The higher an animal shelter’s live release rate the higher the rates of burnout in shelter staff?

Animal shelter
Animal shelter. Image by Daga_Roszkowska from Pixabay

There is a study online published on Jan 17th 2020 which, as I understand it, essentially looks at the mental health of animal shelter employees under two opposing circumstances, namely when animals are euthanized and when the live release rate is high by which I mean the shelter is successful in that they are able to release animals to new homes.

They seem to be at opposite ends of the spectrum. When a shelter has to euthanize an animal, it appears to an outsider to be a failure but when they are able to release them to a new home it is a success. How do these two circumstances impact on the mental health of the workers at the shelter? That’s my interpretation of what this study was looking at.

Very surprisingly they concluded that burnout is more likely to be correlated with live release rate (LRR). This seems to be saying that when a shelter has a good live release rate the staff are more likely to be burnt out than when they have to euthanize lots of animals. It’s a conclusion which Nathan Winograd, who is the expert on no-kill animal shelters and animal shelters in general, strongly disagrees with (see below).

The study also stated that ‘compassion satisfaction’, ‘secondary traumatic stress’ and ‘moral injury’ were positively correlated with LRR. Compassion satisfaction must mean that compassionate people become satisfied when they are able to release a shelter animal to a new home. That makes good sense. The term “secondary traumatic stress” appears to mean stress in a person who has been told by another person about their work. And “moral injury” means a person loses their way in terms of moral judgements over a period of time because of the work they do.

Animal shelterASSOCIATED PAGE: Shelter Workers, PTSD, and Compassion Fatigue

In other words, this study says that people can lose their ability to judge morality accurately in a shelter where there is a good release rate. That doesn’t make sense to me. And neither does the secondary traumatic stress makes sense. If a shelter is successful the staff are making correct moral judgements on euthanasia and on how to maximise animal survival in the shelter. They can be places where animals deteriorate and have to be killed.

ASSOCIATED: Animal rescue workers have the highest suicide rate among American workers

To me, it would seem that the exact opposite is logical namely that if a compassionate person is forced to euthanise healthy animals day in and day out at a rate of about 50 per day then they are going to suffer traumatic stress, lose their moral compass and suffer burnout. Does that make sense to you?

Perhaps I am failing to understand the more nuanced processes involved. Perhaps when shelter workers have to keep the dogs and cats alive and become connected to them over that period and then have to euthanise them the stress of the process of keeping them alive can cause burnout. This is because they have to make decisions on daily or weekly basis to protect them from euthanasia. And perhaps if the animal goes downhill because of their long stay in a shelter this is a reminder of the failure of the shelter which may also cause burnout and moral injury as it is described. I’m just trying to think this through.

I must say that I’m confused by this study which you can read yourself (the abstract or summary) by clicking on the following link: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/08927936.2020.1694316

Perhaps the problem is that I am only able to read the summary but this should be enough to understand the conclusion.

In an email to me, and other subscribers, Nathan Winograd said the following about an article published by Austin Pets Alive which contains a reference to the study.

Defending the killing of healthy and treatable dogs and cats Austin Pets Alive released a breathtaking article called “The Human Face of Shelter Euthanasia” that resurrected debunked arguments dating back to the 1970s, including the canard that killing healthy animals is a kindness performed by kind people. Pretending the success of the No Kill movement never happened, APA claimed that pound directors who have failed to innovate are doing the best they can and asking them to do more is unfair to employees of those pounds: “the higher an animal shelter’s ‘live release rate’ — the more animals they keep alive — the higher the rates of burnout and compassion fatigue for the people who work there.” Of course, you don’t need studies to know that the exact opposite is true to a tragic degree for the animals themselves. They die.

SOME MORE ON CAT SHELTERS:

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A cat rescuer speaks out: “Last night was the final breaking point and I’ve dealt with so many toxic folks”

When I came across this post on the Facebook wall of a good friend, I knew I had to turn her post into an article. Because I see this much too often.

stressed woman
photo courtesy MissionFitLife

This is a VERY long post but in this case it’s necessary. Please take the time and read it to the end.


“I will be taking a much needed break for a week and will not be taking any calls. Last night was the final breaking point and I’ve dealt with so many toxic folks, angry rescuers that I must step away for a few days to refresh myself.

I’m an optimistic person with lots of emotional strength.. I can typically handle huge amounts of stress without being too affected. But I cannot allow myself to be sabotaged or drained by another person or persons on a constant basis…I am working part time and have other responsibilities.

I’m spending days back to back with little sleep. I got to bed at four in the morning and had to have my son at school by 7:30 am. A person can function but for so long like this. Yet some folks continue to zap rescuers like myself of sleep and resources caring very little if we survive ourselves.

Stressed cat owner may have a stressed cat too

While working on a much needed trapping situation in North Carolina, someone pulled me into another situation involving one of the worst high crime areas in North Carolina. A very sick mom had given birth and the babies were barely alive.

This Person was banking on my compassion and although promises were made to help me, this person turned off their phone and went to bed. I walked into a horrible sight of babies laying dying and folks walking up /around my vehicle who were obviously drugged up.

I was still on the phone with the NC folks and fielding a nasty text message from someone who claimed I never helped her with her cat and how pathetic she thought I was. “ I’m sorry I didn’t mean to disappoint you but we are slammed.” In her mind, I was still pathetic for not taking her cat.

I kept trying to reach the Person who had turned their phone off and now it was raining hard. I had to scoop up those babies after being told someone put them in a baby stroller/ took them for a walk to the corner store. Hours old with umbilical cord and they were being slung around like dirty laundry. I looked around the apartment…I asked for a water bottle to be heated and to have it wrapped it in a blanket.

Disturbed child
Modified original which is in the public domain

This person who turned their phone off knew I wouldn’t leave them. The babies were cold/ laying in an odd position whimpering in a plastic box. I knew if I didn’t act fast they would all die. I finally found a neonatal bottle feeder way across town. She was an hour away. I was getting really angry.

It was apparent I was on my own. I hate getting upset. I don’t like being mad. The residents told me the mom was staggering sick and had disappeared. That a local resident was putting out antifreeze for all the cats…I was getting blank stares when I asked why would they let this go on?

At 6 o’clock this morning, I get a message from someone who is absolutely worthless in my opinion, telling me one of her cats had an injured foot and I better come prepared to take the animal to the vet. She’s having her coffee. She thinks I work for her.

She sent me pictures of her lovely house and told me she won’t allow any cat inside. She’s older, fixed income, blah blah blah. Told her I could not come due to my schedule that perhaps a volunteer for my rescue could come later. Her response was typical.

Before I allow folks like this to drain me, I have to back off. I care for the cats. It’s important I not let someone run me ragged. By the way, the young baby trapped is on her way to the vet in Cornelius. Great job done by everyone.

The property owners gave a huge donation to cover vetting.. very generous. We talked with them at length about the money rescuers spend and they completely understood. I was shocked and happy.

And at last check, the neonatals were still alive early this morning.. I love my rescue peeps, We are an awesome force in the community and change lives one day at a time. I’m proud to be a part of it even tho it can break your heart and wear you out. Huge thank you to Isabella, Susan, Debbie, Dorie and Bette.

And now, I’m off for a bit. I’ll be back next week… please don’t tag or message me for rescue help. I’ve got my own rescue babies to take care of and money that has to be made. God bless you guys!!!”

———————————————————————————————————————————-

Note from Elisa: I’ve taken her words (and she used a LOT of words) and my only editing is to separate the sentences for easier reading and to remove her location so even more people don’t push her to do more than is physically and mentally capable. I’ve categorized this under Reader’s Forum since I’m not the writer.

Please share this article with friends in rescue. I would like to see comments from those in the animal rescue community who are constantly under stress.

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

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Animal care workers at animal shelters need support to deal with grief due to their losses

“The loss of such a sacred relationship can be devastating. Owners of companion animals facing the loss of a companion animal often experience numbness, disbelief, ruminations about the death experience….”

Shelter worker with cat
Shelter worker with cat. Photo: Pinterest.

Working as an animal care worker (ACW), specifically an animal shelter worker, leads to close bonds with the animals in their care. The conditions under which the workers work, and many are volunteers, can be challenging because of the nature of these places; where life and death decisions are made daily. And they are places where the animals are often under stress themselves. This can often make the human-animal bond stronger and more intense.

Under these circumstances ACWs can suffer the loss of their animal-human bond due to (a) animal euthanasia (b) animal adoption (c) leaving the job or being sacked (d) transferring out of a department where there is interaction with animals (e) leaving the animals unsupervised at night and (f) animals leaving the shelter to enter foster care.

This can lead to ACWs suffering distress and grief. Other feelings are: anger, depression, disbelief, numbness, anxiety and self-reproach. Clearly some ACWs are self-critical perhaps due to high personal standards. Perhaps they ask themselves whether they could have done more to help and save a life.

And we must remind ourselves that ACWs at animal shelters are often highly committed individuals with a love of animals and a passionate or zealous approach to animal welfare. It is a vocation. This must expose these people to a greater risk of negative feelings when the bond between them and their animals are broken.

In some animal shelters, the grief and feelings of loss are not sufficiently dealt with or at all. This is called ‘disenfranchised grief’ by the people who conducted a research study into ACWs, Benjamin Martin, Teresa Kilbane and Holly Nelson-Becker. It was published online on 18th Jan 2019 and titled: Exploring the loss and disenfranchised grief of animal care workers. In this article I am not referring exclusively to the study but also to my own thoughts.

The opportunity for ACW grief due to the death of an animal is high because around one third of the 7.6 million of animals in US shelters are euthanised.

There is a strong argument that more support is needed for ACWs ‘to process their loss without judgement’.

This might be effected by support groups for ACWs in general or for specific roles. The suicide rate of people working in animal rescue is one of the highest in the USA. This squares up with what has been written here. I have also written about shelter worker compassion fatigue.

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Betrayal trauma: The pain of heartbreak is losing yourself

Betrayal trauma is a topic I’m very much interested in. In part, because I’ve experienced it this year and I believe most of the readers also have at some point in their life. The summer of 2018 was a scary time for me because the pain of heartbreak really is losing a piece of yourself.

credit: The Minds Journal

According to Partnerhope.com

“Complex betrayal trauma makes you feel like you are losing your mind. It yanks your sense of security out from under you and puts you in a state of emotional free fall.

When complex betrayal trauma occurs, your brain begins to operate in a different way. The fear center fires up and stays fired up, creating hypervigilance, restlessness, anxiety, and a sense of being perpetually on guard.

This alters your ability to regulate your mood, to calm yourself, to think, to reason, and to make intelligent decisions. Your fear center hijacks your normal functioning, and you find yourself in a world where every task feels challenging, your mind will not stop racing, your emotions feel out of control, and your coping skills are stretched to the limit.”

Do you recognize yourself in this statement? I do. My most recent bout with betrayal trauma wasn’t cat related. It can be and I believe anyone with strong opinions has a better chance of it taking over your life. Think about all the friendships destroyed on Facebook due to religious and political beliefs.

I believe anyone who was caught up in the Julianne Westberry case had a hefty dose of betrayal trauma. Most animal advocates in Upstate South Carolina were friends with her. When we saw an animal saved from a kill shelter we breathed a sigh of relief because Julianne at the time worked for the Humane Society in Anderson. Click here for articles on JW.

When word came out that she had allowed dozens of cats to starve to death in her Belton home we were both angered and devastated. When the news got worse that even more cats were dumped on a piece of property to fend for themselves, with many never being seen again, once again we were all betrayed and devastated. And when the justice system didn’t bring about justice, well, you get the picture. It made us all very suspicious of anyone and everyone in cat rescue.

Those who went into the home or saw the cats after their rescue also had to deal with not only behavioral trauma but also PTSD.

Christine Courtois, Ph.D., is a psychotherapist wrote a book about betrayal trauma where she stated

“(Behavioral trauma) is a multiple and repeated experiences of interpersonal trauma. So complex betrayal trauma is both relational and repeated. It contains an element of betrayal by a trusted person, and it happens more than once. Often, it is ongoing, a chronic situation that lasts for months or even years.”

My personal experience had nothing to do with cats and everything to do with how I was treated by people I trusted. It ended my writing career for the better part of eight weeks (perhaps longer). I couldn’t write about bad news and I couldn’t write about good news.

I would stare at the computer and my head was empty. I couldn’t put any of my thoughts into an article. Friends were constantly sending me article ideas and I even went so far as to post I didn’t know when or even if I’d be able to write ever again. It felt like someone had thrown a switch.

Eventually, I had to give up on any thoughts on writing and just wait this out. Like the article photo above states, I had to follow steps one through seven and accept I may never recover from whatever was happening to my ability to write. What once came freely and with great support and success by those who read me turned into a situation where I simply didn’t care anymore.

Once I was able to step back and identify the situation and the one who was tormenting me emotionally I was able to accept it and eventually move on.

I’ve kept up with a lot of battles on social media this year where friends have been unfriending each other. I think it’s horrible to base a friendship on political or religious view and I kept those thoughts to myself. As it turns out, letting go of toxic relationships means the person on an emotional rollercoaster is one step closer to self-healing.

It’s worth your time to read this article and to research betrayal trauma on the internet. Attachment trauma, emotional and psychological trauma, and sexual trauma are all issues that we need to study up on. There are treatments available for severe cases. Personally, I chose to just wait mine out. I’m doing much better now, writing is easy and topics magically land in my head.

Have any of you been through this in real life or in your life on social media? Please feel free to share your story in the comment section. By the way, I’m still working on #8 because right now I can’t forgive.

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Related articles Animal workers and suicide and compassion fatigue

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Study shows that stress placed on veterinarians can cause ethical conflict and other problems

According to a new study co-authored by a Cambridge Health Alliance psychiatrist and Harvard Medical School researcher, veterinarians often suffer from moral stress issues in the veterinary field.

Veterinarians don't know how much pain cats are experiencing or if the drug is effective
Vets under stress tend to second-guess the diagnosis (public domain)

The research was done by Lisa Moses and J. Wesley Boyd and will be published this month by the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine showing the stress placed on veterinarians that cause ethical conflict and other problems.

The study was done by surveying 889 veterinarians. It was found 69 percent were stressed out because they couldn’t provide enough care for the animals they treated.

Animal advocates tend to think of veterinarians as being driven by money. Vet visits today have doubled, tripled or quadrupled in price and pet owners as well as veterinarians have to make tough decisions.

Moses stated in an interview with The Boston Globe

“I believe that the common occurrence of having your personal moral compass challenged on a regular basis is a real dragging force.”

Boyd added

“I had this naïve thought that working with animals would be uplifting, exciting, and not necessarily have the same negative elements of practicing medicine on humans. The degree of distress among veterinarians was a surprise to me.”

Conflicts occur for several reasons including:

  • not being able to cure an ill pet due to cost issues
  • not being able to cure an ill pet due to the degree of illness (terminal)
  • conflict with pet owner regarding unnecessary euthanasia
  • needed euthanasia but the client refuses to let go

Moses also states compassion fatigue is often the cause of distress since few veterinarians receive training on how to cope. Not only do they face issues at work but also personal issues when they get home. Only 11 percent get help when they’re in emotional distress over whether or not they did the right thing for a client/pet.

Empathy over an animal patient decreased 25 percent over time as well as 33 percent over time toward pet owners, the study showed.

Veterinarians are also known to practice past the usual retirement age because they’re afraid their patients will suffer. They fail to take care of their own needs before that of the animals, which can create an entirely new set of problems, including misdiagnosing an animal.

We, as pet owners, need to stay on top of pet health for our furry family members. We also need to remember veterinarians are people too, often with the same personal issues in their private lives.

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Animal rescuer found dead of apparent suicide. No one knew how helpless she was feeling

A well-known animal rescuer was found dead of an apparent suicide Wednesday night. No one knew how helpless she was feeling.

Manhattan clinical psychologist and author was found hanging in the bathroom of her fifth floor Sutton Place apartment. Stacey Radin, 52, was discovered by her husband, and law enforcement said she was pronounced dead at the scene. She left several notes behind. Sadly, she had a history of depression.

Stacey is remembered as the founder of Unleashed NY.org, a program developed to empower young women advocating for animal rights and animal welfare. She was the author of: “Brave Girls: Raising Young Women with Passion and Purpose to Become Powerful Leaders”.

While Stacey taught young girls that they had a voice and could use it to help animals, Stacey herself was battling her own demons. I read she was a cancer survivor and was still having trouble overcoming it.

We really need to watch our friends in animal rescue as there are a lot of “Stacey’s” out there who are very good at covering up mental distress.

Stacey’s friend Shelley stated on her Facebook page:

“Stacey, thank you for all the lives you saved. You made a difference in this world before you left. I am so sorry I didn’t know how felt hopeless you were feeling. I am just so sorry.”

Stacey-Radin

Our Prayers

We’re all sorry because there will be more suicides and most of them will take us by surprise. According to the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians, Oberon University and the CDC animal care workers are the most likely to commit suicide in America.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to Stacey, her family and friends during this difficult time. Please feel free to leave a memorial message if you knew Stacey and her work.

Sources other than stated 1 and 2.

Associated articles

Please take the time to read these related articles Animal rescue worker compassion fatigue and Animal rescue worker suicide rate.

Update (next day): I have a page on her Unleashed program for which she was well-known.

Another very sad death in the cat rescuer community concerned Janice Lockamy, 60, who was killed in a road traffic accident on July 2nd 2017 while transporting cats.

A bit about Stacey

Stacey was a highly talented and qualified person. She earned her doctorate in psychology from Albert Einstein Medical Center and an MA and postdoctoral certificate in psychoanalysis from Columbia University. She specialised in one-to-one coaching sessions, group sessions, consultations and assessments for leaders of organisations. When she was working her way through university she met women who felt they didn’t have the capacity to achieve. They stayed in her mind and motivated her to empower them through Unleashed (unleashedny.org).

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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.

photo Chicagonow.com

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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