Animal Compassion is Contagious, But So Is Compassion Fatigue

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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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RIP Grumpy Cat 2012-2019 You paved the way for cats to build a financial empire.

Like most cat lovers, I was shocked to hear about Grumpy Cat’s untimely passing. I hope out of her passing, people can see that adopting cats who are “different” are a wonderful thing. The branding for blind cats, FeLV, FIV, and other cats who would be deemed unadoptable and recommended to being put down is now changing for the better. RIP, little one. Your paws touched many hearts and you will go down in the history books.

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.



The Monday & the Restless

Look into my eyes.

Spring is in the air! Checking in after a very much needed reflective period of what has happened in my life and where I want to go along with staying in the present. I tend to look at Lancelot for inspiration, as a supreme cat, he stays in the present moment for the most part. A traumatic or pleasant past experience also motivates his behavior in the present. We can say we do the same thing as human beings.

Animals have always inspired me in a very creative way. I can look into my little guy’s mesmerizing eyes and feel I can write a masterpiece. What motivates you? Look forward to reading your thoughts.

Deadly to Cats – Beware of the Easter Lily Plant!

This beautiful plant is deadly to cats. Do not bring into your home!

Easter is nearly upon us. This is the season where veterinarians see a tragic spike in cat poisoning and possible fatalities due to exposure of the Easter lily plant since it is part of the Easter tradition. Many people may purchase it or get bestowed with the plant from their church as gifts. According to the 24/7 Animal Poisson Control Center, ingesting any part of the plant can cause kidney failure, loss of appetite, drooling, vomiting, dehydration, painful abdomen, etc. Symptoms usually show up after six to twelve hours of exposure. Take your kitty to your veterinarian immediately. If you vet is not available, go to a 24-hour animal emergency care or call the animal 24-hour poison hotline.

There are some benign lilies that do not contain Lilium and Hemerocallis species which cause feline fatality, like the Peace, Peruvian, and Calla lilies , but they can still can be poisonous and it is best not to expose your cats to any form of possible serious illness. So, please. We all love our fur babies. Do not bring home any lilies or grow any in your garden if your cats are allowed access to it. You can still enjoy the Easter season without the devastating heartbreak.

Meowfest & CatCon – Here I Come!

A summer to remember.

Since my birthday is in July, I thought I would bestow myself with one the best birthday presents and take a weekend trip to Toronto, Canada for the second annual Meowfest event. The one-day catextravaganza raised over $10,000 for non-profits animal organizations and got some rescue kitties adopted in the process! The first one last year took place in Vancouver, British Columbia. British Columbia is one the most beautiful and greenest places ever. I decided to go to CatCon in Los Angeles instead. Well, this time, a girl is doing both! CatCon in June and the next week heading to Toronto in early July.

With this 24 degree New York City weather, I needed something to cheer me up and warm me up. Lancelot will not be happy with my absence but he never complains with all the goodies I bring back.

Make it up to me, hoomin, with bribes of treats and toys!