These are the thoughts of Shannon Phillips. She is an animal shelter worker. Her job title is “Cattery Coordinator”. She has responsibilities and she is authorised and certified to euthanize animals.
Making animal euthanasia more meaningful
Euthanizing shelter animals is probably the most stressful aspect of shelter work. The first time Shannon did it, she was terrified. She felt she was making the wrong decision but her co-workers reassured that she was ending the pain.
Since that initiation she says that she has euthanized hundreds of animals. She has a particular procedure which I think helps her cope. Shannon makes the process meaningful and ensures that she does not relate to the animals as numbers.
She makes sure that euthanasia is never a routine procedure.
“I try to make her last moments the absolute happiest they can be.”
For the animal and herself
Shannon takes a photograph. On her smartphone she has the photographs of every animal that she has euthanized. During the process she plays music. She mentions two tracks: While I’m Still Here by Nine Inch Nails and the “Howler” remix by Genesis P-Orridge.
During the process she tells the animal that she is perfect and loved. She reassures the animal that she is going to a place where she can’t be hurt again. Her objective is to try and make sure that the animal knows that her life is valued.
When I think about this, I see it as both a coping mechanism and a process which is good for the animal being euthanized. It might be of more benefit to her than to the animal. She is making the sad process of animal euthanasia more meaningful. Shannon admits that sometimes there has to be euthanasia even when the animal is healthy because of a lack of resources and adopters. It’s an admission of failure by people. But she raises animal euthanasia into a process which is less of a failure, almost beautiful.
Of course, when you put that kind of feeling into animal euthanasia it can affect some people badly with compassion fatigue and burnout. It must depend upon the individual. Some people cope better than others. However, I like Shannon’s approach because it is very thoughtful and she’s aware of the dangers of compassion fatigue.
In this regard, she makes sure that she has plenty of hobbies outside of animal rescue. And has a good support system at home. She has a significant other in her life who is supportive of what she does. Shannon admits that without these aspects of her life it would be far more difficult to do the emotionally taxing work of saving and euthanising animals with compassion.
The shelter at which she works conducts a candlelight memorial service for all the animals that they euthanized during the past year. They write the names of the animals on hearts and spread them out on a table. The workers gather the hearts together and throw them into a fire while honouring them with some loving words.
“We couldn’t save them all. But we tried.”
This annual ceremony, I believe, is also a healing process. It is away to both honour the dead and support those that did the killing.
You can read her article on the refinery29 website. Shannon is a thoughtful and intelligent animal shelter worker. She is able to work out and work through the emotional problems that can arise in this profession.
P.S. She does not say which shelter she works at but it is no-kill (90% save rate).
P.P.S. The truth is that as an animal shelter worker you really have to have a compassionate approach towards animals. I don’t think that you can be a good shelter worker without that attitude. Therefore you do expose yourself to compassion fatigue and burnout.
I have read stories of shelter workers who in my mind have demonstrated a lack of compassion as they been too eager to euthanise animals in their care.