Compassion fatigue: Animal rescuers can’t save them all and the stress is taking its toll

Animal rescuers can’t save them all (even though some people think they can) and the stress is taking its toll on those dedicated to trying.


Michael posted an article on this very topic back in September 2017 stating animal rescue workers have the highest suicide rate among American workers.

The executive director of the Montgomery Humane Society, Stephen Tears, says, “We battle it all the time”. He is referring to compassion fatigue which is emotional exhaustion caused by the stress of caring for traumatized or suffering animals or people. (quote taken from Michael’s article.)

Below are two Facebook posts I found this week that perfectly sums up the emotional toll faced by those in dog and cat rescue. I’m sure other animals being rescued aside from cats and dogs have a similar story and are welcome to post what they go through in the comments.

I’m not naming the writers of the posts, as it would mean even more people begging for help for the unwanted.

A dog rescuer wrote

“If you have an animal that has been vomiting and pooping blood for 3 days or more with no medical treatment DO NOT message me. Take them to a vet and tell them to put them down. I will not be their death place. I smell of death, blood. I fight to get veins. I fight to help them. Do not give me a dog who is an inch from the ground. It’s not fair and I’m pissed. I am more than happy to give any animal a fighting chance but you take that chance away waiting!!!!!!!!! I can’t bring back the dead. You make me feel like I failed them every time. I lose sleep, I cry. I pick up the pieces. I don’t know which way it will go for this pup but usually, I know, we know. And odds are shitty right now.”

Cat shelter

Photo: Pinterst – in public domain.

A cat rescuer wrote

“I have done all I can do. I am going to take care of the commitments I have for kittens that are either at my Fosters or here. I will be shutting all intake down for a minimum of 6 months. intake from the hurricane and a horrid kitten season have put me way past capacity. Donations are down, veterinarian bills are exorbitant, volunteers are spread thin, my phone rings off the hook 24/7 with horrible stories of suffering and pain. I am spread so thin I can’t even do the minimum to take care of myself nor spend any quality time with some of my senior or personal animals. Everyone wants me to do just one more for them. I can’t anymore. People call with their problems and they don’t listen, they have no respect for your time, they make appointments and don’t show up or come late and expect you to arrange your whole life around their issues. For all of you that are out there in the trenches and in the same boat God bless you.”

For those looking for a solution to this problem, good luck with that one. There will always be homeless pets in need and owners who can’t or won’t take responsibility when something goes wrong in life.

The purpose of this article is to show the extent of the problem and I hope the comments will “carry” this article to a new level. Rescuers can’t save them all and it’s time those who think they can get a reality check.

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FB comments (see below)


Compassion fatigue: Animal rescuers can’t save them all and the stress is taking its toll — 10 Comments

  1. I had a woman pull the political, race and religion card on me in one encounter. I would not give in to her request. I was going by the instructions we were given by the Board and the Director of our center. I have had people threaten to leave the animals in a kennel after hours or just dump them in the street because we could not take them due to the fact we were almost over the alloted number of animals we were allowed to take in. Sad to say , I gave my notice and left shortly thereafter. I do miss it but I could not handle the stress. I have since adopted 2 more so I now have three.

  2. It is so important for rescuers to realize that they are important, too, and to set boundaries. It was hard but I did it.

  3. Rescue fatigue, compassion fatigue, whatever you call it, is brought on by humans, not the animals intended to be saving. Every time an animal is failed, humans are to blame on one or more levels. It will literally take all of us to save them all. If we took out the human emotions of greed, anxiety, envy, jealousy, and the pure rage, our rescue circle would shine brighter. When rescuers talk about the general public and what they lack in helping us to help the animals, all that really is lacking is education.

    I often think of compassion fatigue and how much it wears at me. Everyone I lose gets a piece of my heart. Everyone I save, gives a piece back. We all need balance. We need clear minds. Most of us run around like ADHD is a rescue thing only. If all of us feel we don’t have the time to mentor someone, make that time. When we educate, they educate. Not one voice can be heard alone, but together our voices sound like we’re screaming, and yes, we are in pain.

  4. What we see everday will tear you to pieces. It will tear you down physically and emotionally but we do what we do for the love we have. Keep fighting the fight my fellow rescuers because they need us.

  5. Interesting that today I had a short conversation with the AC of another county and some other people in line about the mental burden of not being able to take all of the home and save their lives.
    The first rule of animal rescue is that no animal in your care should be given less to take on more. It’s a hard line to take but I remind myself at least once a day that no there is no way I can take in another cat. And it hurts but our first duty is always to those already in our care. People are morons in my opinion they get a kitten or puppy from some one and fail to use free S/N programs and then when the inevitable happens of unwanted litters or behavior issues they want a no kill rescue to take their self made problem. Companion animals are a responsibility they are not the source of endless feel good emotions and love. They are dirty messy little beasts that will eat into your house hold budget and destroy something priceless at some point they require daily care usually on multiple levels. They are supposed to be the recipients of your unconditional love not the other way around.

  6. It’s really hard to have to say no to people in the first place. As rescuers it’s our passion, our goal to save lives. We have no number that once we reach we stop. We never stop. But sometimes “we’re at capacity and cannot accept cats at this time” is met with veiled or blatant threats/guilt trips such as “guess they’ll just die at the shelter” or “well I hope nothing gets them cuz I can’t bring them in” like it’s EXPECTED that a rescue take in every request. Or they want to throw money in your face like that makes a space magically appear. I find a lot of folks who end up emotionally fatigued quickly that some don’t often think about (if you’re in or ever been in a rescue you probably do get this) the volunteers who handle the messages. The requests that come in by the handful or more, everyday, that have to be told no. We cannot help them all. But we can do all we can for those we do save.

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