Compassion Fatigue and Animal Rescue

Animal rescue is hard. Often people in animal rescue see and deal with the worst of humanity.

People involved in animal rescue are often faced with negative (and very often) unwarranted criticism over policies in place, hate thrown their way for decisions made, and in some cases, threats (against animals and towards those involved with rescue organizations).

Social media tends to amplify this.

Recently, a rescue got attacked and threatened online after euthanizing a dog that had attacked (unprovoked) four different trainers. The rescue was in a no-win situation – do they put down a dog they’re trying to rescue that has a history of biting its handlers, or adopt it out knowing there was a significant risk it will bite it’s new family? – and made the right choice in not adopting out that dog despite their best efforts.

Rescues have been accused of “stealing” animals. I have seen people go on to a rescue’s social media page to leave negative reviews and spread false information about that rescue.

I have seen rescues attack other rescue organizations for policies or being open and transparent about vet bills only to be called “irresponsible”. The adoption process in place “takes too long” and to some people “it’s easier to adopt a child” (even though that’s not even remotely true).

We waited months to adopt Dolly. It was worth the wait.

I have seen people say that a rescue “must be rich” when thanking donors for donations.

It should be no surprise that every once in a while, people in rescue reach a breaking point and feel the need to vent about situations online. That is usually when that rescue gets told from people to “stop being so negative” and “focus on educating instead of venting”.

This is where compassion fatigue comes in for people involved in rescue.

What is compassion fatigue?

Merriam Webster’s Dictionary describes compassion fatigue as “the physical and mental exhaustion and emotional withdrawal experienced by those who care for sick or traumatized people over an extended period of time” and “apathy or indifference toward the suffering of others as the result of overexposure to tragic news stories and images and the subsequent appeals for assistance”.

Sounds a lot like being in animal rescue, doesn’t it?

What happens to people experiencing compassion fatigue?

Anger, sadness, anxiety, depression and in some cases, suicide.

I have seen people start in animal rescue because they want to help out animals go from being a consistently positive person to someone who lashes out online all of a sudden. I have seen people become so completely overwhelmed by everything they see and deal with that they need to go on medication and regularly see a therapist (which I personally do). I have seen people who had to walk away from animal rescue completely because it became too much for them (mentally, emotionally and physically).

There are many people in different professions and roles (such as caregivers) who experience compassion fatigue. And sadly, seeing constant awful news online doesn’t help with anything.

So what can you do if you are the one who might be experiencing compassion fatigue?

Reach out for help. Ask volunteers to help take on some of the tasks that you do (such as get someone else to manage social media for a bit). Remember, you can not do this alone or all by yourself, and a team effort is always more beneficial than trying to be a one person show.

This is a tough one to do but, take breaks. I realize it’s easier said than done but this is where asking for help comes in. Take a couple of days to yourself and only give your number to the volunteer(s) you put in charge for emergencies only. Log off of the social media accounts for a bit or as stated above, get another volunteer to run them for you.

Once again, easier said than done but, learn to say no. There is honestly only so much of yourself to give. If you are running on empty, how can you possibly help? There may come times where you need to take a step back and realize that you are running at capacity and can not take in any more animals. And that is ok! It’s better for a rescue to realize their limits than get completely overwhelmed.

I can not recommend talking to a therapist enough. Like anything, it could be trial and error to find a therapist who works for you, but I found it helpful to see a therapist who specializes in cognitive behavioural therapy. And if you find you are still struggling, don’t be afraid to ask your doctor for medication.

What advice can I give to people reading this who are not involved in animal rescue?

I ask that before you jump online to leave a rescue a one star review because you “never heard back from them”, or leave the director a threatening voice mail because we are full and have no foster home for the dog you are deciding to dump, take a step back. Think. And mostly, have compassion and empathy for those on the front lines of rescue. It’s not easy. And if you think it is, sign up and volunteer and see first hand what rescues deal with.

Adopting an Older Dog

“Oh my goodness! Puppies! They are so cute and I want one”

This is a statement I see on a regular basis whenever an animal rescue posts photos of puppies that has just been born or are available for adoption. People love puppies. How could you not? They are adorable beyond all words. Puppies always put people in a good mood and with everything going on in the world, we need things that brighten our days up a bit and puppies do that.

While puppies are adorable, they are a lot of work. I truly believe that people have no idea how much work they actually are until they are around one. It’s basically like having a toddler (except you can crate train the puppy and leave them at home without the police or child services being called on you).

My sister and brother in law recently added a puppy to their family. One morning, I was asked to watch my six year old nephew and the puppy while my sister was out. My nephew was easy and you hardly even noticed he was there because he entertained himself. The puppy on the other hand was exhausting. For 90 minutes I had to chase him down trying to get shoes he had taken to chew, hide all the pillows and blanket on the couch (as you guessed it, he wanted to chew them), make sure he went outside shortly after drinking water and had to make sure he did not jump on to the counter (he’s a Swiss Mountain Dog and is 7 months and around 80-90lbs). Then there were those razor sharp puppy teeth which you try to avoid, but he’s still learning not to bite at feet.

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As adorable as he is, all spending time with him did was made me happy that I adopted older dogs.

I will state that we were incredibly fortunate with our three that they were house trained (with the exception of Freckles and her separation anxiety) and had no major behavioural issues.

One of the things I commonly see being involved in animal rescue is puppies getting adopted right away (once they are ready) but often see older dogs in care for a much longer time (some being in care for up to and even longer than one year).

So, why are older dogs not wanted? Why do rescue organizations not get the amount of applications for a 8 year old dog as they do a 15 week old puppy?

Many people see older dogs as “less desirable” and some even see them as not as “cute” as a puppy. They want a “fresh start” with a puppy. People see older dogs in rescue as “damaged goods” and because they are older, people assume older dogs won’t “live as long” (even though you can NEVER predict any animal’s life expectancy).

Sound harsh? Sadly, these are reasons why I’ve seen people not adopt older dogs. All you need to do is follow some animal shelters on social media and you will see how many older dogs get dropped off compared to puppies. It’s heartbreaking.

But I don’t see older dogs that way. I see adopting them as giving them a second chance at life and being able to give them the life they deserve.

I will be completely honest in saying that prior to Dolly, I wanted a puppy. Around the time where I was trying to convince my husband to add another dog to our family, I saw Dolly.

When I first saw Dolly, I instantly fell in love. There was something about her sweet grey face and soulful eyes that I knew she would be a perfect addition to our family. What’s interesting is that she got barely any applications to adopt her. So when I was contacted by her foster mom, I knew she would become part of our family. And when we met her, it was love at first sight and now I couldn’t imagine my life without her in it.

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My beautiful girl.

Older dogs adapt to new situations just as easily as puppies do. Yes, it can take some time but you have to be patient! When we brought Dolly home, she hid under the desk in our office for two days and shook because she was so stressed. We let her come out when she was ready and after two days, she jumped up on the couch with me and now she thinks she owns the place.

The first time Dolly jumped on the couch with me. She felt safe.

They think they own the place. They kind of do.

Can older dogs be as much work as a puppy? That depends on the dog. If you have a dog with behavioural issues (such as separation anxiety) or health issues, it can definitely be a lot of work. BUT, all dogs require a lot of work. Regardless of age, you still need to feed them, walk them, clean up after them, play with them and take care of all medical needs (including regular vet visits).

But, with most older dogs, you will not need to worry about house or crate training them (not always the case but any good and reputable rescue will work on addressing that), train them (Max already knew how to sit, stay and shake a paw) and depending on the age and breed, are much lower energy and do not require as much exercise as a puppy would.

You know the saying “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”? Well, I’m here to say that’s false. We taught both Freckles and Dolly how to sit (especially if there are treats involved) and are currently working on getting Dolly to shake a paw.

Will sit (for treats)!

The love that older dogs will show to you is something truly special. Max is affectionate when he chooses to be, Freckles is a little too affectionate but the love that Dolly has shown melts my heart. It’s like she constantly says “thank you for taking a chance on me and loving me”.

The next addition to our family will not be a puppy. I already know I want an older dog.

There’s absoluty nothing wrong with wanting a puppy (as all dogs need a good and loving home), but the next time you are looking to add to your family, take a look at some local animal rescue organizations first. You never know when it’s going to be love at first sight.

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Happy Tails – Ranger

One the best parts of social media has been the ability to meet other pet parents who have adopted. So, I have decided to interview some of these pet parents and ask them all about their fury family members and why adopting an animal is so rewarding.

For today’s Happy Tails feature, I interviewed my friend Erica so she can talk about about her dog, Ranger.

Please introduce readers to your dog(s). What is their name, breed (or best guess) and age?

Ranger is a two year old pitbull mix. We know his mom was a pit because she was also with the rescue where we got him.

Those ears!

When did you adopt Ranger?

In October 2016.

Baby Ranger and mom

Where did you adopt Ranger from?

WAGS Rescue and Referral

They brought his mother and her puppies up from North Carolina to be adopted out in Pennsylvania. They’d all been found in a field together. Often, conditions in animal rescue are dire in the Southern United States, and many rescues pull pups out of southern shelters to bring them up north.

He’s grown into those ears and wrinkles

Why did you choose to adopt?

It never occurred to my husband and I to do anything else. Together we have three rescue cats. When the time came for us to get a dog, we knew it would be from a rescue. My husband is one of those people whom stray animals are always finding. We are both aware of the immense need for people to foster and adopt abandoned animals. We also both work in social services with humans in need, so it wasn’t a stretch for us to seek out an animal in need.

Cuddles with dad

What was the biggest challenge you faced after you adopted Ranger?

Honestly, it’s that he was a puppy! He was about 12 weeks old when we adopted him. Neither of us had experience with puppies quite that young, and there’s really no way to prepare for the time and patience required. You get less sleep overall, you get up in the middle of the night, you have to diligently take the puppy out, you have to take them out every single time they have an accident in the house to reinforce the housebreaking behavior. The first month or two of puppy ownership was WAY more work than it was reward. I would sigh in relief when I put him in his crate for a few hours or when he fell asleep.

Does Ranger have any funny nick names?

I called him “Small Brown Dog” a lot when he was a puppy. Most of his nicknames now are a play on his real name: “Rangie,” “Range,” “My Range,” “Home on the Range,” “Range of Motion,” “Night Ranger,” etc. I even incorporated him into my Halloween Costume and called it “Ranger Things” (based on Stranger Things).

So goofy!

What is Ranger’s favourite toy?

He doesn’t keep any around long enough for them to become his favorite! He’s what dog toy manufacturers call a “power chewer” because he can destroy anything in record time, even the toys that are meant to be heavy duty. Lately he’s really been loving an antler, probably because he can’t destroy it.

What is Ranger’s favourite treat?

Peanut butter, hands down! He also loves broccoli, which I find so hilarious because as a human, I usually have to force myself to eat it.

Where does Ranger sleep at night?

His choice! He goes through phases. Sometimes it’s always in our bed. Sometimes he starts out in our bed, and then takes himself to his crate or his own bed halfway through the night. I prefer the nights when he stays cuddled up next to me.

What’s been the best part of adopting Ranger?

I wouldn’t know where to start with this because he’s changed my life for the better in so many ways. I actually didn’t even want to get a dog- my husband did. I was always a cat lady who loved dogs, but never had a dog myself. I was afraid that getting a dog would restrict my freedom. And it has- but it’s a joy. That part really surprised me. I don’t mind going home because I WANT to be around my dog. I think about him all day!

Ranger is constant companionship. He’s so smart and sensitive. I love the way we communicate. As a woman, I wouldn’t take walks alone at night, but now that I have a 65 lb pitbull, I have a lot more freedom. When you have a dog, you have to get up and go outside more, even when you might not want to. We love taking him on vacation with us. We love meeting other dogs and dog owners. It is really fun to include him in every aspect of our lives. I just feel better when he’s by my side.

Also because of him, we’ve fostered a few dogs- one a pitbull, and one a pit/ mastiff mix. We stay connected to our local pitbull rescue, Philly Bully Team, and support them however we can- whether it’s giving money, sharing their posts, helping transport, donating, etc. I had always been fond of pitbulls before, but loving Ranger made me pretty fanatical about defending them.

Ranger believes in equality for everyone

Please share any funny stories you have about Ranger.

When he goes to the dog park, he likes to steal the water jugs that people bring to fill the water bowls. Even if they’re full or half full, he will grab a gallon jug of water in his mouth, shake it, spray water everywhere, and run all over the park with it, to everyone’s amusement. I call him “trash dog” when he does that. Once he ran over to a little boy with a destroyed water jug in his mouth, and we heard the kid say “That dog is DISGUSTING.” Hahahaha.

What would you tell someone who is thinking of adopting an animal?

Adopting an animal is a commitment to the animal’s entire lifetime. Be prepared to deal with that and all it entails- medical expenses, behaviour modification, training, etc. It’s not something you should do if you don’t think you are ready to handle that. Fostering before adopting is great, because you can get to know the animal and see if they’re a good fit for your family and lifestyle. When the fit is right, adopting a rescue animal will change your life in ways you can’t even anticipate. Rescue dogs are so rewarding.

Do you have a social media account that people can follow?

No, sorry – but I recommend following @phillybullyteam, @wagsrescuepa, and your local shelter!

The happy family

Supporting Local and International Animal Rescue

Over the weekend, an account I follow on Instagram posted something something that both made me sad and quite angry. They adopted a dog from Thailand through the wonderful Soi Dog Foundation and were criticized for it. Some people made comments towards the dogs owner for “importing” a dog and felt the need to judge the owner by saying they “didn’t care about dogs here.”

This struck a bit of a personal chord with me. My dog Dolly was rescued from the illegal meat trade over in Thailand and was rescued thanks to Soi Dog. To insinuate that because I (and many other dog owners) have dog that was brought over to Canada from another country and say we don’t care about animals here is 100% false and considerably too black and white as to where we choose to spend our time, energy and money.

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I could not imagine having this girl in my life.


If you care about animals, why would you be upset about rescue organizations bringing animals to your country to give them a better life and to see them from horrific situations like the meat trade? A life saved is a life saved, regardless of geography.

Just recently, the Human Society International saved many dogs from the meat trade in South Korea and brought them to Canada. Canadian figure skater Meagan Duhamel rescued a dog from there last year and American skier Gus Kenworthy, just recently adopted a dog he met in South Korea. It was a wonderful story to know that these dogs are now safe and going to be going to their forever homes.

But not everyone was happy about the dogs coming here. Many people felt the need to comment by stating ” dogs die here in shelters everyday” and “we don’t need more dogs” among many other things.

Yes, sadly many animals are euthanized everyday in North America due to overcrowding as well as other issues with animal rescue, but does that mean we can’t and shouldn’t try and help all animals in need, regardless where in the world they’re located? The reason there are so many animals in shelters is because of many people who do not spay and neuter their pets (hence, overpopulation). Then there are people who get an animal and then dump there animal because they no longer want the animal. That is where education about the importance of spay and neutering comes in (including spay and neuter return programs which a so crucial to rural communities) and education about responsible pet ownership. This is why many rescues do intense screening processes as they do not want that animal to be returned, and most won’t adopt out an animal until they have been spayed or neutered.

There seems to be a ideology that because someone supports international animal rescue, they can’t possibly support local animal rescue. I’m not sure why there is that thought process or how it go started, but I’m here to hopefully shed some light.

You can support international animal rescue AND local rescue. The two are not mutually exclusive. Yes, Dolly is from Thailand but my other two were adopted from two local animal rescues here in Alberta. You can adopt from more than one rescue organization. You can financially donate to multiple animal rescues (I donate to Soi Dog and multiple local animal rescues). I also volunteer at a local animal rescue (which partnered with Soi Dog to bring Dolly to Canada to give her a better life).

Dolly when she arrived in Canada

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Dolly is now happy, healthy and safe

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All three of my rescue dogs living the good life

It’s much like saying that because I care about animal rescue I can’t possibly care about other causes such as mental health and addiction, domestic violence, poverty or racism. That would also be false. They are not mutually exclusive. I’ve worked at social service non profits, volunteered and donated to all the causes. Yes, I write about animal rescue but that does not mean I don’t or can’t care about other causes.

When it comes to animal adoption, those criticizing are forgetting one very important thing, at the end of the day a life is saved. Every time someone adopts, fosters or rescues an animal, that animal is being saved. They are being saved from being on the street. They are being saved from abuse and neglect. They are being saved from death (and in the case of Dolly and other meat trade survivors, a horrific death).

There’s already too much judgement in society, so why are we judging people who are trying to do good? So rather than try to point a finger at someone who is doing something to benefit an animal outside of our borders, ask yourself what you are doing to make a difference, either through adoption or donations. All rescues would appreciate more assistance, either through volunteer hours or financial donations.

In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “You must be the change that you wish to see in the world”.

Animal Rescue Profile: Second Chance Animal Rescue Society

This month’s animal rescue profile is the Second Chance Animal Rescue Society (SCARS).


SCARS is a shelterless, volunteer run animal rescue origination that takes in unwanted dogs and dogs that are to be euthanized in and around rural ares of Edmonton and gives them a second chance at life.  Many of the dogs rescued are from rural area pounds and veterinary clinics.  All dogs receive necessary behavioural and medical attention (including spay and neutering) and are placed with loving foster homes until they are ready for adoption.

SCARS believes that education is key to preventing overpopulation and promoting responsible pet ownership.  One of the ways they do this is by working with many northern rural Alberta communities and offer a spay and neuter return program.

With winter already here, SCARS is in desperate need of foster homes.  Without foster homes, they can’t take in animals who will not survive the harsh winter conditions.  If you are interested in fostering with SCARS, please click HERE.  If you want more information about fostering, please read my post called Fostering An Animal: What You Need to Know.

If you are interested in helping out SCARS, here are the ways you can do so:

Click HERE to Adopt (please note that they do not adopt out animals as gifts)

Click HERE to donate (a great last minute gift idea)

Click HERE to volunteer (they are offering a new volunteer orientation in the New Year)

Click HERE to shop

Click HERE to Like them on Facebook

Click HERE to Follow them on Instagram