People Who Love Animals Too Much Suffer From A Real Condition

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Alyssa Krieger directs one of America's oldest and biggest shelters, MSPCA-Angell, and she has seen a huge turnover of staff and volunteers over the years, reports The Dodo.

 

shelter-volunteer-4Source: MSPCA Angell

 

She thinks she knows why people are always coming and going.

 

A medical term for it

 

The compassion one starts to feel for an animal when one cares for it can be a heavy burden. It is a big load to carry around, day after day, and to take home after work.

 

shelter-volunteer-1Source: MSPCA Angell

 

They call it compassion fatigue. It's the stress that takes its toll on the body and spirit of the caregiver, when that person feels a connection to an animal and can't say no to any animals in need.

 

It's not always obvious – if a caregiver is suffering from it, they might not notice as the tension builds up over time. All the feelings accumulate when one sees animals being abandoned, killed, abused or put down.

 

shelter-volunteer-6Source: MSPCA Angell

 

Elizabeth Strand, founding director of the University of Tennessee's veterinary social work program, told National Public Radio:

 

One of the hallmark signs of [compassion fatigue] is that you cannot undo what you've been exposed to, and your worldview is forever changed.

 

shelter-volunteer-5Source: MSPCA Angell

 

According to Kieger, it is important to find the perfect balance between work and down time. Becoming too attached to the lives of every animal in the shelter can have disastrous consequences for a caregiver's wellbeing.

 

shelter-volunteer-3Source: MSPCA Angell

 

Kieger told The Dodo:

 

The first year, I would work through my lunch break and stay two hours late and I loved it, but it was tiring. Now I am better at going home and having lunch. If you ask anyone who works with me, I'm constantly yelling at them to go to lunch or go home.

 

Constantly saying goodbye

 

In every shelter there are lives that end for all kinds of reasons, every day. Old age, diseases, injuries and losing rescue attempts or legal battles. The circle of life has to be embraced in any place where people are in contact with so many different animals. Tammy Thies, founder of The Wildcat Sanctuary in Minnesota, spoke to The Dodo about compassion fatigue:

 

It's definitely a real disease. So we do an ash release ceremony when our cats pass away and are cremated. We do a celebration of their life. Similar to what you would do with humans when you follow the grief process.

 

shelter-volunteer-7Source: MSPCA Angell

 

Depressing statistics

 

Death amongst the animals is expected, but in many cases it affects their caregivers to a point where they can't cope anymore. The American Veterinary Medicine Association (AVMA) documents  that one in six vets has considered attempting suicide.

 

shelter-volunteer-2Source: MSPCA Angell

 

It is a tragic statistic for a profession whose main responsibility is saving lives. It's necessary for vets and other animal caregivers to be empathetic in order to be good at their jobs, but at the same time it's important to talk about the dangers of compassion fatigue.

 

shelter-volunteer-10Source: MSPCA Angell

 

Awareness

 

Fortunately, there seems to be more awareness about the subject now than ever before. People are talking about their feelings, people are leaning on their friends and families for support and people are not bottling their feelings up inside. They are cutting the cord when they leave their places of work.

 

shelter-volunteer-9Source: MSPCA Angell

 

People are going home for lunch.

 

A safe space for someone suffering from compassion fatigue is on at the AVMA's Wellness and Peer Assistance page.

 

H/t: The Dodo

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