Within the last several years there has been some dialogue about the “burnout” that hits people who work in many of the fields that tax their sympathies, their caring and their abilities to continue having positive outlooks.

These are people who are continually providing help, care and compassion to people who are victims of outside forces, disasters or the sometimes impossible systems that impede their progress toward happiness and well-being. They can be health care workers, teachers, police officers, firefighters, veterinarians, social and child welfare workers, and animal welfare workers. In many instances, people who have always cared the most begin to feel like they are beating their heads against a very hard wall!

There are many resulting symptoms that can be observed when workers who are in situations of always helping others begin to feel that their efforts are all for naught, that nothing is getting any better, and that the tragedies and suffering just keep on coming! Some of these symptoms are lack of concentration, numbness, irritability, lack of pleasure in anything, withdrawal and actual physical ailments that can cause absenteeism. This has been called compassion fatigue, secondary traumatic stress and burnout.

We certainly all have felt a great deal of angst and stress during the pandemic, no matter what walk of life we are involved in. It has changed all of our lives! Media has emphasized the continual negativity in our daily struggles, and people who are very conscientious, perfectionist and self-giving are most likely to suffer from secondary traumatic stress. The bottling up of emotions, having small support systems or negative coping skills, or high levels of stress in our personal lives increases the risk for developing secondary traumatic stress.

Let’s go into the world of animal rescue and welfare: There are many times that people in the rescue business are approached and asked to take on animals that are found, abandoned or producing more offspring than our community can possibly sustain. Being that all the rescue organizations in our community are foster based, (which means that the animals stay in volunteer homes until they are adopted, because there is no shelter!), we cannot always take those animals in if we have no volunteer fosters.

So we are forced to say no and we are viewed as mean or uncaring. It’s never easy to say no, and every time we have to it hurts unbelievably! We at Have-A-Heart have not gotten to the point where don’t care about the bad situations these animals find themselves in — we are finding it more and more difficult to maintain our high numbers of spay and neuters, but we continue to fight for clinics and to pour our money into the most important facet of our rescue vision — which is to get our pet population down to zero growth!

It’s not easy, it takes every penny we make, and we are beating our heads against that very hard wall, but we know you understand and we know that many of you are helping all you can. We can’t give up, and if we seem like we’re tired — we ARE! But compassion fatigue isn’t going to get us. We may be a little worse for the wear, but we are tougher than we look. Keep helping us fight the good fight — for the critters! Thank you!

Ann Carroll is with Have a Heart Humane Society.