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People Care Starts with You

Surviving animal welfare work demands balance and inner strength

Surviving animal welfare work demands balance and inner strength

Compassion fatigue most often affects people whose personalities are characterized by empathy and a deep awareness of the suffering of others. Here, HSUS Emergency Services team member Rowdy Shaw comforts a dog removed from a hoarding situation. KATHY MILANI/THE HSUS
Penny Cistaro hears a flurry of anger when she conducts her compassion fatigue seminars for animal shelter workers.

In an open forum where communication is encouraged, participants with bottled-up pain have the chance to unburden themselves. They tell Cistaro and the other participants about their experiences in the shelter, and the feelings they inspire.

Cistaro, who was recently hired to head up the City of Sacramento’s Animal Care Services Department, has been conducting these seminars for a while, and the stories she hears are so similar and abundant that they often blur together.

Occasionally, though, a story reveals someone facing a serious crisis. Recently, one shelter worker stood out by revealing her pure, unadulterated rage. She told the class that her thoughts darken when citizens dump animals at the intake desk. She fantasized about them driving out of her shelter parking lot only to suffer a horrible death in a terrifying car crash. The animals in her shelter were scared, so she wanted the people who relinquished them to experience terror, too.

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