Coping With Burnout, Part 1
For many, animal rescue becomes an “all or nothing” activity, completely taking over their lives. Beginning rescuers are often overcome by a zeal equaling religious conversion. While I can’t say that I ever had quite that much passion, I know how all-consuming rescue work can be and how difficult it is to maintain an emotional and physical balance between rescue and other aspects of life. Achieving this balance, though, is essential to your well being, effectiveness and longevity as a rescue volunteer.
Once word is out that you’ll take in fosters, there seems to be no end to them. The “what’s one more?” trap has lured many volunteers into taking on more dogs than they can handle. I’ve found that many volunteers don’t have adequate resources or facilities to care for multiple dogs but try to anyway. Overburdened rescuers seem to be able to keep their dogs well fed but mounting costs can persuade many to forgo vital medical services such as pre-adoption heartworm testing and spay/neuter. Limited space to provide exercise and segregate incompatible dogs results in fights and stress to both animals and people. Too many dogs also brings nuisance complaints from neighbors. All these factors can contribute to poorly screened or poorly matched adopters as the rescuer tries to move dogs out quickly to relieve tensions at home.
It does no good to remove an animal from a bad situation only to put it into another bad situation in order to “rescue” it. It also doesn’t do much good to do only half the job – i.e. failing to spay or neuter because of a lack of funds. Better to foster a few animals well than many uncomfortably and unprofessionally. Obviously then, to maintain a good quality of life for herself and her animals, a rescuer needs to be respectful of her limits as well as aware of them. To live within reasonable limits, a rescuer must learn to say no and refuse to be emotionally blackmailed or manipulated.
Too much of any one thing is distorting. People who become so deeply involved in rescue that there’s no room for other things in life are in danger of twisting their perspectives in a very negative way. Constant exposure to irresponsible, neglectful or abusive pet owners and their animal victims can create a type of tunnel vision that leads some volunteers to the belief that all people are this way. They develop a cynical, distrustful and even paranoid attitude that alienates adopters and friends. While a circle of rescue-oriented friends offers much needed support, it can also serve to reinforce distorted points of view if these people are all of the same mindset.
To avoid these problems, it’s imperative that volunteers stay connected to the non-rescue world as well, to take time out to relax, socialize and do things for themselves. If you’re finding that you don’t have any time for this or can’t do it without feeling guilty, it means that your involvement in rescue is out of balance and needs to be adjusted. Take a step back, evaluate and make corrections to get back on an even keel.
by Vicki DeGruy, originally published in
the NAIA NEWS rescue column, 1999. Contact
us for reprint permission.
Burnout, Part 2
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