Feeding the Fire (Without Burning Out)
Managing compassion fatigue and stress in animal welfare work
It was a moment that Miguel Abi-Hassan will never forget: "I was on a call to help a dog that was hit by a car, and I showed up and it was a sheltie," he says. "And I've owned shelties all my life, and immediately I saw my dog on the side of the road, dead."
Abi-Hassan, executive director of the Halifax Humane Society in Daytona Beach, Fla., who teaches workshops on stress management and compassion fatigue issues, says it was one of many moments that showed how much he and other animal welfare workers need to develop the emotional skills to survive.
"It really took me back and made me realize that what I need to take care of is me," he says, "because if I don't take care of myself, I'm not going to be around to take care of these animals."
It makes sense, and yet … animals need so much, and so many of them are suffering. And whether you work hands-on in the field or in the shelter, in your home as a foster caregiver, or in an office on policy issues that can help animals on a national level, what needs to be done can seem endless.
In a recent employee feedback session at The HSUS, staffers were asked to share ideas about how to make their work environment better. A huge sheet of paper was pinned to a wall, and employees sounded off about ongoing challenges, offering suggestions and commenting on each other's thoughts.
In one spot, someone wrote: "People feel like they have to be on the job 24/7/365! There needs to be more work-life balance." Next to that, someone had retorted: "Animal cruelty doesn't end at 5 o'clock." Others had chimed in on each side, drawing arrows and plus signs and saying, "Exactly!"