I have witnessed great compassion from the people I meet in the animal rescue world. No one can dispute the generosity and kindness of people who give their free time and money to rescue, rehab, and re-home the millions of animals in our country that desperately need a chance at a safe and loving home. Rick and I can personally attest to the strain on our emotional well-being of living the life of rescuers for the past 18 years. No one would be surprised to hear us say how exhausted we are each night, how heart-broken we are on a regular basis, or how discouraged we get with the continued flow of unwanted dogs in our society. But we are so very lucky to have thousands of followers that believe in our mission, contribute to our financial needs, step up to transport babies when needed, and simply say thank you to us each and every day. Our support team is instrumental in our ability to get up each day and face the challenges that come with rescuing senior and special needs dogs. We are truly blessed!
But today I would like to talk about the people behind the scenes, the people that continue to do what they can to help without any expectation of recognition. Recently Rick decided to use a few runs in his boarding facility to help an amazing group of rescuers that are sending babies from the overflowing Texas shelters to areas up north that do not suffer with the problem of over-population of dogs in their communities. We have come into contact with the leaders of this group who make the plans, raise the money, organize the transports, and follow thru on their plans to save as many of these babies as possible. They are the face of the rescue, and they are remarkable members of our society. We have also come to know some of the people behind the scenes, and I cringe when I hear them say, “We are just the peons, we don’t deserve the credit for what our group accomplishes”. I know their leaders would stand with me to tell them that they DO DESERVE RECOGNITION! Nothing happens in the rescue world by one person who sits at a computer and writes posts on social media. The most successful rescue efforts have dozens of people behind the scenes running the dogs back and forth to the vets, processing adoption applications, pulling dogs from shelters, bathing dogs, fostering dogs, and driving the transports. These people neglect their families, their homes, and their own social lives to do what they can to support the overall objectives of the group they volunteer with.
Shelter workers are another group of essential people that not only don’t receive any praise for what they do, they often bear the brunt of the criticism from their communities because their shelters are forced to euthanize dogs every day. I’ve walked thru shelters all over the state of Texas, and I often find people who are worn out and almost unresponsive to the battle going on around them every day. Everyday they face dogs that are so frightened that they bite the hands that are trying to help them. Everyday they face being vomited on, peed on, and the task of cleaning up after dogs that have loose bowels. They see dogs that have been run over by cars, torn up in dog fights, or starved half to death. They begin their jobs with high hopes of making a difference for the unwanted and discarded animals in their midst. But as time passes they lose that ambition, they lose the hope they once held so dear, they lose the feeling that their efforts can actually make a dent in the problem. None of those people have any influence on the policies that are set down for them to follow. None of those people have the power to turn their shelters into the ideal holding spot for babies looking for homes. Those decisions are made by the powers that be in their communities who are also faced with problems such as overcrowded and under-funded facilities. They don’t have the luxury of just considering what the dog loving community desires. They are forced to look at the entire communities’ needs and to divide the resources accordingly.
In our experience of rescue one of the most important factors to our success is Doc Jess. (Pictured above with Rick and I at one of our Open House events.) She gives of her time and resources with no thought to her own personal needs. Everyone that reads our Facebook page knows that Doc Jess is instrumental in EVERY success story we post. She makes it possible for me to drop off babies on Monday morning when her schedule is beyond full. She sees to it that I have access to her after her clinic is closed, she even drops off meds at the sanctuary after hours if I can’t get away to pick them up. I could go on and on about what she does not only for PLDS but for several other rescue groups. She also created and manages her own rescue efforts of wounded wildlife, unwanted domesticated birds, and lots of other critters. To her, life is valuable and cherished no matter what form it comes in.
Recently while doing research for this blog post I read an article that brought tears to my eyes concerning veterinarians. I was shocked to read that this is the group of medical care-givers that has the highest rate of suicide. Consider what they go through to care for our babies; years and years of education, astronomical expenses of the clinics they maintain, and the general public that can on occasion be less than gracious. The one element that I had never really thought of is that vets are the only medical doctors that are forced to end the lives of some of their own patients. Think about it. They grow up loving animals to the extent that they make the decision early on in their lives that they want to be a veterinarian. After over two decades of education they begin their practice with joy at the thought of saving the lives of the animals they revere. And then almost on a daily basis they are forced to administer the medication that takes those lives. They know, just like we do, that sometimes that is the kindest thing they can do for any one animal. But what do they see in their minds when they try to relax after long, trying days? I know that I lay awake at night and worry over the babies that I can’t save because I don’t have the room or the resources to save every one that I am made aware of. But I can have hope that someone else stepped up and saved that baby. I know that what Doc Jess sees as she thinks about her days, is much more traumatic and emotionally draining.
Compassion fatigue plays a very real part in all of these groups and levels of care-givers. Some nights I look at Rick and the weariness in his eyes is heart-breaking. Other nights he looks at me after a particularly hard loss, and he worries about the accumulative affect that sorrow will have on my insomnia and overall health. And we are the blessed ones! Think about what it must be like to work in a high kill shelter in the heart of Texas. Think about how difficult it must be for the behind the scenes volunteers that missed that special moment in their child’s life because a dog was found injured and afraid, and someone had to go and coax it out from under a storage shed. Think about what Doc Jess goes thru when she has multiple babies in one day that she must help to cross over that Rainbow Bridge.
So here’s my plea to all of you that love your four legged babies. When you enter a shelter try to remember that at one time those people had the idea that their hard work would somehow make a difference. When you grow tired of one of your friends that is involved in rescue being unavailable to you, try to remember that last night they may have been laying in a bed of fleas trying desperately to save an injured, starving animal. When you visit with your veterinarian try to remember they he/she has stresses that you cannot even begin to imagine. If you can, pat them on the back and tell them you are thankful for their sacrifices, take a special treat of cookies or cakes when the holidays come around, offer to help them with an unrelated chore or need they may be neglecting, let them know that you recognize the burden they carry each and every day. Help them acknowledge and deal with the weight of compassion fatigue as it is often invisible, and always heavy.
One thought on “Compassion Fatigue”
Thank you for reminding us, your faithful fellow adopters and rescuers, what you all have to go through on a daily basis behind the scenes, in the trenches so we can share our lives with these wonderful babies who waited to find us also. I don’t feel I saved somebody. They came into my life bringing so much love and devotion and fun every day and I can’t imagine my life without them! If I was younger and in better physical health, I have arthritis in all my joints to varying degrees, I would have more than three!