We are still on Release Shenanigans for Paw Prints on the Wall, my novel that features a no-kill animal shelter that is currently AVAILABLE through multiple booksellers. I will get to funny shelter stories in my next post but for today I wanted to put forward a more serious discussion.
If you’re anything like me, the term Compassion Fatigue may be unfamiliar to you.
I certainly didn’t know about it until it hit me full force, so it seems important to mention.
I had already been suffering under the loss of a beloved animal at the shelter. It was nobody’s fault. The poor dog got bloat, which is a thing that happens sometimes in larger animals and there’s literally no means of anticipating it. In most cases, the moment symptoms show up you’re already too late.
But this dog in particular was mine.
Sure, she was in the shelter, but I was the one who worked with her the most. She was the dog I took special care of because I wanted her. If I could have worked out the logistics of getting her home with me, everyone I worked with knows I would have had her home in an instant. But we had some obstacles – she didn’t like other dogs and I already had Delta at home, and she was, quite frankly, a neurotic mess terrified of all new things ever.
In any case, I was already grieving by the time Hell Week showed up.
This particular week we had an elderly animal pass away overnight. Then another animal had complications with surgery – they had cancer and the vets were trying to fix it – and they too perished. Then we had a surrender that was heartbreaking because the animals owner died, which is always terrible because the animal knows. Say what you want, but they know when we’re gone.
Then came Saturday when two recently adopted dogs had to be returned to us.
Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, an adoption does not work out. It’s just the way of things. We learn something a little new, we make the restrictions on who can adopt them tighter, and we pray the next home is the one that sticks.
Hell Week did me in.
I tried to put some distance between myself and the losses. I told my husband I needed out of town and I didn’t care where, just somewhere else. We went for a drive and wound up deep in New York State, in the Catskill Mountains. I remember the trip.
I remember struggling to find my sense of balance again. To find the willpower to get in my car on my next work day and drive to work.
I never really found it, regardless of how often I showed up to work. The losses became more prominent no matter how many animals successfully found homes. My patience took a flying leap into God Only Knows Where and I started to suspect adopters were going to fail, rather than holding tight to the hope that they would succeed. And so, when my husband got a new job and transportation started becoming a problem, I used the excuse to bow out of shelter work.
It took me a full year before I was able to pick up Paw Prints on the Wall and really start working on it again.
Compassion Fatigue is a thing. If you know someone who works in a veterinarian’s office, or an animal shelter, or an emergency room, or a homeless shelter, or a police station, then I encourage you to thank them. Tell them they are amazing and they are doing important things, because they are. And because you never know when they are in the middle of their Hell Week.
It could be what they need to get them through.
With this in mind, I have a few people I want to give a public shout to. Most you will find in the back of the book, under the Acknowledgements page, but they deserve a round of applause here too.
Shauna Griffin, Wendy Hall, Zofia Anzak, DJ O’Gara, Amy Elizabeth Rich, Danielle Bowes, and Nicole Tremblay – you are all amazing. It was a privilege to work beside you. Some of you have moved on to different jobs, but for those of you still working with animals, you have a standing ovation from me.
And to every veterinarian, vet-tech, nurse, doctor, shelter worker (both human and animal), policeman or any other profession that puts you on the front lines where the need is great and the pain is in your face every day – what you do is incredible. On behalf of those who wish they could say in person, thank you.
Just, thank you.