Shelter’s workshop will deal with animal care fatigue

Caring for those who can’t help themselves is an emotionally exhausting vocation.

Moreso when those you care for can’t tell you their needs.

Now imagine being a care person who faces all of this before a public that doesn’t always understand the need or the reasons for what you do.

That’s the reality of being an professional or volunteer who cares for animals.

For those individuals, the Warren County Humane Society, Paws Along the River, is offering workshops Thursday and Friday, Aug. 8-9, to help deal with the emotional fatigue of what they do.

The society is closed while Nancy Mullins of Support Services for Animal Care Professionals (SSACP) presents a compassion, fatigue and burnout workshop beginning at 8:30 a.m. and running throughout both day.

Mullins is a Kansas City, Mo.-based marriage and family therapist who has presented workshops on stress, trauma and abuse nationally and internationally, according to an SSACP biography.

“It’s basically for animal care professionals, people who take care of animals,” Humane Society Executive Director Karen Kolos said. “Activities will be structured toward the feelings of those who give care to animals. The goal of the workshop is for participants to gain a heightened awareness of their own needs.”

While the workshop is not open to the public, Kolos and Mullins both stressed that it isn’t just for shelter personnel. The sessions are open to rescue groups, animal care professionals, shelter staff, humane officers, animal care group boards, veterinary medical professionals and volunteers who care for animals.

“What this is really about is how to make you resilient,” Mullins said. “They need to have some regular exposure to shelters to really understand it.”

Mullins noted the stresses facing the animal care community are very real and often misunderstood by the public.

“Everyone who works with animals is facing two major issues: pet overpopulation and animal neglect and cruelty,” she said. “The public is responsible for both issues, not animal professionals. We are really indebted to them. They’re doing an enormous service for the public.”

Mullins went on to address public misunderstanding regarding shelter decisions.

“There’s a misleading terminology in use, which is kill or no kill,” she said, referring to whether shelters perform euthanasia. “What we’re really talking about is open admission and limited admission. That’s the terminology we should use.”

So called “no kill” shelters limit admissions due to space when they cannot find homes for animals.

“The reality is, we’re dealing with pet overpopulation,” Mullins added. “There’s not enough homes for these animals and the question they’re (shelters) faced with is, ‘Is it more humane to euthanize these animals or let them starve or face abuse?’ Animal care professionals do absolutely everything humanly possible to find homes for these animals. Euthanization is the most exhausting part of their job. Nobody wants to do it.”

“Educating the public about what we do and why we have to do it is important,” Kolos said. “We do everything we can to give these animals a second chance.”

Under these circumstances, it can be easy to become emotionally drained.

A workshop pamphlet provided by Mullins gave a definition of compassion fatigue attributed to Dr. Charles Figley, director of the Florida State Traumatology Institute: “Compassion fatigue is emotional exhaustion, the natural consequence of the stress of caring for and helping traumatized or suffering people or animal.”

“Our board of directors felt that this was a very important workshop for our staff and to offer it to others in this area,” Kolos said. “We’ve reached out to more than 140 organizations. It’s important that we care for the people that do this job and that the public understand that we do something that’s important for the community. Where would we be if we didn’t have this special place for animals?”

There are openings for the Friday workshop available. Cost is $35, which includes lunch, and the session is open to any animal care professional or volunteer.

Interested individuals should call the shelter at 726-1961 and leave a message or email them at or contact them through their website at Kolos said someone would contact individuals.