Did you know that a really common symptom of compassion fatigue is cynicism?
Cynicism looks like a lot of eye rolling and feels like weariness and suspicion.
Honestly, it’s a pretty understandable response to all the pain and suffering we witness at work and in the world.
Over time, stress and trauma-exposure will change the way we see things and makes it harder to trust people.
Back when I worked at the shelter, there came a point when I thought everyone was lying and everything was destined to end badly.
I was a real hit at parties.
And by parties I mean the couch, where I cried-yelled-eye-rolled my way through vats of ice cream.
But this is what traumatic stress does to us: it changes our perceptions and we struggle to connect with and see the good in people.
Enter Jesse Freidin’s new book, When Dogs Heal: The Healing Power of Dogs Within the HIV Community.
Jesse is an amazing photographer. You may know him from his book about the animal rescue community called Finding Shelter whichI interviewed him about here.
When Dogs Heal was created by Jesse in collaboration with adolescent HIV+ specialist Dr. Robert Garofalo and it documents the experiences of people living with HIV and the dogs who help them though it all.
Just about every story had me in happy tears.
Over and over people who had been cruelly rejected, isolated, marginalized, afraid, and in profound despair were found, seen, and healed by their dogs.
Their stories confirm everything you and I know about the bond between animals and people: it’s magical and medicinal.
But their stories might also teach you something new, as they did for me, about what it’s like to live with HIV in 2021.
The continuing stigma is stunning and I’m grateful to the people who bravely shared their stories in this book.
But let’s get back to cynicism.
From my perspective as a former shelter adoption counselor, I couldn’t help but notice how many people in the book got their dogs from places that typically make us nervous (I’m looking at you Craig’s List) and checked the boxes that would typically get them rejected from adopting (in-between jobs, young, renting, un-housed, etc.).
Despite that, all the stories (with one exception) had a happy ending for the dogs.
The conditions were imperfect and challenging, yet the dogs are still deeply loved, protected, and cherished by their humans.
The families in this book are everything we could hope for in an adopter.
And so this gorgeous book has an unintended consequence for those of us in animal welfare: it’s the antidote to cynicism.
Reading the stories will make you feel the way you did, before the work hurt your heart.
Sometimes, when all the bad stuff we witness has hardened and exhausted us, we need to have our hearts broken open again.
We need something to help us shake off the cynicism, so we can feel hope and know joy.
We need stories that will shift and widen our perspective, so we don’t cause harm.
We need to know these stories exist, so that we can heal a little too.
When Dogs Heal is the kind of heart-medicine that we all need right now. You can get your copy here.