by Elisa Black-Taylor
Good morning readers…..When I began doing research on those involved in animal euthanasia, whether at the hands of a shelter worker, to those of us simply reading the descriptions of what took place, something went off in my head. I know it’s horrible for those of us who read about animal deaths, but what about those who make the decision to euthanize shelter pets and those who have to follow through on those orders.
Today I’d like to talk about shelter workers and the PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and the compassion fatigue they experience.
How are they affected by all of the euthanasia? Every day without fail. Add dog and cat abuse to the euthanasia issue and I truly don’t see how the shelter workers mentally handle it all.
I’d also like to explain some of the day to day problems faced by the shelter workers, all who love cats and dogs and get caught up in the emotional aspects of finding an animal a home or being faced with watching it die.
Animals turned into shelters aren’t always the most adoptable of pets. And they don’t always have a nice trip to arrive at the shelter. Some have suffered abuse. Many kittens or puppies are placed in a box and left by the front door, regardless of the outside temperature. Dogs and cats both are turned in with behavior issues that must be addressed before putting the pets up for adoption. Many are turned in with no issues at all. They’re simply unwanted.
Shelter workers face a phone that is always ringing, educating the public about the benefit of spay/neuter programs, encouraging volunteers to help with the day to day cleaning and caring for the animals. And all the while trying not to fall in love with a cat or dog they may later be forced to euthanize due to a lack or space or a behavioral problem that can’t be corrected. Many of these shelter workers already have as many rescues at home as they can handle.
These are issues almost every shelter is faced with on a daily basis.
Don’t EVER think the shelter workers don’t love and care for these animals because most do. Yes, there are still shelters out there out there that aren’t “no kill” But don’t blame the number of animals dying by lethal injection on the people who do their best to save them.
This is a community problem. Of people who won’t spay/neuter their pets. One litter is too many for a dog or cat to have before “fixing” the problem. So don’t go blaming the shelter employees for putting your “mama cat” to sleep when you deliver her and her 5 kittens to the neighborhood shelter because you don’t have the time to find them a home.
Psychology Today issue November/December 1998 stated that shelter workers who have to euthanize animals as a regular part of their jobs suffer a wide range of distressing reactions, including grief, anger, nightmares and depression. This leads to sleepless nights and crying spells. Many shelters employees are known to have breakdowns in the euthanasia room because they feel so helpless to stop to circle of death faced on a daily basis. See for example: The Other Victims: Slaughterhouse Workers and Others Who Kill Animals (opens in a new window).
Shelter workers responsible for carrying out the euthanasia or in giving the euthanasia orders are likely to suffer from traumatic stress and compassion fatigue. While post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is experienced mainly to those the event is happening to (the animals), compassion fatigue is the correct term for the abundance of emotions experienced by shelter workers who care what happens to each and every pet. In the medical world this type of stress is called secondary traumatic stress.
I’m not sure I agree in the difference of these two terms, but for the sake of clarity I wanted to mention the differences.
Animal shelter workers with secondary traumatic stress and compassion fatigue exhibit the same set of symptoms. These include recurrent nightmares, recurrent and intrusive distressing recollections of the trauma, flashback episodes, intense psychological distress at exposure to cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event, restricted range of feelings (i.e. blocking feelings), difficulty falling or staying asleep, irritability or outbursts of anger, difficulty concentrating, hyper vigilance and exaggerated startle response. Impact on Shelter and Animal Control Staff of euthanizing animals (opens in a new window).
I invite all of those involved in shelter work euthanasia, either director or workers, to comment at the end of this article. How do you deal with the compassion fatigue? Please let us know. Because it’s difficult enough for the readers here to read about what you go through on a daily basis.
Let us also group the crossposters and rescue organizations and transporters in a subgroup possibly experiencing these disorders. While not making the actual decisions, there are definitely involved.
This will include the crossposters who use their websites to race the clock and try to find a home for the animals on death row. How are they affected, even though they aren’t the ones calling the shots or administering the injection, when an animal runs out of time and is euthanized.
Then there are the rescuers, ready and willing to take an animal is they or a transporter are willing to help deliver the pet to safety. I’ve been their posts after an animal has reached the end of the line and no rescue has come. How are these groups affected by needless death. Please feel free to comment on this article.
And last, I like to hear from the average reader who is overwhelmed with reading of the the bad things that happen to animals. Not just in the shelters, but in the world in general. How do each of you cope. The easiest way to cope would be to stop reading. Unfortunately, that won’t make the bad go away.
Once people like us stop caring, game over. The animals who need us won’t stand a chance.
As a writer, I’m glad to share my method of dealing with all that I read. Between my P.E.T.A. Alerts, ASPCA, Pet Abuse.com, and my many friends reporting the abuse taking place around the world, I get overwhelmed. When things get too stressful, I’ll search out a good story and write of it. It helps me to go back and give my attention to the bad. For one thing I don’t want the readers to see my name and always think of a depressing story. Thank would be too depressing. I like to write the funny. The good. Even though they are few and far between.
I still can’t look at horrific photos and stay away from some issues (such as crush videos). I’m sorry, but I’m human like the rest of you and there are some things I can’t look at.
I hope you’re enjoyed this article. I did it because I’ve seen too much of the euthanasia blame put on shelter workers and wondered how euthanasia affects them mentally. I hope they’ll share their thoughts with us.
I’ve also learned PTSD and compassion fatigue are two different diagnoses with many of the same symptons.
I think most of us who loved animals and are concerned about their welfare suffer from compassion fatigue. Now we know the term to research pertaining to out own lives.