Compassion Fatigue When Working With Animals

The Problem:

I took a webinar from The Pet Professional Guild called “How To Manage And Prevent Compassion Fatigue While Working With Animals” by Dr. Linda Harper. The reason I took the webinar was because in the past year I have noticed a gradual decline in my interest in working with dogs and an inability to enjoy my work. I felt it was related to the fact that I work with dogs and I have dogs as pets. Therefore, my life revolves around  care giving to animals.

As I suspected, the webinar confirmed my thoughts. As animal lovers, we are idealists and extremely sensitive and compassionate towards animals and animal related issues. For me, I also learned that I bond with my clients and their dogs and feel that I must take care of them in a particular way – so that they experience no stress at all when away from their families.  When a clients’ dog is sick or dies, I experience grief, on top of what is going on with my own dogs. This is called “cumulative grief”. And when I board clients’ dogs for extended periods, I am on call 24/7 for weeks and weeks until the dog leaves.

The Result:

All this adds up to too much emotional stress. This can cause a person to feel exhausted, feeling like you are not making a difference and a negativity towards others and even sometimes towards the whole career.

The main things that have happened to me are exhaustion, mental and physical, an inability to focus on my work and in order to stop my brain from working overtime, I stopped doing several dog related activities – dog shows, dog sledding, taking private training clients and dropping several memberships. I also reduced the number of clients I had in order to have more time to rest, which I thought was a solution to the problem, but it really was not.withthedogs

The Solution:

The main thing that I have found that worked for me to stop the progression of compassion fatigue is stop trying to control everything. Because I run my own business, and don’t have any employees, I do everything myself, from maintenance and business marketing to all the interaction with the dogs. Stopping trying to control things was suggested in the webinar, but I found that I had already started doing that. I reluctantly gave up doing things saying that I just couldn’t do it anymore, but now I see that I had given up on trying to control every aspect of the business and my own dogs, even if I didn’t actually realize it at the time.

I often used to avoid going out because I was worried about one or more of my dogs, or worried that the house would burn down, or I would miss events because I didn’t want the dogs to be alone (our 15 year old dog Finn sometimes has anxiety when we leave for extended periods). Sounds weird I know, but irrational thinking is all part of being emotionally overloaded. Letting go of control of some things is what I did to relax my mind and enable myself to enjoy doing things without the dogs or worrying about them.

Having fun away from work was another crucial part of recovering. When you work with or have animals in your life, many of you will know, you consider then in everything you do. It is often considered amusing when people say they would rather pend tie at home with their pet or pets. This feeling of concern and love for our animals can have more effect on us than we might realize. If you don’t take care of yourself and are continuously caring for and worrying about others, it WILL catch up with you, as I finally learned.

Finally, it is nothing to be ashamed of – animal lovers have big hearts and not big enough hands to help them all. This is a wonderful way to be, as long as you take good care of the one who taking care of the animals – you

Here is the link to the webinar information page in case anyone is interested in taking it. There is a charge for the webinar: