Animal shelter workers provide 26 coping strategies for those dealing with euthanasia

In this article I discuss 26 coping strategies for animal shelter workers who are involved with euthanizing animals at shelters. The advice comes from 242 experienced workers who were or are directly responsible for euthanasia of animals at shelters. They have worked or work at 62 US animal shelters.

Although euthanizing animals at shelters is not the only stressor imposed upon animal shelter employees, it is a major one. I would like to hear the views of shelter workers in comments on their thoughts about coping with the stress of the job.

At risk of euthanasia
At risk of euthanasia
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Here are the 26 coping strategies (% figures are the percentage of shelter employees who advise these strategies):

Initial observation from Michael & Jane (a contributor). It appears that a coping strategy is to believe that shelter animal euthanasia is necessary. That killing is better than living a tough life. It is a mind game. I don’t believe that it has to be necessary.

Vent your feelings. This is the top coping strategy and advised by 15.7% of animal shelter employees according to a survey: Euthanasia-related strain and coping strategies and animal shelter employees by Benjamin E Baran MA and others. What this strategy means is that you can cry and get your feelings out by talking about your feelings.

15.3% of workers said that they made sure that they did not get attached to animals. They did not take things personally but maintained a level of compassion. It’s an interesting balance between not becoming uncaring and at the same time becoming detached. Each animal should be treated as your own.

14.1% of workers say that knowing that euthanasia is sometimes the best option is a good coping strategy. They remind themselves that the animals are not getting hurt or killed by road traffic accidents. Neither are they starving to death. The argument is that it is better for the animals to be euthanized than to suffer through mistreatment or as a street cat.

11.6% said that they would advise workers to take it slowly. To newcomers they would say that they should wait until they’re ready to do it. It is not a good idea to block the process out of your mind and tell yourself that you can handle it.

At risk of euthanasia
At risk of euthanasia

11.2% said that you should seek education and training. They advised that you read the “12 imperative steps” of a euthanasia technician. Note: I don’t know what these steps are. Workers should also ensure that they understand the goals and mission of the organisation.

8.3% of shelter workers advised that colleagues do not have to work at the shelter unless they really want to. They say that you should get a different job if it is absolutely necessary. Not everyone can do the job and you shouldn’t get involved if you can’t deal with it.

7.2% said that workers should know that the job is not for everyone. Either you have the mentality forward or not. It can be physically demanding and you have to have a thick skin to handle the job.

5.8% said that animal euthanasia was part of the job and you have to understand that. You have to understand that it is more humane than letting a cat or dog live in misery.

5% said that you have to understand why animals are euthanized and the consequences of not euthanizing them. In short workers should be informed about the reality of cat and dog overpopulation and sheltering animals.

At risk of euthanasia
At risk of euthanasia

5% recommended that workers should talk to and comfort the animals during euthanasia. You have to make sure that the animal is as comfortable as possible when putting him or her to sleep. When they take their last breath you have to do your best to make them as content as possible.

5% said that you should get another job which does not involve euthanasia of animals if it concerns you. You might be going into the job thinking that you’re going to help animals but you end up cleaning out faeces and killing animals.

4.1% recommended that shelter workers should acknowledge their feelings. They need to be honest about themselves and the effect the work is having upon them.

4.1% said that you should separate work from your personal life by which they mean that you should not take the work home with you and therefore not think about it too much.

4.1% said that employees should focus upon success. Workers should remind themselves that they are good people who care for animals very well. The focus should be on adoptable animals and giving them a better chance in life.

3.3% said that shelter workers should communicate with management about their concerns. This should include discussing their feelings with management. This should be an open and honest relationship between workers and management.

2.9% said that it helped workers if they became very proficient at the euthanasia of animals. The focus should be on the technical aspects and the proper administration of euthanasia.

2.9% recommended that shelter workers should promote responsible companion animal ownership. This means ensuring that customers know about neutering and spaying their animals. It also means looking to shelters when searching for a lost pet.

2.5% said that it helps to say a prayer before you start your job.

2.1% recommended that workers took up a hobby and it helps to take your mind off what you had to do during the day’s work. Outdoor activities might be preferable because they are more physical.

2.1% said that it may help if another person euthanizes an animal who you are attached to.

1.2% recommended that workers seek external help with counselling if they feel they needed it.

0.8% advised that workers should be confident in their skills, training and decision-making.

0.8% advised workers to be proud of their work if they are good technicians in the field of animal euthanasia.

0.4% recommended that shelter workers should not euthanize large amount of animals at one time.

0.4% advised that workers should keep the euthanasia room neat because it helps you to not hate that particular room.

Please contribute if you can

I hope that this long list of possible coping strategies for those involved in animal euthanasia at shelters helps. Once again I would very much like to hear the views of others.

5 thoughts on “Animal shelter workers provide 26 coping strategies for those dealing with euthanasia”

  1. My 34 year old horse was put down in 2007 because of impaction colic. He was shot by the zoo vet because his meat was going to be donated for large carnivore food. It was instantaneous. Red never felt a thing, except the relief from the immense pain the colic was giving him. The vet was professional, and was compassionate to me and my horse. I was heartbroken, of course, but there was nothing to be done to get Red well again, and his death meant that others would live. I had owned Red for 32 years, and he was like a son to me.

  2. I know these are the views of shelter workers at the coal face, but to me they read as a creed for kill apologists. You can rationalise any event, or deed. How did those who operated gas chambers or state executioners justify their work?

    We should be encouraging these people to change the ethos of the kill community, not making it easier for them to assuage their guilt and misery.

    Sorry if this is too much for people, but I am not going to pretend I approve of anything that encourages no emotional or very serious reflection on the terrible state of affairs for cats in the world.

    Amuses me, they say to vent. Just who to? Other shelter workers who are as frustrated, hurt as they are? An unempathic shelter manager who is only keen on box ticking and targets? Their family who may well be hugely distressed/torn apart and damaged by the work that they see is destroying their family member who is a shelter worker?

    The 12 Steps…

    • I agree with you Jane. I just saw to the euthanizing of my 17 year companion Einstein yesterday. I made no effort to make it easier, and I made my views and feelings known to the vet who did it. Einstein was my loyal friend through all those years, and all things considered, there was no room for rationalizing. If Einstein knew what we knew going in, and I’m not sure he didn’t, he would have been horrified, terrified and heart-broken as I was. The vets and techs need to get through their day’s work, but it was the end of my friend’s life and that’s what I honored and cared about. I wasn’t rude but I do resent their effort to make us part of their job training. I don’t need to agree with them or make them feel better or nothing about it, and they need to respect my friend and feelings, period. Sorry but’s just not about them at that time.

      • Albert, I am so sorry that Einstein has gone. I know you will have provided more love, care and friendship to him than any one could imagine. I am sending you much love

        I agree with you about how nursing/support staff can be a crass intrusion at such an inimate, personal time for you both. These people need to be 100% professional, yes they have to learn, but not at such a devastating, sensitive time for the feline and human friends. I’ve refused their presence before now.

        I bet Einstein was a wonderful friend to you. He will live on in your heart.


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