Animal Rescuer’s Burnout
This won’t be one of my regular articles, all nicely organized and written as an AP style news piece. You will get this one from my heart instead of my head, as my feelings on this matter run very deep inside of me.
As a young child dragging home broken and unwanted animals I could never have imagined it was some sort of calling for me. I never dreamed I would spend my adult years trying to save almost every unwanted pet I encountered. But here I am, in mid life, with a houseful of pets discarded by others, in a circle of friends who live just exactly as I do, trying to rescue the thrown away pets of the world.
Rescuing animals: we live it, eat it, sleep it, breathe it, and take it everywhere we go with us. It’s a calling, a gut reaction, a determination to right the wrongs of others, and to save innocent lives as we speak out for those creatures that have no voice of their own.
Most of us live paycheck to paycheck and do without much so that our animals can eat and see the veterinarian. It’s no different than being the parent of a pack of two legged toddlers. They need, we provide, and many times to the detriment of ourselves. But we do it all, with no regrets.
With the vast numbers of homeless pets in our nation today, we realize that we just can’t save them all, even though we try as we give it our best shot day after day.
Our hearts break a thousand times a week as we see animals euthanized because there is simply no place for them to go. We open our email accounts to people begging for help, looking for a place to rehome their pets, for one reason or another. Our phones blow up with calls and texts for the same reasons. We open our Facebook accounts only to scroll through pages and pages of pets needing homes, some who have suffered starvation, illness, and abuse, and many who have died at the hands of heartless humans. Almost everywhere we venture outside of our homes we see pets in need. It never ends. The numbers are simply just too great.
Among the rescuing I have done, I’ve taken thousands of images of pets trying to get them recognized and into loving homes. In the midst of my five page job description (when once employed by a shelter) it just boiled down to my doing whatever it took to help the animals, and I did it gladly, with no complaints. Some of the work was dirty, hot, cold, and many times heartbreaking. Budget cuts ended my employment with the shelter, as economics do so often with many programs in animal rescue. But having become known for my efforts, working in rescue didn’t end with the job. It seldom does for any of us.
Continuing to work with animal rescue, volunteering any time and skills I can muster up, and being a shelter board member, I am blessed to work with some of the best people in the business. People who live, eat, and breathe animal rescue in the same fashion (or more so) than I do.
Being close to so many in this business, I see their mix of joy and disappointment on a regular basis and my heart breaks for them when they feel the burn of this calling; the burn deep inside of each of us when we have done everything right only to see an animal put down because no one wants it. The burn inside we feel when we’ve rescued one that’s been so ill that even with the finest medical care just isn’t strong enough to make it. The burn inside when we encounter animals that have been abused, and sometimes killed, by the hands of a human being. And to feel the fury of the latter is a scorn like no other. It will make a person look at the human race through tainted eyes and make one cautious of almost everyone.
I watch my fellow rescuers struggle with the choices before them when the burn happens, and it happens to every single one of us at one time or another. That point that we get to when we can’t see through the fury and the tears. When we can’t sleep at night for the atrocities we’ve seen that play over and over again in our heads. For the souls we’ve see in the eyes of needy animals who we’ve failed to save, even though we did everything in our power to do so.
Does one stay in rescue and do what can be done and be satisfied with the results? Or step away from the whole mess, stop checking email, shut off the phone and un-friend every rescuer, crossposter, shelter, on our Facebook page? Oh, and just don’t leave the house.
In the decade that I have been active with animal rescue, I have only seen a handful of rescuers actually be able to pull away and stay out of the scenario completely. Even those will admit it is a struggle to stand back and let others do the job. Though some have chosen to step back and stay out, the urge to save never goes away.
Why so difficult to leave all the craziness behind? Because for most, being a rescuer is not a conscience choice we make. People just don’t wake up one morning and say “Wow. I think I will be an animal rescuer.” It’s a drive that lives inside of us and not something we have consciously made the choice to do. To save the life of an innocent is just a natural reaction for most, and we do it without batting an eye.
We go out and about and see an animal in distress and we automatically flock to it trying to fix whatever ailment it may have, and if we can’t fix it, we find someone who can. We see abuse and instead of idly standing by, we react to stop whatever abuse might be occurring, and many times will do so without regard to our own well being. We get a call, or an email and know that on the other end there is a helpless animal that’s whole life is being thrown into uncertainty.
We’re a breed all our own. It’s an impulse for us and not something that we can shut off just because our hearts are aching and we just don’t think we can take anymore. We react like we breathe, without thinking to do it; it just happens. And somehow the numbers we save keep us going even though the many we fail to save haunts us, always. It’s all a question of how much we can really take.
With 10,000 animals dying in shelters, every single day in the US alone, it’s hard to step back and pace oneself, but it’s something anyone in animal rescue must learn to do. We must learn to recognize the burn, step back a few paces, and find a way to regroup before we hit that point of no return. A point we would forever regret.
I write this for all my fellow rescuers who understand every word, and for those of you out there who think we are all crazy and cannot fathom why we put ourselves through it.