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Depression and Suicide In Animal Care Professions: What Can We Do?

Dr. Sophia Yin died on Monday at just 48 years old. It is a great loss, felt deeply by everyone in the animal care world. I didn’t know her personally, but her work truly helped me be a better advocate for my dog. Dr. Yin was a force for good for our pets. Yesterday it was revealed that she died of suicide.

She is not the only veterinarian to die by suicide this year.

I don’t know a thing about the details of Dr. Yin’s life and I don’t know what led up to Monday’s events. But I feel like losing her in this way is an opportunity to talk to all of you about something that matters very much to me: your well-being and how our work affects all of us.

Compassion fatigue is an occupational hazard of our work with animals, whether you are an animal control officer or kennel attendant in a small town or an internationally recognized veterinarian. Our work requires that we compassionately and effectively respond to the constant demand to be helping to those who are suffering and in need. This can result in us experiencing the symptoms of compassion fatigue.

If you are suffering, you are not alone and you are not crazy. Everyone who works in a helping profession is affected by their work. It’s normal. As Dr. Naomi Rachel Remen so eloquently says,

“The expectation that we can be immersed in suffering and loss daily and not be touched by it is as unrealistic as expecting to be able to walk through water without getting wet.”

 

The symptoms of compassion fatigue are many and each one of us will experience the unavoidable stress of our work differently. But anxiety, sadness, isolation, and anger are just a few. Fortunately. we can take steps to manage our symptoms. However, if the symptoms of compassion fatigue are not recognized and addressed effectively, they may lead to depression and a host of other mental and physical illnesses. And, if a person already has a history of depression, working as a helping professional can make them more vulnerable to compassion fatigue.*

Another thing that contributes to compassion fatigue is perfectionism, a common trait in veterinary caregivers. Perfectionism can add to compassion fatigue-related stress, exhausting caregivers and reducing their ability to give compassionate care to themselves – one of the very things they need to be well, while they do good work.

A study in the UK revealed that British veterinarians are four times as likely to die by suicide than the average person and twice as likely as their human healthcare counterparts to do so. In the book When Helping Hurts: Compassion Fatigue in the Veterinary Profession, author Kathleen Ayl, PsyD writes about perfectionism and suicide in veterinary caregivers.

Ayl quotes equine journalist Candy Lawrence who wrote that veterinary professionals are typically, “…intent on improving themselves and dedicated to putting forth a 180% effort…when they fail to heal, when they fail to prolong the quality of life, this is often perceived as an internalized, magnified, and personal defeat. High levels of self-criticism are often associated with high levels of depression.”

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There’s much more to write on this topic, but I want to stop and say this:

Your life matters. You do not need to earn the right to take care of yourself.

 

You deserve the same level of compassionate care that you give your clients. You do not need to be perfect or give until you are empty in order to earn your self-care. Give to yourself with as much enthusiasm and skill as you give to others.

You can do that by getting help. If you are suffering from compassion fatigue symptoms or you are struggling with anxiety, depression, thoughts of suicide, symptoms of PTSD, or anything else: seek professional help. The cruel twist of depression is that its very nature makes reaching out for help difficult. So get help early.

 

Look for a therapist that understands vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue. Shop around until you find a therapist that suits you best (it’s ok to meet with a few different people until you find the person that is the right match for you). See if there’s a veterinary social worker nearby that specializes in the human-animal bond. Be sure to tell your therapist about your work-related stress, so they understand that your symptoms are, in part, related to the unique nature of your work as a helping professional.

And we can help each other too.

We can help each other by being more informed about the emotional toll that this work takes on ALL of us. Learn to recognize and manage the symptoms of compassion fatigue.

We can create a culture of wellness that values taking time for self-care as much as we value taking care of the needs of others.

We can be conscious of how we stigmatize seeking professional help. We need to take the shame out of getting help.

Getting professional help is an act of self-care. Self-care is critical to doing effective, ethical, sustainable and joyful work.

 

When I worked at the shelter, I saw a therapist for a few months. It helped. Don’t deny yourself the support you need because you’re afraid of what others will think. I will think you are brave.

What else can we do?

Read When Helping Hurts, visit compassionfatigue.org, bring in grief counselors (especially after a traumatic incident), be kind and refrain from gossip and cruelty online and in person, learn how to implement low impact debriefing at our workplace, make ourselves available to one another and strengthen social support networks, speak up when we see someone struggling and do what we can to connect them to help.

I don’t know what was happening in Dr. Yin’s life, but I am so sorry that she was struggling and felt such despair. She meant so much, to so many. She was making a real difference in the world and she will be missed. My heart goes out to her friends and family. I hope they take some comfort in knowing that Dr. Yin was deeply respected, loved, and treasured by people and their pets around the world.

You made a difference Dr. Yin. Thank you.

 

Let’s start a conversation. What else can we do? How can we support one another?

Resources:

Suicide Hotline

When Helping Hurts: Compassion Fatigue in the Veterinary Profession

CompassionFatigue.org

Pawcurious “We Love You to Death” 

NAMI: Suicide Prevention Tips

TIME: The Mystery of Suicide and How to Prevent It

VetGirl: Suicide Awareness in Veterinary Medicine webinar

University of Buffalo School of Social Work Self-Care Starter Kit

Rollin’ With Rubi Still, I Am One

Self Care Is Not Optional (my own experience with compassion fatigue)

 

My 8 week online course, Compassion in Balance, is designed to support animal care workers as they work to increase their well being, while they continue to do good work in the world. Visit this page for more information and class start dates.

 

*Please note that compassion fatigue is not a mental illness. It is the name of a group of symptoms that helping professionals may experience as a normal occupational hazard of their work. Compassion fatigue does not always lead to depression. Depression is a mental illness and has many causes. While they are sometimes connected, compassion fatigue and depression are not the same. However, both deserve our attention and anyone suffering from either should be encouraged to seek help. 

 

 

With love,

119 Comments Post a comment
  1. Cait #

    Thank you for writing this. It was so upsetting to hear about Dr. Yin and know that we’ve lost such a talented, compassionate person. I find it helpful to be able to talk about the difficult parts of work with someone who is willing to listen and be active and compassionate with their feedback, without trying to “fix it” as you say, or minimize it. Just feeling like you are being heard makes a big difference.

    October 1, 2014
    • jessica dolce #

      Thanks my friend <3

      October 2, 2014
  2. Holly #

    I’m a novice dog owner with a reactive dog. For the past year I’ve enlisted the help of a veterinary behaviorist and tech who are doing their best to help me apply the same techniques Dr. Yin taught to help Chico learn to feel safe and secure instead of freaked out and nervous and aggressive. I hope they know how grateful I am, but after reading this article, I wanted to make sure! I emailed them to thank them for all their patience and hard work and compassion. And to tell them that even if Chico’s behavior never improves, they have improved his life (and the lives of all my future dogs) by teaching me how to handle him kindly and consistently, rather than trying to use force and intimidation to correct him.

    October 1, 2014
    • jessicadolce #

      Hi Holly, I love that you reached out to let them know how much you appreciate their help in that way. I have no doubt it meant a lot to them. So often we think nice things about others, but don’t actually say them to the person! And we just never know how a small gesture or a kind word can have a big impact on someone.Thank you for this reminder.

      October 1, 2014
    • Rita Stevenson #

      Hello Holly,
      Its wonderful when you are able to find a professional person who actually CARES about your dog or cat, etc,
      The very fact that she taught you to help you dog, is some thing that will last a life time ! I use to rescue behavioral – non adoptive dogs, the ones people would return or NOT foster of adopt, because they were so aggressive and often dangerous, !
      Within a short time, they all changed and lost their FEAR ,, it s so simple, really, Aggression is what worked for them, in order to survive or eat, drink , etc
      LOVE PATIENCE KINDNESS and AFFECTION works wonders, even in humans,
      Dr Yin truly left an impact upon her patients and their guardian/owner,
      you will take her lessons with you- through your entire life, !

      October 3, 2014
  3. Tom Thornton #

    Excellent information, needs to be repeated to assure all health care professionals are aware of that part of their work ….. management of ones personal life is just as important as the technical skills..

    October 1, 2014
    • jessica dolce #

      Thanks Tom. We need to manage our own needs better and we need to address these issues on an organizational/cultural level as well. Then we can really make a long-term difference with our technical skills!

      October 2, 2014
  4. Kate #

    Dear Jessica – Thank you so much for this post. I have only just started the transition from a private sector career to one in animal welfare and am now working full-time for one of the largest open-admission shelters in the US. I have never before been so fulfilled and simultaneously felt so empty in my entire life. I related to so many things you said in your post and specifically about that anger you can direct towards yourself when you feel as though you haven’t “done enough”. You haven’t saved enough. Oftentimes when I am away from work instead of enjoying life I am constantly thinking, shouldn’t I being doing more? Shouldn’t I be posting about more animals that need to be adopted? Shouldn’t I be trying to win over supporters so that more people will come to our shelter? Shouldn’t I be trying to change laws to ban archaic BSL? How can I enjoy a night out with friends when I know an animal may be at-risk? For me the worst part is that not only do I feel I am not doing enough, but the world outside is also actually telling me I am not doing enough. Whether it be through the daily hate-mail I receive or the constant vitriol delivered via social media, it is hard to feel good about yourself when strangers belittle your efforts. Those on the “no-kill” crusade who minimize the overwhelming responsibility of caring for 30,000+ animals every year (that’s over 80 new animals per day on many days) by constantly assuming we “aren’t doing enough” are destroying the very people who are working so hard to actually save as many animals as possible. I wish I knew how to respond to this hatred without directing it at myself.

    October 1, 2014
    • jessicadolce #

      Hi Kate, Thank you for the work you’re doing. It is so important and so many people appreciate your service.

      Everything you’ve written here is normal (I think I’ve felt all of those things myself) and a part of working in animal welfare. Learning to set limits and boundaries between work and our personal lives is very challenging for most of us.

      But the only way we can continue to serve the animals long-term (and do it effectively and ethically) is to take time for our own needs, even if that means leaving some things undone.

      I encourage you (and everyone else!) to really explore compassion fatigue resources and make a plan for self-care now, not later. This is one of my favorite resources for self-care planning (I’ll add it to the resources list in the post too): http://socialwork.buffalo.edu/resources/self-care-starter-kit.html

      And try not to let the haters get to you. You are, as Teddy Roosevelt said, “in the ring”, doing the difficult work that matters: http://blog.ted.com/2012/09/11/5-insights-from-brene-browns-new-book-daring-greatly-out-today/

      The work you do is intense. Please take good care of yourself as you continue to do this challenging work. You are making a difference and more people than you may realize recognize your efforts.

      In gratitude for your service, Jessica

      October 1, 2014
    • Annie #

      I am a rescuer not a vet. I too cannot seem to enjoy the simple pleasures in life anymore as I’m always thinking about the animals. How can I enjoy a night out or a fun activity when animals are suffering and I should be doing more. Driving to pickup an animal at the shelter and crying most of the way there and back home. I want to quit so often but feel guilty because I know I can save just one more, one more, one more but then as soon as I do that there are five more sitting in the shelter waiting for their chance. Thank you for the article, I have shared it on my facebook page. Who knows how long I can go on with this but for right now , today, I am headed to get another out of the shelter and into a safe rescue…

      October 2, 2014
      • jessica dolce #

        Hi Annie, I just want you to know that so many of understand and relate to what you’re experiencing. I drove to work in tears many times.

        It helps me to consider that doing this work is not a sprint – it’s a marathon without a finish line. Just as you described. So the only way to continue to do the work long term (and do it effectively and ethically) is to pace ourselves by setting limits and taking time to address our own needs. Otherwise we burnout and can’t do any work at all.

        While this may mean that we cannot save some of the animals in front of us right now, by taking breaks for ourselves it allows us to be well enough to do the work for many years to come. And that will lead to saving more lives too.

        It’s ok to take a break for yourself – in fact, it’s a key part of being an effective, healthy rescuer. Thank you for all you do.
        In gratitude, Jessica

        October 2, 2014
    • Kim #

      I am not a vet, but I work in community services and am passionate about my animals and all animals. I know the joy they give and the sadness when they leave us. I have rescued and raised and cried. It is SO important to take care of your own welfare, you cannot possibly in one lifetime, save every single animal that is no longer loved by others, This is a very hard lesson, but a necessary one. I have been down that road, and is it very long and never ending. I have learnt that all I can do is what I can do in any one day. If I only save one animal today, or one person today, then that is one less that remains unloved and uncared for. Leave your work at work, it is hard but necessary, to preserve yourself is so important that in order to do what you do, you must be ok in yourself. If your are not OK, then you cannot possibly help anyone or anything else. Hard to do but well worth the effort. If your own well being is good then you are able to do great things.
      Keep up the great work you do, but remember you are not alone, and those that are not nice, do not know the love of a pet.

      October 2, 2014
    • Poppy #

      There are many in animal welfare who are right there with you, and some who have narrowly escaped with their lives. The truth is, there are more people out there at risk than is obvious.

      Hang in there and don’t let it swallow you up.

      October 3, 2014
    • Kelly Foran #

      Hi Kate. I’m a former member of the Canadian Armed Forces. It’s common today to thank those who serve our country by saying “thank you for your service”. I will gladly extend this compliment to you as well… “Thank you for YOUR service!”
      I’ve been volunteering at my local shelter for almost a year now, so I have a good idea of the daily concerns shelter staff face and must deal with. I’m also a member of the “No Kill Coalition”, but I’m also a realist! As you are well aware, there is, “literally”, a “pipeline” of unwanted, abandoned, stray, sick and injured animals pouring into our shelters on a daily basis. With the limited resources avaliable, (and I use the term “limited” politely as, apparently, governments and municipalities have no more than a few “token” dollars to provide), it is simply unrealistic to assume that we can save them all. The situation is very much like a medical “triage”. Do we throw all the resources we have at one animal who may or may not make it?… who’s prognosis is poor or grim?… who’s chances of adoption are near or at zero? And if we do, how do we justify it to both ourselves and the public when “all” those “limited” resources might have saved 4, 8, 15 other animals? THERE ARE NO EASY DECISIONS, THERE ARE NO EASY SOLUTIONS.
      I am also “appalled” by the nasty letters, e-mails and comments you and others like you on this difficult and heartbreaking journey receive! Most of these people have never set foot in a shelter, have never gotten down on hand and knee to clean a kennel, have never held onto an animal screaming in pain and fear… such letters, e-mails and comments are best placed where they belong… in the garbage!… after being reported to the police of course.
      In the U.S.A. many shelters are shelters in name only. They are, for all intents and purposes, businesses… run by unethical and unscrupulous “scum”… the more animals taken in, (and put down), the more money they receive from various local, state and national agencies. Some of the stories are truely horrific… supposed “care givers” and “shelter” managers making 6 figure incomes off the backs of taxpayers, all the while committing genocide on thousands and tens of thousands of animals “in their protection and care” yearly. It is these atrocities that, I believe, are the primary focus of the No Kill Coalition. The vast majority its members completely understand the “realities” faced by professionally and ethically operated shelters. Many do all they can to help such operations. However, as in many organizations and movements, there are the radical few who do not have the patience for the long and difficult battle… they want immediate change and action. Unfortunately, in regards to animal welfare, it is going to take many generations of education, public awareness and policy and legal reform to change the current situation.
      I’m of Irish decent. My “Irish luck” has never made me rich, but has allowed me to walk away unscathed from numerous situations where I should not have. I happily and with open heart send all my Irish luck to you and those who show up every day AND TRY. Please look after yourself and those around you… caring for the health and welfare of animals can be emotionally and physically draining… and, lets face it, the animals need all the friends and help they can get! KEEP UP THE GREAT WORK!

      October 25, 2014
  5. Very timely. I am a rescuer, not a vet, but there are many similarities. I have a rescue case right now, the hardest one I have seen in 10+ years of doing this. Good info and support here, for both the aftermath of this acute case and the years’ of build up from doing rescue and puppy mill seizures.

    October 1, 2014
    • jessica dolce #

      Yes, this applies to all of us who work with animals: vets, volunteers, dog trainers, shelter workers, foster families, rescuers, ACOs, etc. Thank you for your service Margaret and take good care of yourself.

      October 1, 2014
  6. Jessica, thanks so much for this information. Compassion fatigue is a topic I’m passionate about, but I wasn’t aware of the book on it and the vet profession. I also look forward to checking out the link to the self-care starter kit. I work in mental health and also have volunteered in an open admission shelter, and currently work with many reactive dogs, so I know first hand how important self-care is for mental health workers, animal care workers, and people living with dogs with issues. It’s easier said than done! We all have to look out for each other and encourage compassion directed toward ourselves, not just outwardly.

    October 1, 2014
    • jessica dolce #

      Hi Lisa, yes, that’s so true. And thanks for including owners of dogs with behavior and medical issues – they’re a group close to my heart!

      October 2, 2014
  7. Very well said. I network and rescue dogs in Miami Dade. A very high kill shelter. What I have seen has hurt me deeply and sometimes I take a break. I try to focus on the lives saved and the good that was done but the young faces of slaughtered innocence haunt me. This message is so needed. We cannot afford to lose such beautiful souls so tragically.

    October 1, 2014
    • jessica dolce #

      Thanks for your work Julie and good for you for taking a break every once in a while. The work you’re doing (esp. in that area) is making a difference. We appreciate you!

      October 2, 2014
  8. T. Smith #

    A simple thank you, from someone in canine care and training, who really needed this. My heart goes out to the family and friends of Dr. Yin.

    October 1, 2014
    • jessica dolce #

      You are welcome. And thank you for what you do for the dogs.

      October 2, 2014
  9. Kas #

    I work in human medicine. zero chance of me ever having this problem. Deal with people long enough and you will never want to speak to another person again…
    I can see however, doing vet med how this could become a problem. Probably why I am not a vet.

    October 2, 2014
    • jessica dolce #

      Hi Kas, compassion fatigue is an occupational hazard for anyone in a helping profession – from police officers and social workers to nurses and doctors. There are some great resources out there for those of you who work in human medicine. Here’s one of my favorites: http://heartsinhealthcare.com/learn/resources/

      October 2, 2014
      • Kas #

        Thanks but like I said. No problems here. I give the info, treat what has to be treated then its up to them. I lose no slepp because people, in general, , are masters of their own fate and do a lousy job at it. C’est le vie…not my prob once I do my part.

        October 2, 2014
    • Kompartment #

      Everyone seems to take for granted that it’s normal for human caretakers to be detached like you are with patients, but it’s taboo for animal caretakers. I don’t get this. I think the answer is somewhere in the middle. Detach much of the time, but let in enough joy from other humans/animals to keep your job fulfilling and enriching.

      October 2, 2014
      • Kas #

        People are not worth it. Animals are. Bottom line. I would never recommend medicine as a career except for the money part.Its all good. i can retire soon.

        October 2, 2014
      • jessica dolce #

        Brene Brown wrote that: “We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.”

        So, the answer is in the middle, as you point out Kompartment. If we shut down completely and are totally detached, we can’t access our joy and empathy. If we are totally open, with no boundaries, we are overwhelmed by the suffering and needs of others. Either way, we’re less effective in our work and we are suffering. Learning how to choose the most appropriate empathic response – one that addresses both the client’s and our needs and feelings – is a key aspect of being a healthy caregiver.

        October 2, 2014
  10. Dr. Yin had a profound impact on my life. I hope the loss of her life motivates my profession and others to reconsider how we approach burn out, compassion fatigue, substance abuse, and depression. I hope we re-evaluate how we manage our lives. Now is the time for us to learn how to vaccinate ourselves against these illnesses, just as we vaccinate puppies and kittens against diseases like parvo and rabies. We need continuing education in prevention, our schools need to train us, from day one, to withstand this onslaught, and how to recognize in ourselves, and each other, when these illnesses require outside treatment. I hope Dr. Yin’s second legacy saves as many caregivers as her first legacy is saving pets.

    http://www.abettervet.com/2014/09/30/dear-dr-yin-i-understand-and-i-will-miss-you/

    October 1, 2014
    • jessica dolce #

      Amen to all of what you wrote. Thanks Summer.

      October 2, 2014
  11. Christine Maxfield #

    There is a study going (for veterinarians ONLY) looking at mental health issues. I’ll share the link in case anyone hasn’t gotten the invite from their state association: https://auburn.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_9RlOXmumZUDdLxP

    The survey is anonymous and is being conducted for the CDC & Auburn University.

    October 1, 2014
  12. trish #

    Excellent post! I have been hoping that the animal advocacy community would talk more freely about this – we need to help each other so that we can help the animals. I live on a small island and have no one to talk to. In the past I have looked for a therapist but to no avail…..I’m so encouraged people are talking more freely about “compassion fatigue”…and to know that when we feel this way ….we are NOT alone.

    October 1, 2014
    • jessica dolce #

      Hi Trish, Have you looked into connecting with a therapist that does sessions by phone or Skype? There may be help from a distance these days. And though it will not be a substitute for professional help, I will be offering an online course in 2015 specifically for animal welfare workers on compassion fatigue and self-care, so that anyone (even islanders!) can access more information and connect with others. If you’re interested, stay tuned – I’ll make an announcement at the end of the year with details on the class. Be well, Jessica

      October 2, 2014
  13. Laura W #

    Thank you; I really needed this. I’m not a vet – I’m a dog trainer and animal rescuer. I had the honor of meeting and working with Dr. Yin at one of her seminars two years ago. She was so vibrantly brilliant.

    At least when we lost Robin Williams, everyone was going through the same thing. I look around in wonder at people unfamiliar with Dr. Yin that are not affected by this loss, that they’re not going through it, too. I keep expecting banner headlines on Yahoo. So much of the world isn’t even aware of the loss of this woman who’s made their pets’ lives so much better.

    I am a perfectionist and I am discouraged sometimes when my job seems Sisyphean in nature. Thank you for the permission to care for myself, too. Sometimes, it’s easy to forget.

    October 2, 2014
    • jessica dolce #

      You’re most welcome Laura. What I wrote absolutely applies to animal care workers of all kinds – dog trainers, rescuers, groomers, foster families. If you’re caring for animals (or people), you have to let go of trying to do it all and take care of yourself. Be well and thank you for what you’re doing! – Jessica

      October 2, 2014
  14. theresa #

    Let me say that the animal work is easy. Nothing could be easier. It is the expectations from the people attached to the animals that is so difficult. That is where the fatigue comes from – that and the evolution of companion animals in society. If one subscribes to the value system which recognized companion animals as members of the family, then to navigate the mine field that consists of all the value systems that proceeded this interpretation, is to be lost at sea with nothing but conflict. It is not easy.

    October 2, 2014
  15. Kelli #

    In the last several months I have become very active in networking, and advocating for shelter animals. I hadn’t realized until I began what an awesome resource social networking could be for helping to save the lives of animals trapped in shelters. The more I’ve become involved the more it has affected me. I could never work in a kill shelter because I can’t even step foot in one without breaking down. I thought I’d found a way to help animals from a distance, that not actually engaging them would somehow make it easier when I couldn’t save one. I was wrong. I’m very lucky that I share my life with someone equally passionate about animals because without him I’d be very lost. The need of these poor animals is overwhelming, their plight so urgent, desperate, and there just never seems to be enough money, never enough people willing to open their hearts and homes, and far too little compassion shown by people who just dump their unwanted pets at high kill shelters. I find myself feeling hopeless a lot more often than I did when I began, breaking into tears a lot at work (my full time unrelated job) or sobbing late at night as my husband sleeps. He has wakened to find me racked with silent sobs as I read of the needless killing of animals I’d been trying to save. He knows how increasingly consumed I’ve become with my efforts to save these precious animals and I know he will likely intervene if he sees depression begin to take hold again. I know that I will probably have to step away from it eventually and from time to time but he will help me. It’s just that the need is never ending and I feel like if I could have done something to save an animal and it dies it’s partly my fault. I can’t bear to even think of that happening. I can’t even comprehend how rescuers, pullers, and fosters can do this every day, often 24/7 365 without going catatonic from depression. I had never heard of compassion fatigue but definitely understand how it can happen. I am sorry to hear of Dr Yin’s death and wish she had felt able to reach out for the help she needed.

    October 2, 2014
    • jessica dolce #

      Hi Kelli, I just want you to know that you’re not alone in what you’re experiencing. I felt many of the same things myself while working at an animal shelter (and wrote about it here: http://notesfromadogwalker.com/2013/09/07/self-care-is-not-optional-how-burnout-ended-my-career-at-the-shelter/).

      I urge you to take care of yourself now. There will never be a time when all the work is done or all the animals are saved. We have to make the tough but necessary choice to set limits on what we do (and look at), so that we have enough energy and time to take care of ourselves as well. Taking care of ourselves allows us to keep helping for the long run.

      Please take a look at compassionfatigue.org and her book To Weep for a Stranger. I think you’ll find a lot of helpful and comforting information there.
      Be well, Jessica

      October 2, 2014
      • Kelli #

        Thank you for the links and encouragement Jessica. Will check out both this evening when I get home from work. Hope you’re having a decent Friday. 🙂

        October 3, 2014
    • Poppy #

      Kelli, I hope you recognize in yourself the symptoms that lead to depression and worse. You are very fortunate to have someone in your life that is supportive, but it can be equally important to have professional support from therapy and psychiatry.

      One thing that helps me as I think about all the animals I fear I couldn’t save–they are no longer suffering in this harsh world they lived in. It can be dangerous to think about saving them all, about your needing to do the saving, and that their death is a horrible eventuality. I feel strongly about saving every one we can, but I also hang on to the belief that they have a wonderful place to go in their afterlife.

      Bless you and yours.

      October 3, 2014
  16. Laura #

    great article on compassion fatigue, however I think it’s important to separate compassion fatigue and depression – especially when talking about suicide. Compassion fatigue does not always lead to depression or put a person at high risk of suicide, although if left untreated depression can certainly result. Depression is a serious mental illness with many possible causative factors. It is invisible, can be hidden and it can in fact be a ‘terminal illness’.
    Compassion fatigue and depression are both issues that need to be brought out in the open in all helping professions. Such generous loving people are often as much in need of healing as those they heal.

    October 2, 2014
    • jessica dolce #

      Thanks Laura. You’re right that compassion fatigue and depression are two different things. For those of you who might want more info: Compassion fatigue is a name for the emotional and physical symptoms that helping professionals may experience as a result of their demanding work. It’s an occupational hazard, not a mental illness or a disease. We can take steps to manage our compassion fatigue-related symptoms and support our mental, physical, and spiritual health, which will mitigate the stress related to this challenging work. I linked the two here because I wanted to share that chronic compassion fatigue symptoms, if not effectively addressed, can lead to mental illnesses, such as depression. Thank you Laura for pointing out that depression has many possible causative factors – I really appreciate that you called that out.

      October 2, 2014
  17. Kompartment #

    I’ve worked in animal sheltering (veterinary) for 12 years. In the most recent job it was often encouraged to be present with the animals, and compassion fatigue classes were offered yearly. While I understand the desire to give animals the fullest of ourselves, and I get why those who do are the most valued employees, I have to admit I can’t fully do this myself. I can put myself in the animal’s place and imagine how they feel, but it is too painful, and I have no desire to this on a daily basis. I cope by not getting too close to them. I’m gentle, I don’t get so detached that I do anything harmful or cruel, but my job is to do all sorts of things to them they don’t like, and if I can restrain them and do the job quickly, I am emotionally healthier than if I take Dr. Yin’s route and take the time to get in the head of the animal and try my hardest to make my time with them the best time possible. It takes too much of an emotional toll. When a CF counselor asks how I cope, I am afraid to tell him, by not getting attached, because 3/4 of the attendees room can’t or won’t detach and I feel judged by them. It isn’t a popular thing to say, but I feel I have to speak for those like me who perservere by developing a thick skin, and not always feeling something for each patient. Human caregivers obviously embody this way of coping often, but it seems taboo for us animal caretakers. I do take reckonings daily after work, debrief as needed with others and get a cry here and there, so I haven’t blackened my heart and stunted my emotional growth. Just know, that hardened veteran you work with may not be numb or unreachable, she may just be choosy about who touches her heart and she may be able to be around a long time because of it.

    October 2, 2014
    • jessica dolce #

      Thank you for sharing your perspective here. We all experience compassion fatigue differently and so we have to come up with self-care strategies that work for us as individuals. As you said earlier, it’s about finding a balance. Wishing you well, Jessica

      October 2, 2014
  18. Amy #

    I could not believe when I read about Dr Yin, and now I am seeing her death was a suicide. It is just heart breaking. We dont know what people are going through, or what their struggles are.
    Maybe there can be some kind of online support group for things like this.
    I have a full time job but I also run a rescue (basically full time too). The emotional roller coaster that comes with rescuing is maddening at times. Happy to save a life but crying over what humans are capable of, amongst other things (I am sure you know these emotions).
    I cried after reading what you wrote. I think its because, it allowed me to realize that its ok to cry and get some emotions out. It helps to be able to reflect on the good and bad and know that its ok to just ‘let go’. I hope people that need additional help see articles like this and realize there are options out there.
    Thank you!

    October 2, 2014
    • jessica dolce #

      Thank you Amy – I’m glad reading this helped. This work IS an emotional roller coaster. Well said! Having a good cry and feeling our emotions (not just bottling them up) is healthy and helps us to process things so that we can let go of them.
      Thank you for your service and be well, Jessica

      October 2, 2014
  19. Rosina #

    Jessica, thank you so much for writing this. Hearing about Dr. Yin was so sad…..and I am also dealing with the suicide of a family member of my own. It really helps to see the perspective you have shared. And the list of resources is most appreciated.

    October 2, 2014
    • jessica dolce #

      You’re welcome Rosina. I’m very sorry for your loss and am wishing you peace in this difficult time. – Jessica

      October 2, 2014
  20. Your article gives good insight into another segment of the population that is at risk. As someone who has worked for many years with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and local and national animal rescue organizations, I know there is a correlation between the two. This would be a great piece to share with AFSP. As with medical professionals and healthcare clinicians, mental healthcare is important for the veterinary world. I did have the pleasure to meet and learn from Dr. Yin for 2 days in Charlotte, NC, sponsored by the American Pit Bull Foundation. She was amazing and a true talent. So sad to know another valuable life has been lost to suicide. I pray for peace for her family. Speaking from personal experience, it is a very hard way to lose a loved one.

    October 2, 2014
    • jessica dolce #

      Thank you for joining the conversation Rebecca and sharing your experiences. Please pass this along to anyone at the AFSP that you think might be interested. There have been multiple suicides this year in the animal rescue community, in addition to veterinarians, so this is a population that is very much at risk.
      Thank you for all you’re doing, Jessica

      October 2, 2014
  21. Gina #

    Thank you for a very informative post. Very sorry to hear of Dr. Yin’s passing. I am a rescue “newbie” and find that the more I help animals/rescue groups, the worse I feel about humanity, however, I have met some of the NICEST people through these rescue groups. Thank you for posting resources.

    October 2, 2014
    • jessica dolce #

      Hi Gina, That’s been my experience too – I find that deliberately choosing to focus on all the good and really wonderful, compassionate people I’ve met in the animal welfare world is one of the keys to staying well in this work. Thanks for what you do for the animals, Jessica

      October 2, 2014
  22. I am so sorry for her loss. I , too, have had moments in my 20 year career where I felt that suicide might be my only option. Thankfully, I reached out for help in my darkest hour and have a plan for those moments when I feel overwhelmed or at the end of my emotional rople. Prayers for Dr. Yin’s family and clients whom must be in deep grief and shock. Thank you for this very well written article.

    October 2, 2014
    • jessica dolce #

      Thank you for sharing your experience here Dr. Smith. It’s very powerful. I’m so glad you’re still with us! Wishing you well, Jessica

      October 2, 2014
  23. Thanks for this good article! You ask at the end what else can we do? Well just to throw it out there, when we donate money to help animals, consider donating it directly to the caregivers. That WILL help the animals. But instead of giving just cash, give gift certificates for massage.

    I have been considering this but you know I never thought to give the gift to the actual vets. I’ve always felt the technicians and the shelter workers would suffer more from compassion fatigue. But this has really opened my eyes. I am going to send a gift certificate for a massage to my vet. She is so great! And as I can donate to shelters, a gift certificate for the workers. I don’t know how I can pick one…?? Maybe there can be a separate fund for when someone really needs that massage?

    One of the reasons I like this idea is that it not only gives the gift, but it teaches and reminds people that self care is important and permissable. Perhaps one day, it will be required…??

    Oh and I think Laura makes a good point to keep compassion fatigue and clnical depression separate issues even though of course they can go together.

    October 2, 2014
    • jessica dolce #

      Thanks for contributing to the conversation Lyndsey. And that’s a lovely thing to do for your vet. I’ve thought about that too – how to give to shelter workers – and wondered if there are massage therapists out there that might like to volunteer some of their time to give chair massages at the shelter (perhaps their fee could be subsidized by donations, like what you’re doing). Or local wellness-related businesses that would like to support shelter pets by caring for their caregivers. Things like discounted services or coming to talk with the staff about nutrition, meditation, etc. would be a wonderful way to help. In my experience, people want to help if we just ask, so it’s worth asking!

      And thanks for the note about depression and compassion fatigue. I just responded to Laura’s comment and appreciate you both calling that out that compassion fatigue is not a mental illness and does not always lead to depression (and that depression has many different causes). Thank you!

      October 2, 2014
      • Oooh that’s a great idea to approach massage therapists directly. Many don’t mind doing some volunteer work especially those newly starting out and actually need the hours.

        Also it might be good to have a care taking protocol from a psychologist…?? So here is how you give injections, clip nails, clean cages oh and this is what you can do for your peace of mind…:-) Just needs to be part of the education.

        October 2, 2014
  24. Becky #

    Thank you for bringing into the light such a serious topic. Dr. Yin’s death is truly a loss on so many levels but if it helps raise awareness of both compassion fatigue among our animal caregivers and also mental illness and the serious battles some people face every day just to keep going, then she has even in death helped more people.

    Very sad, but the insights you shared and the supporting links are so helpful.

    October 2, 2014
  25. Thanks for writing this Jessica. This is such an important topic that needs to be brought to light before we lose any more amazing people.

    October 2, 2014
  26. Luan #

    Compassion Fatigue is also an issue that is will surface when immersed in front line Animal Rescue. It is very difficult to step back and take the time needed to care for yourself when you feel bombarded and overwhelmed, the calls and pleas keep coming. Setting limits means saying “no” when you’ve reached yours and not feeling responsible for what happens. It is also difficult for many to find understanding and support from non-rescue friends and family. Breaking free of “rescue” is in some ways not unlike overcoming an addiction, unless you cut yourself off completely, literally changing your address, online contacts, and phone number, the calls keep coming, and it’s hard to say no when all alternatives are just as overwhelmed as you are.

    I hope you are at peace Dr. Yin. Thank you for your dedication and care and hard work. Although I did not know you personally, I know of the value of your work and how many people and pets you have helped, both personally and in those you have inspired. We all wish that we could turn back the clock and change whatever stole your hope for the future and triggered your decision. You will be sorely missed.

    October 2, 2014
    • jessica dolce #

      Thank you Luan – your comment rings true. As hard as it is, setting limits is a key aspect of doing rescue work (or any type of helping work) effectively and sustainably. And I know many people (including myself at one point) that needed to go “cold turkey” in order to restore some balance to my life. The addiction analogy is a good one.

      October 2, 2014
  27. Stephanie Pililani Sherwood #

    I was shocked when I read about Dr Yin. I attended a seminar of hers in Chico, CA a couple of years ago and was so impressed with her. I had actually never heard of her before and was looking for a continuing education seminar for my job. I signed up for hers not knowing anything about her and thought she was fantastic. I ended up buying her book and talking about her afterward to friends and co-workers. It is a huge loss that she is no longer with us. RIP.

    Stephanie Sherwood from Portland, OR.

    October 2, 2014
  28. Louise #

    This is very sad news; I did not know her, but I read everything she wrote. I am a long-term dog volunteer at a shelter, and while not as nearly involved as a vet, the worst is when a dog has to be put down for high-risk behavior(s). Sometimes it’s a dog everyone has worked with for a while. I really feel for the staff because not only do they need to deal with their own feelings of grief, but those of volunteers who had invested so much emotionally. I think you have started a really important conversation, and one that has to include shelter workers, even those not directly working with the animals

    October 2, 2014
    • jessica dolce #

      Thank you Louise. I wish more volunteers were given compassion fatigue resources as they are affected by it as well. Wishing you well and thank you for volunteering! Jessica

      October 2, 2014
  29. Stan Combs #

    For information, I have a livestock background and also have a daughter who almost completed vet school before attempting suicide. I think part of the problem may be in the vet and animal care worker selection process. People are chosen whose compassion towards animals is higher than the average. These people can feel that, because domestic animals depend on people, animals require and deserve more compassion than people do. Others do not connect well with people, and fill that need with animals. What is required is really an attitude that is sympathetic towards animals, but is clear that animals are not people. One does his best for them under the circumstances (including financial constraints), but in the final analysis the best course of action may be putting them down humanely. This is more the attitude that livestock farmers have, and is more healthy than obsessing over “what more could I have done for this animal?”

    October 2, 2014
    • jessica dolce #

      Hi Stan, thank you for being a part of the conversation and I’m hoping your daughter is doing well today. You’re right that the people who are drawn to and choose to work in helping professions (for people, as well as animals) feel a great deal of compassion – it’s what makes them good at their work and also what causes them to suffer. Charles Figley, the man who coined the term “compassion fatigue” has said that the symptoms of compassion fatigue are the natural result of the “cost of caring.” That’s why it’s so important that we talk about this – so that people understand they’re not alone and that there is help.

      I’d like to throw this out there as well: the stress that many of us who work with animals feel isn’t always related to the suffering of animals. Often we are present to the suffering of people (for instance, veterinary caregivers must tend to grieving families who are humanely euthanizing a pet) and it is our compassion for people and their trauma that affects us as well.

      And I agree with you that, whether it is people or animals in need, we need to let go of the “what ifs?” and accept that we can’t fix or control everything. Thanks again, Jessica

      October 2, 2014
  30. BN #

    Sometimes a big factor is that the burned out person has taken in too many animals and has become overwhelmed emotionally, financially and timewise. They want adoptions, they work for adoptions, but they can’t get enough on their own. I have read of several cases where a rescuer has killed themselves and their rescued animals as a result. Where are people in this situation to turn? There are no resources or organizations that help. By definition these folks are rescuing animals precisely because there is no other succor for the pets, and once out of a kill shelter, other rescues by and large don’t help. You would think rescues want to intake fully vetted, friendly, healthy adoptable animals, and a very few do when they have room, but they focus on pulling from kill shelters. It’s very hard to argue with that prioritization, yet it leaves the overwhelmed rescuer in a catch-22. They see animals at immediate risk, save them, vet them, then can’t get them out to rescue because the animals are “safe”. When people like this crash, they are often accused as hoarders even though they would be overjoyed to place animals in good homes or rescues. I don’t know what the solution is. But there is a real problem that isn’t even being discussed..

    October 2, 2014
    • jessica dolce #

      Hi BN, Good points – I don’t know what the solution is either. But I do think that rescuers need to be very mindful of setting clear, consistent boundaries, so that they aren’t going over their limits and finding themselves overwhelmed and in need of rescue themselves. This is a great challenge as it means saying no to animals/people in immediate need. But setting limits allows them to continue to do their work responsibly and in good health – it’s the path to sustainable rescue. I wrote about this issue a couple of years ago and was recently at a gathering of rescuers where this subject was discussed – so it is starting to get out there, thankfully. Here’s the link, if you’re interested: http://notesfromadogwalker.com/2012/07/21/how-i-failed-as-a-rescuer-lessons-from-a-sanctuary/

      October 2, 2014
  31. Jessica #

    I didn’t make it through vet school. My depression (which I already knew I had and which I had started treatment for the year prior) got so bad in during the first few months that I developed depression induced dementia. Had it not been for my dogs I WOULD have driven into the train on the way to class one day. I’m now a physics teacher and I doubt I’ll ever go back to vet school. I’ve come to accept that.
    However, that experience has given me a bit of insight.
    I honestly think that one of the best things we can do for veterinarians is to start them on better mental health tracks early on. While there was a counselor provided to vet students, when I needed that person most, I found the system to sign up for the counselor overwhelming and I couldn’t remember even where they were. SO I never once saw the counselor during the entire year I spent wanting to self induce a coma.
    I think that rather than waiting for struggling veterinary students to seek help, perhaps we should be training them to deal with things better from the beginning.
    At the beginning of the year, set up mandatory counseling appointments for every single veterinary student. Make sure that they’re alright, make sure they know where and when to find help, and give them strategies to deal with school and eventually the stress that comes with being a veterinarian.

    October 2, 2014
    • jessica dolce #

      Thank you for sharing your experiences here Jessica. I agree with you 100% that we need to be more proactive in addressing mental health (in all animal care professions) and I hope that Dr. Yin’s death is a catalyst for vet schools to adjust their current approach to counseling/supervision. Whether it’s at vet school or in a “new hire” booklet, we need to reach out to and give caregivers the tools they need to be well right off the bat.

      October 2, 2014
  32. The Veterinary Information Network is also hosting rounds to honour Sophia Yin and to look at how we deal with our own distress and that of colleagues. (I posted about it here). http://www.smallanimaltalk.com/2014/10/support-for-veterinarians-and-human.html

    I think compassion fatigue is part of it but perfectionism is rife in the profession and it takes a huge toll on students and vets.

    October 2, 2014
    • jessica dolce #

      Thank you for sharing that here Anne!

      October 2, 2014
  33. Anon #

    Thanks for this. I have never told anyone that I have been in therapy for years now with one treatment goal: to be more callous. Weird goal, right? But tonight I was able to pick up a matted, scared stray to foster, while listening to a jerk do euthanasia intake for his gorgeous, sweet 3-yr-old lab mix (he is moving). My alternative is to sob and crawl into bed. My unhappiness is irrelevant to the dogs I need to help, so I have to do a lot of work to harden myself to the endless well of pain we all face.

    October 3, 2014
    • jessica dolce #

      Hi, It’s brave of you to share your story here. Good for you for getting help and support. I wish everyone was doing the same.

      I don’t think your goal is weird, especially when you consider the idea from a different perspective: you’re learning to set healthy boundaries by using “empathic discernment”. Meaning, you are learning how to choose the best empathetic response – one that is sensitive to the needs of others AND to your own needs as well. So that you are not helping others at your own expense. It’s a key aspect of being a healthy caregiver, as it allows us to remain compassionate , but still set boundaries to take care of ourselves as well.

      Thank you for all you do, Jessica

      October 3, 2014
  34. Elizabeth #

    Compassion fatigue came for me in the form of multiple people daily telling me what a cold, heartless creature I was because the clinic I worked in wouldn’t see their animals for free. I lost count of the days I drove home in tears from the way they treated me. I loved every fur, fin and feather that walked through that door but it would never be enough as long as the clients had to pay.

    I was driven out of the profession for good in 2004. My brother lost his years long battle with bipolar depression by committing suicide. I bankrupted myself financially, emotionally and even physically trying to save him. The clinic I worked for was too short staffed to allow me more than three days off after burying him. I needed far longer but it wasn’t feasible. After the FIFTH person that day back told me how selfish and uncaring I was and the last one even went so far as to tell me that a bitch like me would never sacrifice for someone I loved, I unloaded on her, tossed my locker into a trash bag and quit on the spot.

    I enrolled in a local college the very next day and to this day will warn anyone off of becoming a vet tech. It’s not worth the emotional attacks.

    None of the classmates I graduated with that I kept in contact with are still in the profession. None of them. All have similar stories to my own. No one addresses this fact and no one seems to think it relevant enough to. Maybe someday that will change, but I’m not holding my breath.

    October 3, 2014
    • jessica dolce #

      Hi Elizabeth, Thank you for sharing what you experienced. I’m so very sorry about your brother. Sadly, what you experienced at work isn’t uncommon and results in so much stress and heartache for everyone involved. From what you described, it sounds like you made a very healthy choice in leaving the clinic that day. Wishing you well, Jessica

      October 3, 2014
      • Elizabeth #

        I graduated in 1995. Not once during the entire two years I studied to become a vet tech was I ever warned that clients would attack me for being “only about the money” and would believe the fact that a veterinary clinic charged for services meant they hated the animals.

        I found once I was in the field that there were no support systems in place to work us through the constant bombardment of that particular sentiment. There are only so many times it can be lobbed at you before it breaks you.

        I hear of far too many in the field committing suicide and can’t help but think they broke like I did, just in a different way. I was able to walk away. Maybe they weren’t. I don’t see any of the curriculums addressing what many I’ve talked to experience on a daily basis. I honestly believe that is a major part of the problem.

        October 3, 2014
  35. Linda #

    I am so sorry for the loss of this wonderful woman. What an inspiration she has been for so many of us.

    I have dogs and volunteer to help dogs in need find homes. So many are euthanized due to lack of space. Some people in my life don’t understand my compassion and love for animals, calling them “just animals” and “not humans”. :'(
    People who I love very much do not share my love for even my own fur children. I fear for what will happen to them when I die. 🙁

    I share posts on Facebook of animals in need and comment on pictures when the poor animals have been euthanized. It’s so unfair and so cruel. People delete me from Facebook all the time or hide me from their newsfeed because my posts “bother” them.

    The reaction from my friends and loved ones coupled with the grief from all of the animals dying daily is really taking a toll on me mentally. It’s exhausting. I have already dealt with depression for many years due to an illness I had. I often cry several times a week. I know I need to talk to someone.

    I appreciate this article. While it is devastating and tremendously sad, it also helped me in a positive way.

    Keeping you and all the fur babies in need, those we love and those we lost, and those out there who we don’t even know about …. keeping you all in my heart and my mind. <3

    You are all amazing and special people. Bless your souls.

    October 3, 2014
    • jessica dolce #

      Hi Linda, Thank you for sharing here and for helping the animals. The work never ends, so please take time to care for and help yourself now. Talking to a trained professional sounds like a good idea – you deserve to be cared for by someone who can help. Wishing you well, Jessica

      October 3, 2014
  36. Jane Eagle #

    Excellent article. We have lost more than a couple of heroes in this struggle, just this year. And it is very hard to stop and give to ourselves, knowing that some will die while we do so. We have to be mindful that even more will die if any of us ceases to function …or live. Rescuers are ALWAYS in crisis, because animals are constantly being abused and killed, all around us.
    I hope that Robin Williams’ recent suicide (he also championed animals) has brought to the conversation that suicide is not a selfish act, which has been the prevailing attitude. Suicide is the act of a person who is in so much pain that they can barely breathe or bear it.
    We all need to support each other, to be kind, to stand up for each other and with each other. We are making a difference – a huge one! – and the animals need us. So, we need to take care of ourselves, so we can be there for them.

    October 3, 2014
  37. Fran C #

    I read awhile back the UK, where they have one of the longest breed bans, vets have one of the highest suicide rates among professionals.

    October 3, 2014
  38. Thank you so much for writing so perfectly a very hidden subject of the veterinary profession. Perhaps with her passing, more will be saved and we will become stronger as a profession for ourselves and the one we treat. I feel for Dr. Yin. She was changing the veterinary profession for the better and her void will scarcely be filled.

    October 3, 2014
  39. Loulou #

    Being any kind of care giver and dealing with other people’s pets can really take its toll when the caregiver is not recognized, demeaned or not considered an important part of an animal’s well-being. Funny how “owners” can just switch of the care button because a pet can just be considered a thing or that they have control over the situation. Why would they think that a person who cares for their animal would not be important nor affected by bad news or by being treated like hired help.

    October 4, 2014
  40. Denise #

    I had to leave the veterinary business because I couldn’t handle it any more. After 20 years working for a vet and 6 years at a so called humane society I had to leave. I’m on disability and seeking help to better myself. For the most part it’s not the animals that got to me but the uncaring Damn supervisors out to make a buck and a name for themselves . I know the animals know I cared.

    October 4, 2014
  41. Rosemary #

    QUOTE: “Let’s start a conversation. What else can we do? How can we support one another?”

    The author ends it with this question. It is indeed a very good question and I have many answers but this one is a good place to start.

    OK, let’s do that, by all means, let’s start a conversation. But let’s do it for REAL, not by limiting the questions we can ask or the solutions we can offer. ALL OF US can offer, not just some of us.

    You want to start the conversation about how we can support one another in this field? OK, here is one, how about when someone asks you for SUPPORT to address something you know for a fact is BROKEN, you actually do support them and stand with them to try to fix it, INSTEAD of coming up with any and every excuse in the book for why you can’t do “that” or “it can’t be done” or … the excuses why we CAN’T support one another are endless.

    So let’s start the conversation with that one, OK? Just in the last week — just one of MANY, MANY times in my decade+ of “working” in dog rescue, on a totally volunteer basis btw, not only didn’t I make a cent from this but I actually contributed a great deal of my money, not to mention 24/7/365 of my time and blood, sweat and tears, and almost my life — I asked several animal welfare “professionals” and volunteers alike to help me address one very specific instance of a very broken and messed up situation that resulted in a perfectly wonderful dog losing her life.

    None of them “could” help me help her. None of them could support me, even the people who ASKED for my help to begin with, who said they “LOVED” this dog and even though EVERY SINGLE one of them knew what was being done was wrong and not an “isolated” instance but yet another example of a system that is just a bit “broken.” So right there, a bunch of people had ample opportunity to do something real, not only to support the humans who struggle with these difficult problems, but more importantly one of the animals you claim you live to protect and advocate for. Because at the end of the day, if you are an animal “lover” and true “advocate,” it is the animals you are supposed to hold as your TOP priority.

    That is not btw the only thing I wanted their help and support with. I wanted that first because I was trying to do something to help this one dog, this one innocent victim of the “system” we humans have created to “protect” them. But I also wanted these folks to stand with me and behind me to go on after that or even if we lost this one battle to fight the bigger battle, to see how we can start to address the issues that lead to this problem to begin with so we can reduce the enormity of the problem in the hopes we can someday make it much more manageable. I will let you all guess how many of those people I asked for help and support actually did something to help … Are you ready for the answer? Exactly ZERO. They had a chance to do “something” to support one of their peers, they had a chance to do something meaningful for the millions of animals who will continue to lose their lives every single year and every single one of them has turned their backs. Rather than do what they could do to support someone that a few of them call their “friend.”

    And that list of non-supporters includes the “investigative” journalist I also tried to enlist in my effort who all of a sudden has gone MIA when what I wanted help with was not something that would lead to some easy and sensational headline that might sell a few more newspapers.

    Now let’s see how many people actually want to have that conversation, openly, honestly and without defenses. And let’s see how many people choose to stand up and be counted and offer real support and action. I don’t even care if you “can’t” do it for the human who is hanging on by a mere thread most every day, but at least do it for the animals everyone claims to love so much.

    And no, I don’t need any more self-help, or a counselor, or more tips on managing compassion fatigue, I have enough of that going already. What I need at this point is support to pursue my goal of changing the landscape for the very animals we are responsible for and to try to prevent another Blue from losing her life. Blue is the dog that was killed (oh, excuse me, “euthanized” or “put to rest” or “let go”) last week at a large city shelter, just one of thousands all over the country.

    And this time, we need to do it with some real answers, not more of the “stuff” we have been doing for many decades which HAS NOT WORKED at all. More of the same is not going to fix the problem, it hasn’t worked thus far, it ain’t going to work if you spend another 100 years doing it. But if you want to spin your wheels, that’s fine by me, as long as what you are doing doesn’t lead to more deaths for the animals or perpetuate the problems. It is time to “recalibrate” and take a different approach.

    Oh and how about we talk about why we are NOT talking about Blue and her story? Why aren’t we trying to start a conversation about how we can prevent her — and countless others’ — needless death from happening in the future? You don’t suppose it might have something to do with the fact that Blue was a pit bull, do you? She was also deaf which didn’t help her cause, but if she had been a deaf Poodle or a deaf Shih Tzu or just about anything else deaf, she probably would not be dead today. No, not probably, given what I know about how this “system” works, I KNOW she wouldn’t be dead today. And please understand I am not saying the Poodle or the Shih Tzu who are deaf don’t deserve to live, of course they do! What I am saying is that Blue deserves the same thing and is just as worthy as they are. If you can’t fight for her also and just as vigorously, then you can’t call yourself an animal advocate. It’s that simple.

    My last question is this: Why does it take the death of someone “famous” for this to even become a topic of conversation? Why doesn’t this conversation start and this “tragedy” get noticed when someone like a Lisa Myers (and there are many more like her, veterinarians and animal care professionals are not the only ones who kill themselves in this field) does the same thing? And if you don’t know who Lisa Myers is, then obviously my point is made.

    I am guessing the comments on this thread will be moderated which is totally understandable. I can also understand if you choose not to “approve” this comment. But if nothing else, try to at least read it carefully and give it some thought because until you are willing to hear this and what follows from opening the door (and your mind) to what people like me have to say, then you can’t really start that conversation. It’s that simple.

    October 4, 2014
    • jessica dolce #

      Hi Rosemary, I’m really sorry for your loss – it sounds like you did everything you could for Blue. While we face many complex problems and issues in animal welfare, including the lack of teamwork and support within the field, I’m greatly encouraged by the changes taking place and the people/organizations I know who are committed to making a difference. It’s so easy for me to forget how much is going well, when I don’t make a conscious effort acknowledge the positive.

      For example, just a few short years ago, many shelters banned pit bulls from their adoption floors, but today (thanks to decades of work) pit bulls are welcomed on most adoption floors and many adopters are thrilled to add them to their families. Breed Specific Legislation is on the decline, thanks to the tireless work of community advocates. And I’m very encouraged by the rising popularity of pet-owner support resource programs which assist low-income families with their pet’s needs (medical, training, s/n etc.), so that they are able to keep their pets at home and out of the shelters system. Programs like Pets For Life, Downtown Dog Rescue, Kane’s Krusade, etc. are teaming up with other orgs to address the big picture and are making a real impact.

      Sadly, I know of many veterinarians and rescuers who have killed themselves just this year alone. Dr. Yin’s death was high-profile and shocking and therefore, has the power to be a real catalyst for change. We need to be doing more to support the emotional needs of the people who do this intense and challenging work. Wishing you well as you continue to work for change, Jessica

      October 4, 2014
    • Jane Eagle #

      Forgive me, but many rescuers have taken their lives in the last year or two. And as much as we need to take care of ourselves, the biggest step in that direction is for every pound to become No Kill. It is not nearly as hard as killing dogs for someone who cares. Step by step instructions are found at: http://www.nokilladvocacycenter.org/shelter-reform/toolkit/
      In story form, read Redemption” by Nathan Winograd. He followed the steps used in San Francisco (open admission, large city) and did it in Tompkins County, NY, a small rural open admission facility). When killing animals is no longer an option, other strategies emerge.

      When dogs are not being killed in pounds (a “shelter” is a safe place, a place of refuge; and any place that kills animals is NOT a shelter), then compassion fatigue will drop by 75% in the rescue community, 95% in ACC communities.

      That leaves veterinary professionals. Some have a framed notice in their waiting room (or it could be a hand-out with intakes for new patients) noting that the vet is, in many cases, still paying student loans; and that much as they would like to provide services without payment, unless the rent is paid, etc. they will not be there to help anyone. Most people will understand that; front desk personnel must be allowed to verbally defend themselves; and as in dealing with dogs, the idea is to teach, not punish clients. Pretend you are dealing with a fearful dog, and deal with them appropriately.

      That just leaves the compassion burnout in us vegans. We not only know the horrors of the slaughterhouse, but are constantly assaulted with images of partially cremated remains of tortured animals, as something yummy to support and put in our bodies. I became vegan when I realized that the photos of trucks piled high with cages crammed full of dogs on their way to meat markets looked just like the trucks piled high with cages crammed full of chickens on their way to meat markets . Many of us cannot “love one and eat the other”. Talk about lack of support there!

      October 6, 2014
      • jessica dolce #

        Hi Jane, I appreciate your perspective and your desire to see improvements in animal welfare, however it’s important to note that everyone who works with animals, even those who work and volunteer in no-kill shelters, are affected by compassion fatigue.

        Euthanasia isn’t the only stressor: failed adoptions, caring for abused and neglected animals, working with angry or grief-stricken people, and being an effective, compassionate caregiver to those in need and who are suffering all contribute to the stress we feel. Helping professionals who do not have to face euthanasia (nurses, first responders, social workers, etc.) all count compassion fatigue as an occupational hazard. So it’s more complex then “kill” or “no kill” or posting a sign in a waiting room about student loans – It’s about the emotional and physical toll that working in a helping profession takes on all of us.

        Can you share the source for the drop in compassion fatigue percentages you noted? I’ve never seen those stats before.

        As a vegetarian who is married to a vegan, I understand the toll it takes when we are aware of the suffering that animals endure on many levels. But no single group or profession corners the market on compassion fatigue or personal suffering. We’re all in the same boat. We can help each other by being supportive of one another, as we each contribute what we can to make the world a better place for people and animals.

        October 6, 2014
  42. I feel overwhelmed by the need for animal rescue. I live in a city where there are over a million homeless dogs living in the street either dumped or neglected. I deal with lots of owners that are ignorant and just don’t care about their dog. I try to help them but they keep taking more dogs in when they can’t support the ones they already have. It’s very frustrated. I feel i never do enough. Like its a loosing battle. But i know i can’t give up.

    October 5, 2014
    • jessica dolce #

      Hi Mary, Thanks for sharing here and for everything you do. When I lived in Philadelphia, I felt very overwhelmed by the number of animals in need there. It helped me to think small: about the animals that I knew I was helping/had helped. And to think big: knowing I was part of a much larger group of people who were all working for change and that our efforts were paying off slowly, but surely. Most of all, the work is never done, so please take time to care for yourself!

      October 9, 2014
  43. Thank you for this insightful and compassionate post. I founded and run a rescue for senior Retrievers and the emotional toll it has taken has been tremendous. Not to mention the toll on my bank account, my marriage, my business and my friendships. Out of desperation I finally started seeing a therapist last year. I told my husband that I realized we really couldn’t ‘afford’ it, but I couldn’t afford not to seek help. I also just lost my best friend, my joy and my inspiration, my heart dog Magnolia who battled cancer for two years. If it wasn’t for my therapist, I honestly don’t know that I could have made it through the past year. There are still days when I feel extremely depressed, overloaded – and yes, often angry, at all the people constantly begging me to save the precious grey muzzles while they, themselves, do nothing but sit on the sidelines sending out drama filled emails and tagging me on FB. I feel intense sadness by all the senior dogs being dumped as I mourn the loss of my beloved Magnolia and would give anything for ‘just one more day’. But I can honestly say that I’m regaining my balance and rediscovering my bliss, I’m learning to accept that each day I do my best and it’s OK for me to take time out for myself and my loved ones – actually it’s imperative. If I don’t take care of myself – physically, emotionally and spiritually – I can’t keep saving these precious souls. Thank you for your eloquent words, I hope they inspire others to seek the help they need to rediscover the joy in their calling. Many blessings, Melissa

    October 5, 2014
    • jessica dolce #

      Thank you for sharing this Melissa. I’m very sorry for your loss. It’s really important that we hear from people like you who are taking active steps to care for themselves and address the emotional (and physical, financial, etc.) toll that this work takes on all of us. I’m so happy to know that you have support and that things are getting better. Thank you for the wonderful work you do for our senior pets – I appreciate it so much.

      October 9, 2014
  44. I have several friends who are in ministerial professions where they are required to work with therapists as part of their preparation for their work and they have professional who specialize in ministering and counseling other ministers.

    If they can make normalize getting help so they can keep giving help, so can we.

    October 6, 2014
    • jessica dolce #

      Agreed! I’d like to see this happen for all helping professionals (and veterinarians need this support now).

      October 9, 2014
  45. Randell Herren #

    Thank you so much for putting this article out (I put it on my group page The Zoo Family) I spent 32 years in the exotic animal care-taking business (a zookeeper!) and almost 20 of that at the World Famous SDZ. After I was terminated in 2007 it took me years to address these symptoms described. I was helping a local OK organization a few years ago take care of unwanted dogs when I knew I was done. My condolences to the vet’s suffering…..

    October 7, 2014
    • jessica dolce #

      Thank you for sharing it with your friends in the exotic animal care world Randell and for all the work you’ve done to help animals.

      October 9, 2014
  46. Cathy #

    Jessica, thank you SO much for this post. I’m a volunteer at a small county shelter in NC (even though it’s one of the largest counties in this state). I’m also part of a FaceBook page that promotes our dogs (and cats) to the FB community. Thankfully, there have been a LOT of rescue groups that have rescued so many animals from here in the last 1 1/2 years. So, my concern is that I feel that I’m getting ready to burn out with rescue. I’m one of 2-3 volunteers who goes out to the shelter to take pictures, does temperament evaluations, as well as come up with descriptions for the situations from which these animals come. I’m also one of several volunteers who transports from the shelter to boarding or to their other transports to their rescue group. Dr. Sophia Yin was one of my inspirations to even become a volunteer in the first place, and her loss has hit me hard :-(. I have quite a few of her publications, as well as the Manners Minder. I’m at a loss as to whether or not I should continue being a volunteer. It can be SO discouraging, even though the adoption/rescue rate has gone up considerably ever since the FB page went public over 1 1/2 years ago. The connections that I build up with each and every animal is real, and, when one is PTS (for whatever reason), it just breaks my heart :-(. Do you have any ideas/recommendations for someone like me? I’m pretty sure that I’m not alone in this.

    October 9, 2014
    • jessica dolce #

      Hi Cathy, you are 100% not alone in how you feel or what you are experiencing – it’s very normal!

      Do you want to continue volunteering? It’s ok if you want to stop completely or take a few months away to figure it out. You have a right to do that.

      If you do want to continue volunteering, it sounds like you could use some help so that you can take a step back from doing so much each week. I know training others can be a lot of work in the short tem, but bringing in some new volunteers and teaching them what you do might help in the long term. Then the 2-3 of you won’t feel responsible for doing so much.

      It sounds like you’re doing great work and making a real difference. Keep that in mind when you’re grieving the loss of an animal that didn’t make it. What you’ve done matters and you can be proud. If you decide that you no longer want to volunteer, it doesn’t negate the contributions that you’ve made.
      Thank you for your service and wishing you well, Jessica

      October 9, 2014
  47. This is so true and so sad. I have been a nurse all my life nearly forty yrs! It has taken its toil on me. I often feel like I have nothing left for those who love me. We must all b aware of this. We must all act.

    October 10, 2014
  48. Hi Jessica, thank you for all of the excellent articles and resources. The passing of Dr. Yin is a great loss to many throughout the animal welfare world. The California Veterinary Medicine Association has invited me to speak on compassion fatigue on January 24 in Sacramento with an emphasis on suicide in the veterinary medicine profession. I will also be interviewed on Animals Today radio show this Sunday. I think the message is finally getting through at all levels. Caring for our beloved animals is doing great harm to our helpers. Thank you, again, for helping get the word out.
    Take care,
    Patricia
    Founder, Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project
    patricia@compassionfatigue.org

    October 14, 2014
    • jessica dolce #

      Hi Patricia, That’s great news. I’m so glad to hear about both speaking engagements. If you wind up with a link to the recording of your radio interview, please share it – I know a lot of us will benefit from hearing your thoughts. Thank you for everything you’re doing – change is coming! – Jessica

      October 15, 2014
  49. I just found Dr. Yin’s videos on the internet and am so sorry to hear of her passing. It sounds as though suicide among veterinarians is becoming more prevalent. I cannot help but wonder if putting down animals who are suffering or have a poor quality of life as part of their profession makes suicide seem a more viable option when they are suffering themselves. I have had those thoughts myself and feel so badly for the suffering of Dr. Yin and others who choose to take their lives rather than live one more day in pain.

    March 17, 2015
  50. Christy Riley #

    I am looking for an online support group for people working in this field. Any ideas?

    January 1, 2016
    • jessica dolce #

      Hi Christy, there are some online support groups for veterinary professionals as well as online support groups for pet loss, but I don’t know of online support groups for rescue/shelter workers. I think we’re just now coming to understand how badly we need this kind of support and there may be more options in the future. What I primarily see online now are Facebook pages and groups (like this one: https://www.facebook.com/groups/9231699886/) which can be a way to connect with others who understand what you’re dealing with in your work.

      January 2, 2016

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