telling me how to feel, which it sounds like he was from your description. That's no way to help anyone.
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Re: Compassion Fatigue

Postby XDogs » Thu Feb 24, 2011 5:46 pm

Having taken the test last night, I can't say that the scoring or results made a whole lot of sense to me.

As far as the recommendations given to greenkozi go.. I must be one screwed up person.
Almost all of my hobbies are animal related in one way or another, I am not living particularly healthy (I am trying to get on track again right now, but the last 5 - 6 years have been a blurr).. and when I do volunteer in anything, it is definitely also animal health or behavior related.
My score for all three areas on the test was in the "you should really have somebody help you not commit suicide" category.

Sooo.. where does this leave me? Because, honestly, it almost seems impossible to get the supposed average or happier than average with your job score.
Of course, that also is from a person who never scores anything as if butterflies are flying out of my butt.
All that, and I actually can't imagine a different job and enjoying it at all.
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Re: Compassion Fatigue

Postby Amie » Thu Feb 24, 2011 7:01 pm

But all your posts here sound like butterflies are shooting out of your butt! ;)

We did have several people where I work who tested in the "very satisfied" range for all three - though I admit it did not go without my notice that they were the people who care about the animals the least. That's not a judgment, they've said to me "this is just a job, I don't care what I do."

Most of my issues are with procedure I disagree with, more than the career itself. It may mean I leave the career for a while while I look for a place whose actions I can support more fully, but I don't know yet. I don't want to. I love working with animals. I love the changes I make. An honestly, I feel like many things I've done in the past not really knowing why I was doing them were all pointing me towards this line of work. It's what I want to do, it's just not where I want to be.
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Re: Compassion Fatigue

Postby Sweet72947 » Thu Feb 24, 2011 7:10 pm

I don't know where all of you compassionate shelter workers are, but I sure wish we had some of you in my area. I worked in a kill shelter for about a month and a half. This was a low-intake shelter. If they had used foster homes and actually contacted rescues, they probably could have been pretty much no-kill. They had pretty decent cat adoptions.

But there was a kitten so full of fleas it dripped blood when it walked, and who was probably really freaking anemic that they DID NOT TREAT. I don't know what happened to it.

There was a beautiful male cat, orange and white and fluffy and very sweet that had been on the adoption floor. He got sick, they put him in the back room, watched him get sicker and sicker, and then KILLED HIM.

There was a cat an ACO brought in that had been left in a carrier in it's feces and urine for I don't know how long. He also seemed to have something wrong with his jaw. They left him in that state for TWO WEEKS for the stray hold (and he never even tried to bite me when I had to move him to clean his cage) and then killed him.

They had a dog who they decided was the "shelter's" dog, kept him up front with them during the day, and even put a bunch of training on him. They also refused to adopt him out even though they had several offers. Eventually they did adopt him out (so I read in the local paper), but not before keeping him in that run for a long, long time. They also failed to realize what a good way this would be to get dogs adopted. People saw that dog hanging out with people up front, doing tricks, and they WANTED HIM. It could work for other dogs too!

There was a beautiful sheltie/border collie ish mix there who was sweet, and housetrained and liked other dogs. I tried to tell this couple about him that came in to look at dogs, and I was chastised for this, I was NOT ALLOWED TO because of "liability" reasons. This dog was KILLED.

My mom's friend's dogs got out of her yard once. Thank god they went to the shelter every few days looking for them, because one dog was on the ADOPTION FLOOR, and the other was in the back room. Even though they had reported their dogs missing to this shelter!

So yeah, I'm a bit jaded with the shelter workers around here. PG County Animal Management Division (shelter in PG County, MD), doesn't follow any disease prevention protocols, and as a result pretty much all the dogs there catch kennel cough, they have parvo outbreaks, and the dogs get parasites from each other, etc. Their attitude is "why care about diseases, we're going to kill them anyway." Which actually has resulted in more death, since a lot of rescues have stopped pulling from them because they are sick of paying out the nose for horribly sick dogs. They really care about the dogs there. Somebody does post them on CL, so I know there are a few people who care, but the people in power really don't.
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Re: Compassion Fatigue

Postby Red » Fri Feb 25, 2011 12:32 am

I have a hard time believing that anyone who work in a shelter environment does not have compassion fatigue.Either they are people who don't have many emotions, and then I would have to wonder why they choose to do what they are doing (and maybe i envy them), or they have not realized how it affected them. One can be a strong person but, inside, the reality is going to get to us, sooner or later.It can manifest in different way but still...it is going to change something.
I started doing rescue work at the age of 18 and it has been painful and rather hurtful.I am now 35 year old, and I cannot even walk into a shelter anymore, which makes it hard when I am doing evaluations for a pit bull rescue or possible adopters. Somewhat I ended up becoming a dog behavior consultant, which adds insult to the injuries, really. How people treat and think of animals and the reality we live in is just...don't even know how to describe it.

Sweet72947, very sorry to hear all of that. I can't even begin to tell you how my rescue worked back in the days and how wrong with was , in another Country.We did everything out of our pockets and own lives, with dogs and cats dieing in front of our eyes and nobody giving a rat's ass about it.
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Re: Compassion Fatigue

Postby heartbullies » Fri Feb 25, 2011 12:43 am

greenkozi wrote:- have a hobby. heartbullies mentioned this, but it's so important to have a hobby that is not animal related. i never forget when fakkema went around the room and had everyone raise their hands if they had a hobby. almost everyone raised their hands. then he had everyone who had a non-dog related hobby keep their hands up. i think 2 people (not me!) kept their hands up. this is what has saved me- i went out and found a hobby. i haven't put my camera down since then. it's been crucial to do something that is NOT my dog (or anyone else's dog) and NOT with shelter/dog/training people. this is not to say that dog/shelter/training people aren't great- they are, and they understand, it's great to have that, but it's so important to Do Something Else.


Doug also taught our euthanasia certification class (but it was a one-day) and he did this same thing with roughly the same results, among equine rescue people, city/county shelter workers, and private shelter employees. If you did this quiz at most other jobs or even careers, I do strongly feel like the results would be really different. I didn't have any of the same interactions/encounters with Doug as during the workshop that you had, Amie. I'm sorry that happened. It seems strange to me, too, though as I mentioned, I only had one days' worth of contact with him.
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Re: Compassion Fatigue

Postby Amie » Fri Feb 25, 2011 7:17 am

We talked about other hobbies but he didn't do the stand up/sit down thing. He asked a few people to raise their hands and tell us their hobby (he didn't ask mine, but I was knitting a sock through the seminar, so I think he could have guessed) and asked if the person thought it helped or not, and when they said it did, he'd essentially say "see?" Only one person claimed to have a hobby that included helping more animals, but to be honest, I suspect she was trying to impress the boss (who was also there, which I disagreed with - we do NOT have the opportunity to speak freely about stressors at work when the boss is right there).

I was talking with more coworkers yesterday about it, and more and more of us are feeling the same way. I love the idea of the seminar, and would love to have a solid outlet to discuss these issues, but this seminar was not the right one for our employees.
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Re: Compassion Fatigue

Postby Otis » Fri Feb 25, 2011 8:00 am

I can honestly say that the times I have been in your shelter I have felt as bad for the employees as I have the animals. You can simply feel the pain and frustrating from all of you. You do good work Amie, and the shelter is lucky to have you.
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Re: Compassion Fatigue

Postby greenkozi » Fri Feb 25, 2011 9:49 am

XDogs wrote:Having taken the test last night, I can't say that the scoring or results made a whole lot of sense to me.

As far as the recommendations given to greenkozi go.. I must be one screwed up person.
Almost all of my hobbies are animal related in one way or another, I am not living particularly healthy (I am trying to get on track again right now, but the last 5 - 6 years have been a blurr).. and when I do volunteer in anything, it is definitely also animal health or behavior related.
My score for all three areas on the test was in the "you should really have somebody help you not commit suicide" category.

Sooo.. where does this leave me? Because, honestly, it almost seems impossible to get the supposed average or happier than average with your job score.
Of course, that also is from a person who never scores anything as if butterflies are flying out of my butt.
All that, and I actually can't imagine a different job and enjoying it at all.


i don't think it says anything about you- i didn't mean to suggest that. i was saying that these were "take home" items that worked for me. i think, like red said, if you work in animal welfare, you've either got compassion fatigue, don't care at all, or are even better at denial than i am. so the first set of suggestions are just kind of generic, they don't even really just apply to burnout- eat well, exercise, etc- i mean your doctor will tell you that, your therapist will tell you that relating to anything, chocolate, my dad tells me that all the time. it's like the american mantra (i don't know where you live!) read more, walk more, drive less, have more green leafy vegetables in your diet, blah blah blah. those quizzes are designed as a starting point- some people in this field (especially in categories denial/no feelings) have never heard of compassion fatigue. they think they're alone, etc etc.

the two i talked about in more detail were things that worked for me. Doug talked a lot about having non-animal hobbies. and i think that one is really important, especially for me. i'm not saying NO hobbies should be dog related, or that this will work for anyone else. but it was striking how many of us had NO non-animal related hobbies. obviously anecdotal, but my life has drastically improved since i took up photography after that. i've met other friends, increased my time outside, learned about a new art form, and found an outlet for my creativity. i've always been able to leave my work at the door most of the time, but now i really can when i'm shooting. i still do dog hobbies, (though not as extensively as some here!) i try to take mac at least to one or two classes a year, and since that class have done fun classes in rally, nosework, etc. i still help with my friends who have issues with their dogs, and i still have my "dog friends." it's not an either/or, it's a both/and.

in terms of the second thing i was talking about- i don't know about where others live, but man, the politics in rescue around here are brutal. staying out of it by sticking within an organization and not volunteering either in that org or in a different org are one good way to focus on the part of animal welfare that you're actually into- the animals. volunteers and employees have different perspective and information, and it's just complicated when you're doing both. again, this is another thing that has really helped me. some people successfully navigate this- some people successfully navigate volunteering at the same shelter they work at (though i think most shelters wisely have policies against this). for me, it's been a lifesaver. i try to stay out of workplace politics, and this is just another way of doing it.

i was talking to amie a bit offline- i'm about at the breaking point of burnout right now. i clearly don't have all the answers. i was hoping my two tiny tips would help some people- no judgement meant! if anyone else has tips, man i need them!!! you know it's bad when vacation doesn't help :( with kitten season on the way- ew. yuck. argh. :crybaby:

keep up the good fiht, everyone!!
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Re: Compassion Fatigue

Postby XDogs » Fri Feb 25, 2011 7:33 pm

I didn't take your post "personally".. in a way, I was being cynical. However, I really DON'T see anybody I know in the field scoring well on that test. I showed it to some co-workers last night. We decided to ask Carrie to come out and work on it with us at some point.
When I still saw a counselor (for my newly diagnosed diabetes at the time.. and my newly diagnosed depression and anxiety.... wow, I really DO have a problem ;) ), she would tell me that my cynicism and sarcasm isn't a healthy coping mechanism. I am aware of it, but given my family history, I don't think that I will ever see things from the "glass half full" perspective. It's just not me.
I will say that I chose my volunteer-work carefully. I don't do fostering or get involved in rescue all that much. On occasion, I get roped into something, but usually it is a vaccine clinic, education or demos. I do a lot of crafts.. sewing, knitting, crochet, tatting. It ends up being for dog-related uses, but it is a good way for me to zen.

One of my co-workers thought that a lot of the fatigue is probably people related for us, as we already chose a field with animals because we (most likely) aren't all that into people to begin with. Add to that people who are complete morons about what we care about most..yeah, you can burn out on the nonsense. Well, it opened up some discussion for us. Something to plan for in one of our staff meetings.

The only thing I could really see being a problem with a seminar that tells you on a point system how burnt out you are, is that it WOULD appear to some as if it is an accusation. "Burn out" is not something you want to have when it is dealing with something you put so much of your time and effort into. And, as long as you are manageing trouble, you may still have pretty unhappy feelings about aspects of your job.. but as long as none of your patients suffer because of it (as in: you do your best to keep yourself in check and know when to step back and let somebody else handle that extra difficult situation), then it would be more helpful to center the discussion around : coping mechanisms, than: how stressed out are you on a scale from 1 - 10.
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Re: Compassion Fatigue

Postby Zagari » Fri Feb 25, 2011 9:08 pm

I started at my shelter as a volunteer for a class I was taking in high school. I was there almost every day of the week. About three months after I started, I was hired on. It was my first "real" job and I'm still at it now a year later. Am I lucky that we are a "no-kill" shelter? I say the term loosely because we actually do quite a few euths a month, whether it be a bite hold dog, a sick cat, or whatever. I've felt myself getting burned out a few different times. At that point, I was kind of like... why do I even care anymore? But I got over it and remembered why I'm doing what I'm doing. I love animals and I want to help them.

Before I was at the shelter, I volunteered at a vet clinic and was basically non-paid staff. Aside from my own dog, I experienced my first euthanizations there. I could handle it. I didn't know those animals. All was well.
My second day at the shelter, two Labrador mixes were euthanized because of aggression. I still remember their names. Beckett and Jack. I remember their faces. I was new there but I still remember the pained and crying faces of the staff.
In March '10, my baby girl Scarlett came in. A gorgeous black brindle pit bull. I have mentioned her a lot on this forum but she taught me a lot about shelter dogs. #1 she was a pit bull. They usually don't last long at my shelter for one reason or another. #2 She was an active dog and locked in a kennel because most staff feared her. #3 She had medical issues.
I worked my butt off trying to train her. She was an awesome dog. My dream dog. But I couldn't keep her. She went kennel crazy and nipped two different staff members. I was asked to make a decision because she was "my" dog. Either I took her home or she was euthanized. I let her go. After Scarlett, I haven't let myself get attached to another dog. I fell like I've changed a lot since her.

In Oct we had a major unknown illness go though and we ended up putting over 40 animals down. We're a small shelter to begin with and after that we had around 10 or so dogs and 20 cats. That was a hard time for us all. I even got to the point that I actually euthanized, as in, injected, my first dog the other day. Am I heartless? It was a lot easier than I imagined it would be. It still took a little bit out of me.

I'm interested in what my future holds. I think my heart is in the right place but I put everything I have into my work. At the rate I'm going, I'll be burnt out in no time.... Done rambling. I hope that I made some sort of sense in what I wrote. =)
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Re: Compassion Fatigue

Postby greenkozi » Fri Feb 25, 2011 10:51 pm

xdogs- someone told you that sarcasm and cynicism weren't good coping mechanisms? i'm no counselor or shrink or any fancy letters, but sheesh. i think gallows humor is totally necessary, at least for me. of course, it has to be in the right context, but, i don't know what i'd do without it. and i'm this weird combo of rose colored glasses and one of the most cynical people i know. i guess it depends on the day, and the degree of burn out.

that's also a great point- it's the PEOPLE. i wrote about this a long time ago, i think on my blog- one of my pet peeves is "i could never do your job," and people are always referring to the animals. well, yeah, that's tough, but man, it's the people that are day in and day out the toughest. lately, i've been really wanting out partly because i want a job where people are constantly mad at me. i'm not sure there's an animal control officer out there who isn't hated. the sad part is, i'm a nice person. like, kind of grossly nice. but just who i am is a turn off to a lot of people. i totally understand this. but talk about compassion fatigue. i feel like a punching bag most days.

then today i had a chance to talk to some kids who a rescue group brought for a tour of the shelter. they're in a special probation school and the group is working with them with pit bulls. i had a great time- basically gave a humane ed class. i had no idea till literally 2 minutes before that i was doing this. and it was great- the kids were itno it in their own way, and they had some good questions. it made my day worth it. for me, getting through this job is savoring the small moments. i found out my favorite rottie (who i hadn't seen for a week) was transferred to a local humane society, where he'll get a bunch more socialization and a better home than we could find him. it's the little things.
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Re: Compassion Fatigue

Postby XDogs » Sat Feb 26, 2011 2:09 am

Well, the way it was put to me was, that I should have other coping mechanisms than sarcasm. But as a whole, yes.. I was told that it isn't really helping my situation. What I probably should work on, though, is having a bit more of a filter when I run out of patience. The thing I have noticed, though, is that stupid people rarely "get" sarcasm. Soooooooo.. it IS in fact really helpful in some situations. Not that it helps their situation, or the pet's situation (these are instances where nothing will help either)... but it sure gives me a giggle for later in the night.


Funny you mention the " I could never do your job" thingy. That came up in our small discussion as well. The thing is.. they always say that when we are rushing a pet into the back to receive immediate, life saving care. Or when we are about to put to sleep a pet. In the latter case, and I don't know why, it always sounds like half an accusation to me... like: this is so horrible... what kind of weirdo are you to be able to do this?!
Maybe I am a "bit" sensitive....
What I have answered before, and think every time is: My job is to relieve suffering and help patients recover from injury and disease 99% of the time. It's not about killing things.

We also talked about getting caught up in a busy day and focusing almost exclusively on the task (taking vitals, administering meds, putting catheters in, taking rads) rather than on the patient (like taking that extra time to wait for them to relax for the radiograph, or petting them on the head and talk to them). On some days, that can be pretty draining, but one of the co-workers used to work in geriatric care as a NA... and THAT is a job I find way more taxing. While the pet is going to go back to their owner, those folks are sometimes entirely dependent on the interaction of the nursing staff with them. And after bonding with them closely to be able to give them the time and care they deserve, they always die. As it turns out, my co-worker quit that job after 5 years once she had children... because there is only so much to spread around.

And then there are the NA's who are probably sick of being told that "I could never do your job".
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