A cattery coordinator, Shannon Phillips (see above – the photo is by her), tells us what it is like for her to euthanize and make decisions about euthanizing cats and dogs on a daily basis. She admits that she has euthanized hundreds of cats and dogs. Having read her article I have the feeling that she copes with the task very well. She is mentally organized. She has rationalized the process to protect herself emotionally.
She vowed to herself to regard each cat or dog that she euthanizes as a valued creature and not a number. This must be the biggest challenge because if you do not reduce cats and dogs to numbers it is much harder to deliberately kill them even in a humane way. This, she admits, can lead to compassion fatigue and/or burnout. She has avoided these emotional states.
I am not even sure I could do it which means I am not sure that I am suited to working in an animal shelter. As Shannon says, even no-kill shelters kill healthy animals. The criteria is that a shelter can describe themselves as no-kill if they operate a 90% save rate. Her shelter does and she is justly proud of it.
When she first euthanized an animal she says that she was terrified. She euthanized a very ill cat. The euthanasia was probably justified. However, she felt bad about it but her coworkers convinced her that she was doing the right thing and ending the cat’s suffering. The experience shook her.
It seems that Shannon has found her way of coping with mass euthanasia. She makes an effort to ensure that the last moments of the cat or dog are as peaceful and as pleasant as possible. She wants the animal to be happy in her/his last moments. She plays music during euthanasia: “While I’m Still Here” by Nine Inch Nails, the “Howler” remix by Genesis P-Orridge. That would seem to be for her benefit as much as for the cat or dog.
Shannon talks to the animal during euthanasia. She tells them that they are loved and that they are perfect. She reassures them that they are going to a better place where they can’t be hurt. This is very gentle and kind but in truth this is probably more for Shannon’s benefit than for the animal except I am sure her voice is very gentle and the sound of it will help to calm the animal.
She has photographed every animal she has euthanized and they are all on her smartphone.
She admits that sometimes the humane killing of cats and dogs is done because of a lack of sufficient resources by which I suppose she means that there is insufficient space at the shelter.
As for compassion fatigue and burnout she says that the highest numbers of suicide are among professionals in the ‘protective service occupation’ sector. The rate is 5.3 per 1m workers. She admits that the job can leave the emotionally strongest people burned out.
She says that she ensures that she has hobbies out of work to maintain a balance in her life. Without her hobbies and support from her partner she admits that she’d find it very hard to do the ’emotionally taxing’ work of being a cattery coordinator responsible for making decisions regarding euthanasia and the humane killing of cats and dogs.
Last year – 2016 – her shelter euthanized 125 cats and 119 dogs. The shelter saved 3,201 lives in 2014 representing 90% of the animals taken in.