Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Compassion Fatigue

I am fatigued this morning - not frustrated, disheartened or cynical, but fatigued. I am feeling that cyclical syndrome of compassion fatigue.

What is compassion fatigue? The Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project says:

Studies confirm that caregivers play host to a high level of compassion fatigue. Day in, day out, workers struggle to function in care giving environments that constantly present heart wrenching, emotional challenges. Affecting positive change in society, a mission so vital to those passionate about caring for others, is perceived as elusive, if not impossible. This painful reality, coupled with first-hand knowledge of society's flagrant disregard for the safety and well being of the feeble and frail, takes its toll on everyone from full time employees to part time volunteers.

All of us in the animal welfare community, including program directors, volunteers and donors, experience this fatigue at some point. We question if what we do really matters. We wonder if we are really making a difference. And we feel like long-term change is all but impossible. It's not that we experience this fatigue that defines us, but how we respond to it.

All too often, I see people eliminate fatigue by eliminating the connection to the cause. Simply - they just walk away. They don't do any prevention or intervention steps. Instead, they just "take it" until they can't take it anymore. The animals lose an advocate, the organization loses a valued member, and the person loses a sense of connection to a greater purpose. Everyone loses when this is the response.

For all of you in the animal welfare movement, at all levels of engagement, I encourage you to take steps to feel less fatigued. We are experiencing an overwhelmingly devastating time in animal welfare - hundreds of pets are losing their homes as a result of the financial crisis. Families who love their pets dearly are faced with excruciating economic choices, and often the pets are the first expense to be eliminated. And sadly, many irresponsible pet owners seem to be using the economic crisis as a reason to dump their responsibilities on someone else. In the midst of declining donations and skyrocketing costs, animal welfare organizations are struggling just to keep the doors open at a time when the pets need us most. And many donors are struggling with how to keep up support when their own financial situations are tough. We are all tired.

But being tired doesn't have to mean being done. We all need to learn, remember and practice the 8 laws of healthy caregiving that the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project suggests:

The Eight Laws Governing Healthy Caregiving:

#1 Sustain Your Compassion
#2 Retain Healthy Skepticism
#3 Learn to Let Go
#4 Remain Optimistic
#5 Be the Solution
#6 Embrace Discernment
#7 Practice Sustainable Self Care
#8 Acknowledge Your Successes

Let's end with #8:

This is Rueben. Reuben was an AARF dog in 2006 (he was named Max when he was with us). He had been neglected by his owners, and was in awful shape. He was living on a 2 foot chain connected to a fence, and was fed regularly by an AARF volunteer. Eventually, she convinced the owners to "sell" Max to her for $50. He then spent the next several weeks undergoing heartworm treatment and learning to trust people and other dogs, as he had no reason to trust either until then.

Here's what his new mom has to say: His name, now Rueben, has been quite the lover in our family! He also has his own Dogbook page on Facebook. He graduated last year from his beginners and intermediate levels of obedience training and is amazing and super smart! He loves to be around people and loves pets, belly rubs, and a good walk. His favorite spots are the Silver Comet Trail, Chatahoochee Park, and there is a Polo Horse Park near our house where he goes and runs with all the horses. Although he doesn't smell too good when he comes home. I wanted to attach a picture of him from his birthday (Adoption Day Oct. 27th, 2008) to share with all your staff as he is an awesome advocate of AARF and we love what you do with other pets!

I encourage all of you to try steps 1-8 this week. You are engaged, if only because you are reading this blog. We need all of you to stay engaged. We need all of you to make a change. They, the dogs and cats we want so desperately to save, need us all. And they need us refreshed. Rest, and recover from fatigue this week.

1 comment:

Maureen said...

Thank you for writing this. As the founder and operator of The Animal House Jamaica, which has just been paid a visit by Hurricane Gustav (our fifth hurricane in four years), I am definitely suffering from compassion fatigue but I will never walk away. You are so right when you say that animal shelters need people's help now more than ever. Those of us who run the shelters and care for and love the animals on a daily basis desperately need ongoing support whether it be financial or moral. To have people there supporting your mission is essential.