Monday, March 29, 2010

Guest Blog: Rescue Work Can Be Bad For Your Health

Rescue Work Can be Bad for Your Health
by Sheila Webster Boneham, Ph.D.
Author of Rescue Matters! How to Find, Foster, and Rehome Companion Animals (Alpine, 2009).

Rescue work can be bad for your health. I know, that seems an odd thing for me to say, since much of my writing career for the past 14 years has promoted companion animal rescue and responsible pet care in one way or another. But the longer I work with rescuers and write about responsible human-animal relationships, the more concerned I become about what rescue does to some people. Whether we call the results “burnout” or “compassion fatigue” or something else, the signs and results can be significant.

But first, how do you know if you, or someone you know, is burning out? Signs of burnout vary because we all process stress differently. In addition, we all bump into rescue situations that make us furious and sad. If we can feel those emotions and then move on to productive action, we can maintain personal equilibrium and, hopefully, continue to have a positive effect. But sometimes the emotions that we experience overwhelm us. Typically, a person who is burning out experiences one or more of the following feelings or behaviors:

  • chronic physical exhaustion
  • depression
  • a sense of hopelessness
  • chronic anger
  • impatience with pet owners, other rescuers, or potential adopters
  • lack of compassion for people 

When those feelings overshadow more positive aspects of life , including the positive aspects of rescue work, it’s time to take a step back and reassess. Why? Several reasons. First, feeling overwhelmed makes a person less effective at his or her job (whether paid or volunteer). Not only does that feeling make it difficult to accomplish necessary tasks effectively, but it diminishes our ability to interact effectively with other people - and that clearly is an essential part of rescue. Eventually chronic stress will affect a person’s physical health as well, potentially leading to serious illness.

So what to do if you (or someone you know) seems to be burned out? And what can you do to prevent burnout from happening in the first place? Here are some suggestions:

  • Be realistic. If you don’t have the time, space, or energy to foster animals, then find another way to help. Do what you can do, but don’t beat yourself up for what you can’t do. 
  • Trust your colleagues to do their jobs – don’t try to micro manage everyone else. 
  • When you have enough on your plate, learn to say no. Don’t feel you must explain or make excuses; just say, “Thank you for thinking of me, but at this time I have to say no.” 
  • Maintain some balance in your life, and have some fun. Rescued animals are important, but so are your own pets, your family, your friends, your job, and your health. Make rescue part of your life, not your whole life. 
  • Take part in or spectate at other sorts of animal-oriented activities, and get to know responsible breeders, fanciers, and trainers. Listen with an open mind to what they have to say about animal-related issues. 
  • Be as kind to people as you are to animals, be slow to judge, and avoid gossip. Focus on positive action. Educate the people who will learn, realize that some won’t, and move on. 
  • Ask for help when you need it. 
  • Take breaks from rescue when you need to, for a week, a month, a year. You can always come back to rescue work later if you want to, or you may find other ways to contribute to society. 
Think of this self-care as a preventive healthcare program for rescuers. After all, if you ignore the niggling signs that something is wrong, you may burn out completely. Stay healthy and happy, and you can continue to help animals indefinitely!

Thanks Sheila for the guest blog spot, be sure to look for Sheila and the Rescue Matters! Fan page on Facebook as well as check out her website.  When work in rescue, like so many other areas, we need to care for ourselves so that we can care for others. SJS

Friday, March 12, 2010

Here comes the spring...

It’s starting to feel like spring – rain instead of snow, melting white stuff and mud everywhere.  In Manitoba we start thinking about our annual spring arrival – flooding!  How prepared are you on your farm, in your home and in your family?  There are many guides, links and resources to help people prepare for flooding, evacuation and cleaning up as you return home.  But how many people have used them?  Feeling pretty confident that, as a Manitoban, you have flood planning under control and you are ready? Okay, one more question: what is your plan to care for your animals?

There are three basic options when you are faced with a flood situation: stay put, evacuate with animals or evacuate and have ‘care-in-place’ for your animals.  Let’s talk a bit about each, with a focus on animals.
Stay Put: when you are behind a dyke or in an area where it is safe for you to stay in your home or on your farm there are things you should do in preparation for that stay, especially if you could be isolated there for a time during the height of the flood. 
  • ·         Ensure you have enough food and fresh water for your animals
  • ·         Make sure you have medications/prescriptions filled for any animals who are on medications
  • ·         Have a first aid kit for animals handy
  • ·         Make sure you have an evacuation kit for each animal in case you do have to evacuate (detailed below)
  • ·         Have a container for collecting poop from your animals (if you have animals in a confined area or yard) to keep their outdoors area clean for you and them
  • ·         Have a list of your animals, with their names, chip or tag numbers, ages and a photo of each attached with contact numbers should you and your animals become separated at some point during the flood

Evacuate with Animals:  there will be times you have to leave with your animals, and there are some special steps to take to ensure a smooth evacuation.
  • ·         If you animals have special food (critical for sensitive animals such as those having treatment, or specialty breeds)
  • ·         Be sure each animal has their own crate with name and contact number on it
  • ·         Be sure each animal has a collar, tags, leash or other way of identification on them when possible
  • ·         Take your list of animals with you when you leave
  • ·         If you have an ‘Animals In Home’ sign in your window, take it down so rescuers know there are no animals inside
  • ·         Double check that the evacuation centre you are going to will let you bring your animals, if it does not contact the Provincial Welfare Vet or a local rescue to find where your animals can go during the evacuation
  • ·         Leave early! If you are in an area that is under evacuation notice, move your animals out early so they can be safely cared for with less stress
  • ·         Ask for help! If you cannot transport the animals you have, ask for help and ask early!

Care-In-Place: there will be times that individuals and communities leave their animals behind to have ‘care-in-place’ provided for them.  This situation relies on volunteers to check on animals left behind after the people are evacuated.  Make their job easier using some of these steps:
  • ·         Put up your “Animal In House” sign so they know it is a house with animals (these are a free download here and here)
  • ·         Leave a list of animals, names and any special needs they may have
  • ·         Ensure that they have adequate food
  • ·         Do not leave any animals behind that are: pregnant, with very small newborns, having recently had surgery or otherwise need constant care as this is not the job of care-in–place volunteers. Make arrangements for them in advance and evacuate them early.
  • ·         Animals which are dangerous, aggressive or threaten caregivers may be removed by animal control for everyone’s safety, be sure to notify caregivers if any animals have issues that can be dealt with before an issue arises

If you feel any animals are in danger, have been left behind without care or have other welfare concerns or questions about flood preparations please call the Provincial Welfare Vet at 945-8000, Animal CARE Line.  If you are outside of Manitoba, call your local ALERT or CARE line for assistance.  Link up with your Rescue groups on Facebook, in Manitoba we have the Manitoba Emergency Response For Animals (MERA) which is looking for volunteers but also will be helping with animals during the flood.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

What do you use your Facebook for?

Picture this: a fire in a city, a dog is scared and runs away from the noise, the smell and the confusion.  The family is injured, the lost dog is older and alone in the night.  One message on Facebook gets the word out to hundreds of people, many of which start looking or messaging friends in the city to look.  Photos are posted, numbers are shared and later the dog is found and is safely being cared for.  Literally with a single message popular social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter can connect people from next door or around the world.
Picture this: an animal lover learns about two senior dogs that no longer have people caring for them on their remote farm, and the neighbor is going to shoot them if no one gets them out before winter.  Someone stops by and drops off food but they are essentially alone.  Their photos and a story are shared with a breed rescue group (in this case Hulls’ Haven Border Collie Rescue, of Teulon, MB).  The group posts the photos to their Facebook pages, and asks their members to cross post and share. The request?  Find a home for these two dogs to ‘retire’ to, and find drivers for their rescue relay (a series of drivers or sometimes planes, which transport rescue animals from distant areas to a safe place) and arrange for everyone to put the trip together.  The dogs found a home, the drivers volunteered and the diligent Customs Officers’ ensured they were properly documented for entry and they are enjoying a working retirement on a Manitoba ranch.
What would the outcome for these three dogs have been without the efforts of rescue volunteers and the power of social networking? Certain death for two, and possibly a long, cold time spent alone and lost for the other.
One of the quickest ways to get in touch with people, Social Networking has been tested and used by Emergency Measure’s Organizations to notify members, by animal rescue groups to get help for animals in need and by the community while looking for people who may be at risk.  The world shrinks according to how connected we are to each other, and while this can lead to many challenges it opens up far more opportunities. When planning to be prepared for emergencies, social networking can be a key tool.
There are many ways that social networking can help provide resources, and information about animal care and animal welfare.  Through groups and fan pages information can be shared, requests and posts can be uploaded, photos and calls for assistance can be circulated and people from the animal rescue community can connect with each other, share resources and talk.   A quick search for ‘animal rescue’ revealed over 775 pages and almost 4000 groups!  Not all are going to be actual rescue organizations, some maybe support groups, authors and resources.  Some could be activists or just folks fooling around but even with all that where else could you find literally thousands of people who share, care and work together with a common goal – in this case, animal rescue.
Other ways to connect include blogs and websites – one a newer media and the other an old standard.  The trouble with either of them is the lack of immediate connection you get in social networking.  You literally can put out a message and come back with response minutes later. From grass roots local organizations working with groups from both sides of the Canada-US border, to international groups sharing information with their hundreds of thousands of members and everything in between.
Post, cross post, share, like and comment can make all the difference in the world to an animal or animal rescue group. What do you use your Facebook for?