When An Animal Rescuer Just.Gets.Tired.

Last week, we focused our Saturday editorial on the “business of animal rescue”.

We heard from many of our fans, rescue workers, shelter volunteers and friends who had their opinions on how animal rescue operations should be handled.

Soft Paw Animal Rescue, Santa Rosa, California

Each one has their own way, but the overwhelming basis of everyone’s opinions and efforts all came down to one factor in my opinion.  That everyone is trying.  Everyone who cared enough to “weigh in” on how they chose to operate their rescue, how they volunteered, or how they could contribute to solving the problem of animal homelessness cared. And sometimes, this care is apparent in every word…even typed to us in emails, messages and comments on our blog.  We hear you.  And we feel you.  And we see it.  You. Are. Tired.


Sometimes, I go on to my Facebook timeline and I start seeing the posts on a Saturday morning.  Or a Monday afternoon.  Or a Friday morning.  Yep.  Pretty much everyday.  I see my “rescue friends” as I will call them, posting updates on how tired they are.  Or how they slept maybe two hours in two days.


Then I see the posts of pleas for assistance in picking up an animal from the vet, or transporting an animal to a foster.  Or just pleas for help in general.  And I want to help.  But you guessed it.  I am tired too.  And then, well, I begin to think to myself.  Is this all worth it?  When will it end?  Why do I care so much about my friends, or even rescues or shelters I have never been to?  Why am I crying about the dog I see in another state that is about to be euthanized?  Why am I getting so angry about it all?  I want to throw my computer or my phone into the wall.  And I get frustrated.  Because for every victory, it seem like sometimes that I see twice the amount of hopelessness.  And I want to quit.  And I am more than sure that if you are you even reading this, that you have felt like quitting too.


During our Adventure Of A Lifetime as you know, we met people from 48 different rescues and shelters across the United States.  We saw the good in animal rescue.  We saw what needed to be improved upon.  But if we are looking to improve the process of animal rescue, what do we need to start with?  The people doing it.  They need help.  You need help.  And you need someone to tell you that.  I am telling you that.


You may have heard of compassion fatigue and the alarming rates of suicide for veterinarians and animal rescuers.  This is real.  And as we met so many people across the country, I saw this manifested in a few ways.  Either the animal rescuer who is tired tries to do more, sacrificing everything.  Money, time, family, friends.  Nothing else is important.  Sometimes these rescuers don’t know when to say no, filling their own homes with animals when fosters or adopters aren’t found.  And instead of this being a rare situation, it becomes the norm.  The next type of rescuer we met had been witness to so much injustice that they hated all people, harboring resentment and suspicion to all  others, even ones trying to help them.  Turning down applications or taking on the whole workload themselves led them to be tired and inefficient.

Then we met rescuers who had simply burnt out.  They had maybe exhausted all of their funds, or did not find community support.


Were any of these rescues or shelters succeeding?  No. And I believe that if we are to help the animals who so desperately need us, we have to, and we MUST recognize that the ones taking on this work need our help.  They need our encouragement.  They need acknowledgment.  Before it is too late.  And if you are the one who needs help, you must acknowledge that too.

I am going to admit something right now.  Some days I don’t want to even hear the words “animal rescue”.

IMG_2858Maybe it is the day that I see an animal was euthanized.  Maybe it is the day that I just think about what my own dogs may have been through before they rescued me.  And then, some days, I look at my friends who don’t seem to have the same concerns I do.  They are going to dinner or parties, totally not thinking about or trying to make a difference. And they are ok with that.  And I wonder.  Am I the strange one?  Should I care?  And then, when I think about how tired I am, I think maybe I shouldn’t do this any more.  Have you felt like that?  What can we do about it so that we can help just one more animal who needs us?  And let’s not forgot our own animals.  They need us too!

I am not one for checklists.  Probably, an expert writing an article like this would tell you exactly what you needed to do to regroup or to get refreshment for your weary soul. But I probably don’t know you.  However, I will tell you what I do.


I know what makes me happy.  Wine. Cooking. Travel. Family. My dogs.  So, every day, I turn off my phone.  I cut vegetables, I make my favorite foods.  I tune out.  Even if for an hour.  And this hour is so hard!  I want to turn my phone back on and make sure I answered all my emails, or make sure I helped a friend network an animal.  But I can’t.  Because I need this hour to be me. Because shocker!  I am a person outside of animal rescue.  And you are too.  What makes you happy outside of rescue? Think about it.  You are in there.  You have to nourish your soul.  This is not selfish, but like medicine.  Get your dose.


We are only people trying.  We are people working against others who mistreat animals, or who were not educated on the value of animals.  And without us, many animals would die.  Do you acknowledge that too?  Do you see how wonderful you are and how beautiful you are despite those bags under your eyes?


We see it.  We read it.  We hear you.  You are tired, animal rescuer.  We cannot let ourselves be a part of the statistics of compassion fatigue simply because the animals need us.  We can’t take care of others unless we take care of ourselves.  We are only people.  We can’t do everything even though we wish that we could.  We are not perfect like dogs are.  We aren’t dogs, y’all.


If it is time to take a break for an hour or a month, listen to your body.  Listen to your heart.  Without your heart in it, your animal rescue efforts will not succeed.  And animals are counting on you.

-Rachael Johnson, Girl Person and Owner of 2 Traveling Dogs

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6 thoughts on “When An Animal Rescuer Just.Gets.Tired.

  1. It’s the guilt that I get if I think for just an hour that I should turn off my phone, relax, take a shower (!) , go for a walk, eat dinner with my husband etc etc etc….but you’re right – we are no good to the animals if we don’t take care of ourselves. It’s just allowing ourselves to say “it’s OK”……..Thanks for this – even though as a rescuer you are connected in so many ways to others doing the same work, but you still feel so alone sometimes. And yes – I’ve gotten to hate people and that’s a terrible place for your head to be.

  2. Compassion fatigue is such a real thing in this industry. For so many years it wasn’t even acknowledged, I’m so glad it is being talked about now. Have you seen any of Jessica Dolce’s materials on it? She posted an article the other day that it’s really empathy fatigue, explaining the difference between caring with empathy and caring with compassion and I found that distinction really helpful. It made so much more sense. I struggled for years with compassion fatigue in my job as a dog behavior consultant. Finding self care so hard when taking even an hour meant I’d return to half a dozen voice mails and a dozen emails that now needed replying all from people in crisis mode with their pets. It was exhausting. 2 years ago I ended up taking a huge step back from my position and spent a year recovering, relearning what it was like to enjoy my life. How to not take on everyone’s pet problems as my own. I can now more easily reframe, breathe and not cringe every time the phone rings. It’s really nice actually.

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