Compassion fatigue’s impact on animal welfare workers during the pandemic

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CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) —  Animal welfare experts say workers across the nation are dealing with compassion fatigue during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Some shelters are still operating during the pandemic. Some report seeing an increase in adoptions. Others have seen an increase in animal returns.

But despite the need, animal welfare workers say the pandemic as a whole is intensifying an already sensitive situation. For animal shelters operating amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, workers have to learn new skills to keep their organizations running.

Paula Fasseas is the founder of PAWS Chicago, which is a no-kill shelter. She says they had to close their adoption center to the public and go online to continue services.

“We did all of our adoptions virtually. So we had to totally transition into a whole new operations mode of applications online, working online, training volunteers and staff, retraining and we had a surge of applicants for adoptions. But it was impossible to keep up,” said Fasseas.

Fasseas says volunteers are helping as much as possible. But the pandemic is taking a financial toll.

“All of our events had to be canceled and 25% of our budget comes from special events and we had to cancel them all. So it’s been disastrous for our budget, but people are stepping up and helping,” said Fasseas.

She says emotionally the pandemic is weighing heavy on animal care workers nationwide.  

“Compassion fatigue is common in animal welfare and in shelters that do a lot of euthanasia, staff go through a lot of compassion fatigue,” said Fasseas.

Jessica Dolce is a compassion fatigue educator.  She works with humans and their pets to treat emotional distress.

“It typically presents itself as a really profound depletion that really affects your ability to feel and be caring for others,” explained Dolce.

She says compassion fatigue is the natural consequence of stress that comes from helping people and animals who are traumatized or in great need of help.

Dolce says the best way for a worker to deal with it is start to focus on their own personal care first.

“We need to make sure that we are getting good sleep,  that we are exercising to move the stress out of our bodies. That we are asking for help. That we all deserve to ask and receive help. Whether that’s asking the employer for more support or going to a therapist,” said Dolce.

She says by helping yourself, you will be able to properly help others. Dolce recommends taking micro-breaks during the day like taking a walk outside or deep breathing breaks.

She says these small actions can help release any stress at the time.

If you are suffering from thoughts of depression or suicide you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800)273-8255 . They are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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