By way of my previous blog, you know that my recent vacation, I
met a little dog that needed help. Even though we promised
Rango he could keep his Cuban heritage alive and that we would buy
him a coat to help deal with the colder temperatures in Canada, he
had a different idea and wandered off before we could treat his
mange and infections.
Because I am a glass-half-full kind of person, I was hopeful
that Rango was just out strolling and would be back before the end
of our vacation. However, I am also a realist who has been
involved in dog rescue for 10 years. When my wave of realism
crashed over my optimism and I accepted that Rango was not coming
back, there is no other way to put it, I was a mess. I was
sitting in a parking lot, in the rain, with tears streaming down my
I was not just crying for Rango, I was crying for Hawkeye who
lost his battle with parvo, I was crying for Houdini who had to
fight for survival on the reserve while blind, I was crying for
Ruby who was viciously abused, I was crying for April who had been
shot with a pellet gun…the list of dogs I was crying for was
extensive. I was crying for dogs who I have helped and dogs
who I have lost through my rescue history.
Compassion fatigue, also known as secondary traumatic stress, is
common among individuals that work directly with trauma
victims. Symptoms are now being observed in employees and
volunteers involved with animal rescue, advocacy and welfare.
Animal care workers and volunteers often see animals at their worst
and this has an impact on their mental wellbeing. The
emotional exhaustion brought on by the stress of caring for
traumatized or suffering dogs manifests in many ways: depression,
misdirected anger, irritability, physical fatigue, headaches,
gastrointestinal issues, insomnia, hypertension and substance
No dog rescuer is immune to the emotional toll that our efforts
to improve and save lives takes. Including me. I had
been stuffing my frustration, anger, sadness and hopelessness from
years of rescue work into a reservoir and that night in the parking
lot, because of Rango's disappearance, my reservoir burst. It
was cathartic really, and also helped me realize how close to
literal burn out I have been.
The Compassion Fatigue Awareness Program (CFAP, http://www.compassionfatigue.org/index.html)
provides information and help in order for people not to feel alone
and seek a solution for their pain. CFAP provides an online self-test determine your level of
compassion fatigue as well as featuring a host of Animal Caregiver resources on the site.
Although I can't give Rango a hug for helping me empty my
reservoir of negativity, I will always be thankful that he came
along. Perhaps that is why we met? Perhaps I wasn't
meant to help him, perhaps he was meant to help me?