Animal Compassion is Contagious, But So Is Compassion Fatigue

Shelly-Roche_TINYKITTENS_web
Shelly Roche, Founder of TinyKittens in Langely, British Columbia and the adorable Aurora,

It’s been a while since I fell off. Life happens, but you gotta get back up again. This past summer I went to CatCon in Pasadena, California, and met the wonderful Shelly Roche from TinyKittens! I wrote the article below about compassion fatigue in animal rescue. How I was so ignorant of it before is beyond me. It’s really important as animal lovers we do our share to alleviate some of the pressure. A bit of a long read but one I think can be appreciated.

As animal lovers, we are addicted to animal photos and videos that dominate the Internet. If you’re like me, your social media accounts are bloated with subscriptions to a potpourri of animal channels, whether they are celebrity pets; animal rescue organizations showing the incredible life-saving work they do; personal pet pages or heartfelt feel-good videos capturing good Samaritans unexpectedly finding themselves helping out other animals in distress and need.

Behind all these stories that tug at our heartstrings prompting joy, inspiring us to donate to causes, or even taking action to foster or adopt, there is a hidden human price to be paid for providing us this invaluable education and enrichment. It’s called compassion fatigue. People in the caregiving professions are most at risk. Dr. Charles Figley at the Florida State University Traumatology Institute defines compassion fatigue as: “[e]motional exhaustion, caused by the stress of caring for traumatized or suffering animals or people.”

The statistics from the first-ever survey for veterinarians by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released in 2014 revealed that one in six veterinarians had admitted to having suicidal thoughts. The suicide rate for animal rescue workers is a staggering rate of 5.3 in 1 million workers, according to a study from the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. This statistic is comparable with the suicide rates by firefighters and police officers, compared to the national suicide average for American workers is 1.5 per 1 million.

I’ll admit I have never heard of this condition until this past June at the 5th annual CatCon convention in Pasadena, California. Shelly Roche, the founder of the cat rescue group TinyKittens in British Columbia, gave a seminar on what TinyKittens does for feral and stray cats and kittens. The theme of her presentation was compassion. Roche’s work is nothing short of phenomenal. During her presentation, she mentioned compassion fatigue. She said animal rescuers suicide rates are on par with first responders. That prompted an uncomfortable silence from the audience. As uncomfortable as I was hearing about, I felt compelled to research the topic further.

While the general public may be ignorant of it, as I was, animal caregivers are all too aware of compassion fatigue. The general public’s lack of knowledge of this condition contributes to the problem. It’s too easy and tempting to indulge in online armchair animal activist/veterinarian quarterback behind the safety of a keyboard when responding with highly critical comments to footage of heartbreaking footage of animals in need. Now couple that with animal rescuers dealing with first-hand horrific trauma of animal abuse, despite all their tireless efforts, facing the cruel realization that they cannot save them all. Veterinarians have to deal with grieving pet owners by being the bearer of the tragic news that their beloved pet didn’t make it or has a terminal disease.

“Burn out? Of course! I am crispy fried!” said Alana Miller, founder of Blind Cat Rescue and Sanctuary located in St. Pauls, North Carolina. Blind Cat Rescue (BCR) is a lifetime sanctuary for blind, FeLV and FIV positive cats since 2005. With tireless dedication and building a grassroots online social media presence, BCR now has over a million followers on their Facebook page and has managed to thrive on donations from loyal donors to help the sanctuary provide the very best care for a demographic of cats that would normally be deemed unadoptable in most shelters. When I asked Miller about work-life balance to help counter compassion fatigue, she replied, “Balance? I wish. I do now force myself to take two weeks off vacation; I would love to say that I am completely unplugged, but that is not true, but I do try to only check in 1 or 2 times a day.”

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Honey, and her blind kitty friends at Blind Cat Rescue and Sanctuary in St. Pauls, NC

Grassroots animal rescuers and caregivers like Miller never really take a day off even when they are technically taking a day off. To do this type of work and to do it well, is not for the half-hearted. It demands one hundred and ten percent sustained dedication. The best and the brightest of caregivers can succumb to compassion fatigue. Symptoms can consist of suppressed emotions; overwhelming grief and helplessness; feelings of isolation; unable to concentrate, mental and physical exhaustion; perpetual nightmares and flashbacks; neglecting yourself physically, which includes an unkempt appearance and poor hygiene; and possible substance abuse.

The silver lining to combating and overcoming compassion fatigue is now there are more support spaces than ever before. The best cure is prevention. It is vital for animal caregivers to take of themselves first and foremost. Putting themselves first means they will be better to serve the animals they seek to help. Finding positive time away to recharge is key.  There are also communities of support. Veterinary social workers are available to provide therapeutic support to overwhelmed caregivers.

In Defense of Animals – an international animal protection organization since 1983, provides telephone hotline, e-mail and chat room support. The counselors they provide have been specifically trained to help animal caregivers, as they are animal activists as well, so they empathize and can relate to what beleaguered animal caregivers are going through. The counselors can also refer callers to a list of vegan therapists for longer more extensive treatment of therapy.

Despite the very uncomfortable truths about compassion fatigue, I am glad my curiosity motivated me to learn more about it. I already admired and respected what animal caregivers and activists do, but learning about compassion fatigue, has made my respect for them go to the nth degree. I’m going to take Shelly Roche’s advice from her presentation at CatCon. She encouraged the audience to go out and help a feral or stray animal, no matter how small and share your victory with the world. More shared stories on social media can motivate people to become more involved by taking Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) classes and feeding local cat colonies in their area. Isolation is how compassion fatigue forms and festers, with more people helping out, we’re not only making a huge positive impact on animals’ lives but on our fellow humans as well.

 

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Endangered Species Day

Cecil the lion – slain by trophy hunters in 2015. His death sparked an international outrage and turned the focus on endangered species.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately of recent events. How many of you have heard the news of one million species will go extinct by the human race if nothing is done to stop our destruction? With it being Endangered Species Day, I am truly reflecting on this heartbreaking issue and what can be done. I went to the Audubon Society’s Women in Conversation gala luncheon yesterday at The Plaza Hotel in New York City. I get a little glimmer of hope of all the wonderful people doing thankless work to preserve our plant and animal life.

Even our beloved domestic pets are not safe from our hands. The heartbreaking stats of the abandoned cats and dogs that overpopulate the shelters only to be destroyed are staggering. Thanks to animal rescue initiatives such as TNR, animal sanctuaries, and strong effective adoption and fostering drives, the stats has lessened over the years but they are still overwhelming. Their plight is also due to our species’ manipulation of uprooting them from their natural homes and wild behaviors. Because of this, it is our duty to take care of them and provide them with the best life possible.

Cecil’s death sparked a debate but so much still has to be done. Reports of his brother and son also suffering the same brutal fate of being killed by trophy hunters hurts my heart but heartbreak won’t help these animals – consistent active participation to stop this will. We all have to do better.


I will never let this little guy down. He looks how I feel about the state of the world.



Calling all Kitty New York Residents! Please support the banning of declawing legislation!

The New York Assembly Standing Committee on Agriculture is considering an important bill to ban the declawing of cats statewide. Please ask the committee to hold a hearing on the bill, Assembly Bill 1303, which would prohibit declaw surgery throughout the state. Click on the Alley Cat Allies link that will take to you to the letter that will go out to all your state representatives. The fact we still have this barbaric practice when countries have banned the procedure is astonishing and embarrassing we are lagging behind. We can help end this and help all kitties stay healthfully intact.

A Matchmade Not So Much in Heaven

Miss Swee'Pea, I hope you're living the high life as the and only Queen Cat!
Swee’Pea, I hope you’re living the high life as the one and only Queen cat! I’ll never forget you. xo

Today is National Pet Day. It’s making me a bit nostalgic to relive a time when a feisty, loving tortie cat entered my life. This is a bit of a long read but ones that tugs on your heartstrings.

Not so long ago, I noticed a small tortoiseshell cat on the corner of a major avenue intersection. She crouched down looking at the world around her of rowdy teens and overtired adults.

When I got closer to her, I noticed her fur had several bald patches. Despite her obviously ill appearance, she had an outgoing and confident personality living up to the tortie legend. Petting her I felt the bones protruding under the skin. I began a routine of feeding her breakfast and dinner when I came home from work. People noticed me feeding her and giving reports she’s been chased by angry homeowners and fighting the more seasoned street smart cats. I knew I couldn’t let her stay on the street.

I took to my vet. She tested negative for FIV and FeLV, plus, she had a spay scar. The bad news she had friends of fleas and their internal buddies – parasites. The craziest part came when the vet scanned her shoulder to discover she was chipped! The office called the owners registered to the chip number. They shamelessly said they were not interested in the cat anymore.

I thought this had to be a divine sign. I had been wanting to get Lancelot some company, perhaps this girl was the one. Because of her infections, the vet instructed she and Lancelot could share the litter box or food/water bowls. This meant their interacting together had to be very closely monitored. The saying you never get a second chance to make a first impression certainly fit Lancelot and Swee’Pea’s (her new name) encounter. Disaster from day one and even after two months, it never got better. Only worse.

Lancelot became obsessed with her. He wouldn’t give the poor thing space, nor would he take the cues of her growling and hissing to leave her alone. I got Lancelot from the ASPCA and his origins are somewhat of a mystery. I always suspected he did not have the opportunity to be around his siblings and his mother long enough for proper socialization. I tried switching them in different rooms, giving Swee’Pea towels he laid on to get used to his scent. These two were so incompatible, my then boyfriend at the time put a pet gate in between them when we went to work. By the approach of the third month, I knew she couldn’t stay but she would stay as long as it took until she could find a loving home.

I told a cat-loving coworker about my stressful situation. He said to call the Mayor’s Animal Alliance for NYC’s Animals. They helped him out when he rescued a stray off the street. I hesitated hoping I could find her a home but a lot of people were not interested in adopting (understandably so) a cat when they were still undergoing parasitic treatment. I finally broke down and spoke to a representative at the Mayor’s Animal Alliance, she said since the cat is chipped look if it can be traced back to a shelter or rescue. She said if they’re a no-kill shelter they will want her back

The people at HomeAgain would not release the origin of her microchip number. They said it had to come from a veterinarian’s office or animal rescue. My boyfriend had lady luck on his side. He said the customer service person told him right away Swee’Pea’s original chip owner was on other than the ASPCA! I immediately called them, and they verified that Ms. Swee’Pea was indeed theirs. They would be more than happy to take her back and finish up her medical treatment.

While joy and relief swept through me, I also had a horrible feeling. Those owners who dumped Swee’Pea adopted her from their organization. Their vetting process isn’t very thorough as I got Lancelot for a mere $30.00 and filled out an application. With a cautious heart, I did take Swee’Pea back to the ASPCA. They told me she has been here twice times already. One family took her back after they adopted her followed by those demons who left her to die on the street. I wanted to cry right then and there. They said they will continue treating her and when she is well enough to be put up for adoption.

I wanted to know about the people who abandoned her and left the cat to die. She said they are now flagged on their database and will be escorted off the premises if they fail to leave voluntarily. I asked who is in charge of their adoptions. They gave me the contact information of the executive director of their adoption center. I wrote a heartfelt and very detailed letter about Swee’Pea. I gave her the chip number all the information I could about this very sweet girl. I explained it can’t be stressed enough that due to this poor girl’s history of abandonment, stricter vetting procedures must be made in her case.

I got a response back that Swee’Pea is doing well and I could call anytime to check up on her. I did just that. They told me she is healing up nicely and getting a lot of interaction with staff as she has been through a lot. I kept checking up on Swee’Pea until I found out she got adopted. I pray in my heart of hearts this is her final home. It’s too bad she and Lancelot couldn’t stand one another. A definite love connection fail. I won’t give up hope. I know his “Guinevere” is out there for him.

Long live the Queen wherever she is!


 




When The Going Gets Tough

I am totally dependent on you for my well-being.

Most of us have been there more than once in our lives. Life can be a cruel irony at times. We get knocked down with one crisis followed by another. A lot of these crises hit us financially.

It’s taboo, and rightfully so, although people should get the assistance if they truly need it, for parents to give up their children when they run into hard times. You can’t dump your child off at a shelter because you lost your job or suddenly, they become an inconvenience. I’m not saying beloved pet has more importance than human children, but I do find it odd how easy you can discard a sentient being that you have voluntarily decided to adopt into your life to take care of.

Unfortunately, the law in our society view pets or any animal you are taking care of as property, with little to no rights, although this “property” unlike inanimate objects, can think and feel. Organizations like the Animal Legal Defense Fund is working to change how the legislation views animals as property.

I remember years ago when I was working a terrible and stressful corporate job in the Wall Street area while going to school at night for my master’s degree. I knew I wouldn’t be able to successfully graduate unless I gave up that toxic job. The degree was an investment in my future, and I wasn’t going to let a dead-end job with a boss who was notorious at stringing her team along with hopes of advancements that would never come. I quit with a few thousand dollars in savings. I would be alright for only a couple of months. Plan B? I had none.

During this time, I had my beloved two cats – two sibling brothers who I loved dearly. Looking back, I never ever even entertained the idea of giving them up, even when I had the fear that I couldn’t make the rent. Failing them would not even enter the equation. I managed to get full-time employment in the nick of time after a few months of leaving the Wall Street law firm. I knew I would.

I am sympathetic to people who are struggling to make ends meet that has children. The children are the priority, yet, at the same time, I hope those families exhausted every possibility of trying to keep their entire family intact with their pets as they weather the storm.

Usually, the storm always subsides. How long it stays before it leaves is another matter.

Will you be my Valentine?

Wasn’t a good V-day for me. Started a new job I hate a week ago. It’s a horrible feeling to go into work with fear and dread.

Anyway, I came home tonight and my Lancelot, as always, waiting at the door as he hears the key turning the locks. Of course, he’s hungry but even after he is giving his dinner, he purrs and wants my undivided attention. That’s when I realize. I have a Valentine every day in the form of this lovable and at times crazy cat. He drives me insane with his meowing in the wee hours of the morning for his breakfast; how he is obsessed with the closet; the fact he will meow telling me to get out of bed and be productive because he doesn’t like for me to sleep in. Despite all his quirks, his love and attention are unwavering. No matter how down I feel he is there to pick me up.

Will you be my Valentine, Lancelot? You’re certainly mine.

I blame it on the cat and the closet

Busted!

This past Thursday night was the annual New York Pet Fashion show held at the Pennsylvania Hotel opposite Madison Square Garden. I attended last year and thought it would be great to cover it this year and share with you all. I knew it was in early February but for some reason, I thought time had my back. I would know beforehand to purchase a ticket.

To my disappointment, I completely thought it was going to be held the second week of February. I blame it on Lancelot the Grey, as this Thursday night I came home tired and my cat acted up fooling around in the closet. He’s not supposed to be in that particular closet as it has tools and all kinds of stuff where he could get possibly hurt.

As the wonderful haute couture pets were strutting their stuff down the runway, I contended with a mischevious cat at home. I’ll do better next time, friends.




First blog post to a brave new feline world.

Hello, fellow crazy cat people! It doesn’t matter if your crazy cat self-level is light, in-between, or hardcore. This blog has something for everyone who loves cats and animals in general.

New York City is one of, if not the best, partying cities in the world. So, you know our cat game is strong. Although, the west coast has pioneered the mega-conventions, CatCon, anyone? The Big Apple is making strides in creating fun animal events to promote the well-being of our beloved pets and to support animal rescue/activism.

Kitties in the City is a blog that will be covering the cool and the cute events in New York City and beyond. With the help of my beloved furbaby, Lancelot the Grey, I will let you fellow crazy catters (not an actual word, but it should be) know what’s happening around town. KitC will also do reviews of documentaries, films, books. Lancelot and I would love to hear from you about your love of cats, dogs, etc. Share what type of content you would like to see. Since we are visual creatures, I’ll do my best in providing videos and pictures along with the posts, so you don’t totally feel like you’re at the reading library!

I am looking forward to building a community of pet lovers, whether you’re a city dweller or not.