Emotionally battered but driven to help, animal shelter worker is at the end of her tether

Mel A works at an animal shelter. She does not tell us where but I think it’s in America. I would like to use all of her words but I can’t because there would be a violation of copyright. But they are very powerful. I can use a small clip. Here’s the beginning:

“Yesterday was extremely hard day at shelter for me. I saw two dogs get put down and again my heart felt like it died. I am hurt and tired and drained. I am broken I guess you could say. I try to be strong but volunteering at animal shelter will break you. It’s so hard sometimes I want to give up. But the animals need me I see and I can’t. I need to push on and be strong.”

From those words I understand that there are two forces directing her. There is a compulsion to help because the animals need her. That’s because she is a decent person who is sensitive to animal welfare as many millions are.

The counteracting force is the emotional battering that she experiences when working. And a significant part of that battering as I have described it comes from the ‘necessity’ to euthanise dogs. Often these are healthy, adoptable companion animals. The staffers who are the most committed to their work are the most vulnerable to burnout.

Tough for animal shelter staffers
Tough for animal shelter staffers. Image by MikeB.

On a side note, Nathan Winograd, the founder of The No Kill Animal Center would argue that no healthy adoptable shoulder animal needs to be killed. And in minimising the killing of shelter animals, there is a great benefit both to the animal for obvious reasons and to the staffers at the shelter.

It is the killing of healthy animals to whom they have a connection which is the most hurtful. Minimise that process and you minimise the hurt. I’ve not seen Nathan Winograd discuss that point but it is an added and strong argument for his no kill policy for which he campaigns so admirably and with such passion.

It is probable that Mel A hasn’t heard that animal shelter workers in America have the highest suicide rate of all workers. Having to deal with these competing forces, you can understand why.

She feels broken. It’s just too hard loving animals you deeply care for and then having to “put them down”. Another euphemism for killing.

There are some bright moments. She refers to an elderly dog called Annie. A small dog with sad eyes. She very much wanted Annie to be adopted. Despite Annie’s predicament she was always happy at the shelter. About Annie she says, “She was abused but you can’t tell. She is so kind and forgiving.”

A good dog but elderly shelter animals have less chance of being adopted than kittens and puppies for obvious reasons.

An elderly couple came into the shelter to adopt a dog. She takes them to Annie. They then go to the meeting room together. Annie wags her tail and wiggles her butt in excitement. “She is so happy only for this moment”.

The couple say that they will think about it. Mel A is devastated because it’s a nice way of saying no, we’re not going to adopt Annie.

She takes Annie back to her cage and she tells her that it’s okay and that the elderly couple will return. She is sad. Overnight she prays that the elderly couple will indeed come back. When she wakes up there is an email on her phone to tell her that they are going to return to the shelter that day.

They arrive. They adopt Annie and she has a forever home. This is why Mel A works at the shelter. She says: “This is why I do what I do! I’m an animal shelter volunteer and I won’t quit till I die”.

Shelter dogs are generally still anxious after their first 12 days

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