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Assessing Stress: Animal Workers and the Emotional Toll of Euthanasia

The phrase “compassion fatigue” is now commonplace in the animal sheltering lexicon. Some might even call its arrival long overdue, given the emotional demands of a profession in which euthanasia, animal cruelty cases, and difficult interactions with the public are daily events.

But what variables enable certain people to remain in the field for years while others burn out quickly? A recent study (Society & Animals, Vol. 13, No. 3) by Australian researchers sought to answer this question by assessing risk factors for “perpetration-induced traumatic stress” (PITS) among people who euthanize animals. Similar to post-traumatic stress, PITS afflicts those who are not just exposed to disturbing events but also actively participate in them.

Researchers recruited 150 subjects from animal shelters, veterinary clinics, and laboratories, all of whom had been involved in euthanasia through their workplace.

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