Compassion Fatigue

A place to share rescue-related issues, vent, get advice, and debrief on the challenges of the work!

Re: Compassion Fatigue

Postby Amie » Sat Feb 26, 2011 7:19 am

Yeah, we talked about the "I could never do your job" comments - and I believe we've talked about it here, too. It always feels like "I love animals too much" follows that phrase - and often it does. And of course that means I can do the job because I don't love animals as much.
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Re: Compassion Fatigue

Postby greenkozi » Sat Feb 26, 2011 9:40 am

XDogs wrote: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.

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).


that makes a lot of sense- sarcasm/cynicism don't go over well with the general population, especially the clients/citizens we deal with that make us want to scream. in my opinion (not sure what the citizens i deal with would say), my customer service skills have improved immensely in the last 8 years because i just kind of pretend i'm sweetness and light and what did you say? something about butterflies most of the time when i'm at wrok. which is.. yeah, not me. after work? or with coworkers. :twisted:

thank you so much for bringing up the part about getting caught up in the details- that's a great reminder for me when i'm like this. i do my job for the people and the animals. yesterday i was so frustrated in one of my tasks that i forgot all about the animals. that is compassion fatigue. when i remember that, it really makes things better- especially for the animals, but also for me, who has to do the job. i wish i saw thisi yesterday.

i love this thread. it's really coming at the best time. today at work promises to be a doozy!!
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Re: Compassion Fatigue

Postby Amie » Sat Feb 26, 2011 9:58 am

I've found myself coming to check this thread first lately. It helps to know I'm not alone, and also not feel mired in the specific issues of my shelter. Thanks, everyone!
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Re: Compassion Fatigue

Postby XDogs » Sat Feb 26, 2011 5:38 pm

It does help to see that these are common feelings. It also helps to see that some of it could be worse or even harder to deal with... I know that sounds horrible.
Say, what about your co-workers? Did talking about the subject seem to help? Bond you more and understand each other better?
One thing I have found to be difficult while in the trenches with some of these people, is to say: hey, do you need a break? Reason being that any criticism could easily turn into an argument of "well, YOU did this and that the other day, why was THAT OK?" I still think back at a time where I was most seriously burnt out at my first job. It was largely environment related. I was not accepted into the staff of the hospital very well. Pretty much felt like the 5th and 6th wheel of the bunch. Always seemed to be put on the back-burner or onto tasks that nobody else wanted to do. Then you get a dog that is acting like an a-hole (yes, it's fear... but you don't remember that when they make it impossible to get the job done that everybody else assumes you can't do anyways.. even though you can) and you loose it. I remember restraining a Basset Hound for something.. or at least trying to, and the dang thing kept flailing around.. it may have been for a nail-trim. I ended up squashing the dog into the table pretty hard and one of the doctors went : "whoa there....." It smacked me out of it and brought me back to reality.. but I was so embarrassed that I had lost my temper to the point that somebody had to say something. Obviously, it stuck with me. So, knowing how THAT feels.. how do you say something without making a person, who truely is there because they care, not feel like a dirt bag?

I think I have come to a point with it where I know when it is best to just step away. There are dogs and cats where I just say : no thanks.. somebody else can deal with it. I pretty much am done with it. And luckily, our staff works well enough together where somebody else will take over, almost no question asked. We are also working in an environment where the doctors don't push the issue to the breaking point. If somebody says they are done with a client, it's understood. Somebody else goes in to deal with it. That kind of thing helps immensely to decrease burn out.
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Re: Compassion Fatigue

Postby DogNerd » Sat Feb 26, 2011 6:43 pm

I keep coming back to this thread too. Greenkozi and I have been talking about it in real life as well. I have been volunteering with rescue for 10 + years and I have probably had full-blown compassion fatigue/burnout for the past 2-3 years. It is so hard because this is what I do with my time. I do other things too but up until a couple of years ago, rescue was the main thing. One of the challenges for me is the constant criticism from every angle. We are arm-chair criticized by people not in rescue at all, criticized by other rescuers, criticized by the shelter itself, from people within our own organization... the list goes on.... This is for a group with a very good reputation and good relationship with other rescues and our shelter. No matter what we do or how we do it there is always someone unhappy. It takes a big toll on me. Then there are all the other ways in which rescue is challenging - the things you see, the heartaches of the dogs you can't help, the personal failures when you do try to help and it goes wrong, the second-guessing, the reality of a non black and white world of animal behavior. And this is what I do with my free un-paid time?!

I have put some effort into making changes. I resigned from the board of our rescue. I asked to be taken off the list of people that receive the emails about the shelter dogs we are called on. I only now test dogs on a very limited basis and when someone in the group asks me to. I requested that the shelter no longer call me on my personal phone with the "we need an answer by 6 pm tomorrow about this dog or we are euthanizing" calls and instead they go in to our rescue main line. I have committed to one foster at a time (but have already broken this rule a couple of times.) I pretty much stay out of the shelter and I stay committed to doing 1-2 classes a week with my own dogs. This is all helping but I still don't feel fixed and worry that it is going to have to take leaving rescue completely for me to heal. That seems like a real shame because I know I am good at it, and I know that I help save a lot of good dogs that have no other shot.

Sigh.... so anyone want a really nice 10 year old Weimaraner that was in his home his entire life but was dropped at the shelter for biting the toddler in the house after the toddler ran into his head hard with a truck while he was sleeping. Breed rescue, the SFSPCA, and local senior dog rescue all declined because of his "bite history." How about a friendly well-socialized pair of 7 and 8 year old chubby pit bulls that lost their 80 year old owner about a month ago? Maybe a 5 month old super friendly happy-go-lucky brindle pit mix that is intimidated by dogs that come on too strong. Or a one year old handsome light yellow lab that is spazzy and obnoxious with other dogs in the shelter setting and with the shelter testing, but showed zero dog aggression when we took him out with a couple of dogs and let them all run off-leash? Lab rescue declines because the shelter calls him dog aggressive. These are just a small sampling of the dogs that SF considers "unadoptable" and therefore can be euthanized. These are the dogs that rescues like mine believe ARE adoptable and we scramble and beg and bust our asses to find foster homes for. Every once in a while someone says "thanks for all that you do." But far more often we hear, "I could never do what you do," or "you really should be doing what you do in a different way."
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Re: Compassion Fatigue

Postby FBODGRL » Sat Feb 26, 2011 8:56 pm

Amie wrote:Yeah, we talked about the "I could never do your job" comments - and I believe we've talked about it here, too. It always feels like "I love animals too much" follows that phrase - and often it does. And of course that means I can do the job because I don't love animals as much.



I am not exactly helpful since I work in a different field with people.

I did want to say regarding this comment(I've probably made it before)That I think it takes a very special person to work in a shelter and even in rescue. I have SO much respect for all of you.

Reading this thread has been very interesting for me. I know with my job when we have some type of "traumatic" situation they offer crisis intervention, but for the daily in and outs which still involve quite a bit of stress, etc we are left to our own devices to cope.
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Re: Compassion Fatigue

Postby dot » Sat Feb 26, 2011 10:49 pm

Just because I think it needs to be said - thank you for all you do. You are amazing people and you go above and beyond for something you care about. :hug:
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Re: Compassion Fatigue

Postby greenkozi » Sun Feb 27, 2011 11:24 am

XDogs wrote:It does help to see that these are common feelings. It also helps to see that some of it could be worse or even harder to deal with... I know that sounds horrible.
Say, what about your co-workers? Did talking about the subject seem to help? Bond you more and understand each other better?.


working with good people makes a ton of difference. our team goes up and down in terms of team work. lately it's down. and that makes doing a hard job even harder. this particular group of people that i work with, i've never been able to talk about burnout exactly- they're more the denial kind of people- but, when things are going good, we are able to talk about things that need to be fixed at the shelter and come up with constructive improvemetns. when they're bad, it's a terrible environment.

i work with someone whose methods/approach to euthanasia are very different than mine. his are legal and not inhumane, i just think he doesn't have the same amount of animal knowledge that i do. and he hates doing it, but doesn't know that it's because he just emotionally hates doing it. (don't we all?!) so he says he's superstitious. this day is a bad day for it. that day is a bad day for it, etc. well, we are ALWAYS paired together to euthanize. so i euthanize every animal we are assigned to. this takes it toll- and he's not someone you can talk to. with other people, we've sort of negotiated about what works for us and it has worked out to improve the situation. in this case, it's just not going to change. so every day adds to the stress :(

on the other hand, i live with my best friend who i met 8 years ago working together in a shelter. we both are still in animal welfare but not at the same place. we've lived together twice, and i think that part of why we understand each other so well is because we are "in the trenches" together.

dognerd's point about being criticized from every angle is so valid. it's part of why i have non-animal friends. at least if you're going to harrass me (which i often deserve!) do it about something else :) if i fail, i fail at something non-work related! it's also awesome to have a friend like dognerd, who is doing work that's totally reltaed, but distant enough that we aren't dealing with the SAME people or the SAME animals. we get it but don't have to be mired in eachother's crap, so to speak. the issues are something we can help each other with, but we don't have to then deal with the same people that we're both frustrated about. does that make sense?
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Re: Compassion Fatigue

Postby Amie » Sun Feb 27, 2011 5:55 pm

greenkozi wrote:it's also awesome to have a friend like dognerd, who is doing work that's totally reltaed, but distant enough that we aren't dealing with the SAME people or the SAME animals. we get it but don't have to be mired in eachother's crap, so to speak. the issues are something we can help each other with, but we don't have to then deal with the same people that we're both frustrated about. does that make sense?


It does! I think that's exactly what I'm enjoying about the thread. One of my work friends needs to vent about EVERYTHING, and I can take a whole lot, but then I need to bury my head in the sand. I can listen to a lot of her talk, but I have to zone out now and then. And some of the venting has to do with other coworkers (and the unbalanced way management treats people) and so there isn't a lot of camaraderie. We all can get along and work together, for the most part, but it's not a deep emotional discussion kind of group.
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Re: Compassion Fatigue

Postby Amie » Fri Mar 04, 2011 7:51 am

We're having a group session, hosted by a different therapist, this Sunday after work. I feel like I have to give it a try, though I know I'll be going in very guarded after this seminar a week and a half ago. Work has been really miserable for me since then - two days in a row I started crying just at the thought of going in. Some changes need to be made in my life!
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Re: Compassion Fatigue

Postby greenkozi » Fri Mar 04, 2011 10:57 pm

Amie wrote:We're having a group session, hosted by a different therapist, this Sunday after work. I feel like I have to give it a try, though I know I'll be going in very guarded after this seminar a week and a half ago. Work has been really miserable for me since then - two days in a row I started crying just at the thought of going in. Some changes need to be made in my life!


if i hugged people, i would hug you. since it's the internet, i can virtually hug you.

i hope the other session works out well.

today i cleaned the freezer and said to myself, "this is what my life has become."
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Re: Compassion Fatigue

Postby Amie » Sun Mar 06, 2011 9:20 pm

It's a psychotherapy intern, who is doing this for credit towards her graduate degree, and it's a group session - very different than a seminar. It turns out only my closest work friend and I bothered to attend (literally everyone else we spoke to said "no way am I going through that again" or some similar sentiment - that's how it impacted the whole staff) so it was actually really, really good. She is still bound by confidentiality, and we were able to discuss freely - maybe too freely, as we ended up talking for three hours! But we're going to make it a weekly thing, and we asked if we could meet some place other than work so that we felt more secure. I think it could be a good thing. I'm feeling hopeful, anyway, which is a change.
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Re: Compassion Fatigue

Postby PitBull-Lady » Sun Mar 06, 2011 10:25 pm

:thumbsup: good for you. I'm glad.
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Re: Compassion Fatigue

Postby Amie » Thu Mar 10, 2011 8:57 am

New forum section!

This is a new place for rescue/shelter people to talk about the issues that are specific to their work, different from the threads that are about rescuing individual dogs. It's to vent, share, seek advice, and hopefully de-stress!
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Re: Compassion Fatigue

Postby XDogs » Thu Mar 10, 2011 12:59 pm

I hope it will help your current situation at least a little. I am sorry you are feeling so exhausted :(
Do you have any paid vacation to get out of there for at least a few days to take a breather and rewind?

Since I am not active in rescue, I don't exactly feel like I fit into the new forum, so I wish you luck and peace of mind from this end of the forum.
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