Dedicated to my 18-year old rescue cat, Mr. Butters, whom I lovingly helped cross over the rainbow bridge today
Compassion fatigue? I first learned of the term while reading the book Toxicity Charity which defined it as the emotional distress that results from the constant demands of caring for others. Some sources claim it as the feeling of apathy when continuous charitable giving doesn’t meet expectations. Regardless of which definition you lean towards, the rescuer’s energy and mindset are exhausted. While doing good, the caregiver gets emotionally and/or physically hurt or burnt out.
Who’s to Blame?
Some believe rescuers are at fault, because they should have personal boundaries and stop when they get too tired. Those in the rescue field feel they have no choice; their big hearts care too much. Who will step up, if they don’t? The problem of unwanted dogs and cats is bigger than any one or group of people can manage. If you’re a family member or friend watching a loved one playing on the field with compassion fatigue, what can you possibly do?
Those in rescue need to wrestle with compassion fatigue and figure out what they can and cannot do. As fans from the stands, we can’t play the game for them. This isn’t our sport, and we likely don’t know the rules. We can, however, support from the sidelines. We can be the water-boy in football or the ball retriever in tennis. We don’t play the game, but we can be there to help.
What Does Help Look Like?
What does help look like for someone suffering from compassion fatigue? I would encourage you to offer your services to lift some of their burden. Can you give them a gift card for a personal service or a meal? Many of these caregivers are using their own funds while also giving their time.
My daughter has been involved in animal rescue for several years. It all began when she browsed the local SPCA and Human Society shelters looking for a dog in need of a forever home. After adopting 2 dogs and 1 cat, she then took in her first heeler mix as a foster. Volunteering has become a full-time job, and she works with several non-profit rescues to:
- Serve as a board member
- Search and pull dogs from shelters
- Arrange dog transport from other states to Colorado
- Foster several dogs
- Arrange fostering families
- Transport dogs to foster families and for vet care
- Administer vet care
- Process adoption paperwork
She is well connected in the rescue community and routinely get requests for help when people find abused dogs. Alex gets paid nothing for her time and routinely uses her own money to help the animals. My daughter is one of my heroes for her selfless giving and ability to organize through this complicated ministry. And yes, she suffers from compassion fatigue! She’s commented that working in rescue is both the most rewarding and depressing job she could imagine. Alex exemplifies a true servant leader who selflessly gives of herself to bring dogs and families together in need of each other.
I’m grateful for servants like my daughter, who’ve made it possible for me to have 17 rescue cats [Frisky, Missy, Midnight, Butterball, Tigger, Popcorn, Slurpy, Tigger, Rascal, Fiddler, Little Girl, Toby, Tigger 2, Mr. Butters, Felix, Zipper, and Zoey] and 2 rescue dogs [Crystal and Duffy] over the last 40 years. Without rescues, I wouldn’t have had the companionship, love, and laughs of these furry friends.
Thank you to all the caregivers serving in the world. If our paths cross, I hope I can find a way to ease your burden. If you’d like to learn more about the epidemic of rescue fatigue, read this article: The Fatal Epidemic of Animal Care Workers That No One Is Talking About
About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach with an extensive background in premarital/marriage, finances, ministry, and leadership. She coaches individuals and couples to be the best versions of themselves. You can contact Sandra at firstname.lastname@example.org