How a dog shelter worker can avoid suicidal thoughts

  • by
Dog shelter worker

About three years ago I wrote about the high suicide rate among animal rescue workers in America. Research indicated that it was the highest suicide rate of all American workers and equal to that of police officers and firefighters. An unhappy statistic because the people who want to work in animal shelters are passionate about animal welfare. They love animals and really want to make a contribution. They believe they can cut through the problems and find success. The article concerned cat rescue. I’d like to address dog rescue as well.

Dog shelter worker

Dog shelter worker. Photo: ASPCA. Great photo. This photo is here to illustrate the page only. I am not implying that this woman is struggling in her job or has suicidal thoughts.

It is said that animal shelter workers come in three groups, one of which is better placed to cope than the other two (the third in this list):

  1. The first group includes animal rescue workers who are idealists. They believe that their love of animals will carry them through the harsh realities of working in a dog or cat rescue centre. Sadly, they can gradually become disillusioned because of the difficulties of, for example, dealing with lots of euthanasia of adoptable cats and dogs. Euthanising healthy animals can create PTSD. It wears them down unless they have a more elastic attitude. Idealism is eroded and poisoned by the euthanasia of these beautiful but unwanted companion animals. Many workers in this category which is labelled “identity-orientated” end up arguing with their bosses, becoming depressed, anxious and even physically ill. The job can destroy them, they think, as a human being. They end up moving sideways to other forms of employment within animal care such as grooming, veterinary care, dog training and animal photography.
  2. Another group of animal rescue workers who often end up leaving the profession are those who desperately want to contribute. They believe that they can achieve because they feel they have a gift for relating to animals. They want to use their gift to improve animal welfare. To my mind, they are a similar group to the first in that there is a certain amount of idealism which hits the barrier of realism whereupon they can become disenchanted because they are unable to meet their personal career and animal welfare goals. The sort of worker in this group wants to achieve success as a career but sometimes become frustrated and they, too, can end up leaving the profession and seeking new jobs in non-animal related professions.
  3. The third group is said to include the more successful ones in animal rescue. They do not consider themselves to be uniquely gifted or passionately interested in a career path and contributing. They have modest expectations. My personal interpretation is that with modest expectations it is far less likely that a person will become disillusioned and depressed. People with modest expectations tend to work on a day-by-day basis (live in the present) treating the job as a job rather than a vocation. This attitude protects sensitive emotions which in turn protects the mentality of the individual. I stress, that these are my interpretations of the kind of person who can survive and succeed ultimately in dog and cat rescue organisations. They approach their job as opportunities to learn and acquire skills and develop confidence over time which puts them in a place where they can advance on a career path if they want to. They still feel the strong emotions of sadness and discouragement which must be the nature of the work to anybody with an ounce of humanity, but with the right attitude they can turn those difficulties into a motivating challenge to improve things. They become tired but empowered and content. Gradually the work becomes ingrained and they cannot envisage leaving it.

I need to add that I have an endless amount of admiration for animal rescue workers – the good kind. I suppose as in all work environments there will be some bad ones who should not be there but the vast majority in dog rescue will be very decent people, I believe, for the simple reason that they love animals. All animal lovers are decent people.