You have to take care of yourself, too

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By Jamie Migdal, CEO of FetchFind

The tragic suicide of Dr. Sophia Yin in 2014 brought the issue of compassion fatigue to the front and center of the animal-related professional and volunteer communities. When I ran a suburban shelter in the early 90s, it was not uncommon to have both volunteers and employees suddenly drop out of sight for extended periods of time. Nobody really talked about it back then, but everyone who worked there knew about that breaking point, and we all did our best to support and encourage people to take care of themselves.

Now, of course, it’s much easier to have a discussion about compassion fatigue in the animal care community. But that increased openness often doesn’t benefit the many advocates and professionals who feel the weight of all of those innocent lives on their shoulders and are compelled to work far beyond the boundaries of their own emotional and physical well-being.

If you work with animals, you should get into the habit of checking in with yourself to see if you’re feeling any of the symptoms of compassion fatigue (also known as “secondary traumatic stress disorder”, or STSD), including apathy, poor self-care, repressed emotions, isolation, substance abuse, nightmares, and difficulty concentrating. If you are a business owner or supervisor, be on the lookout for absenteeism, lack of teamwork, increased aggression, and high levels of negativity. (You can see a more comprehensive list of symptoms on the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project website.)

Self-compassion is imperative. As Jessica Dolce says, “We need to be well to do good,” and it’s important to give yourself permission to take a break when you need it. Subscribe to a meditation program or follow guided meditations and exercises to help keep yourself on a more even keel on a day-to-day basis.

If you feel like you are spiraling out of control in spite of regular self-caretaking practices, PLEASE SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP!

If you don’t have a regular therapist or counselor, call the University of Tennessee-Knoxville veterinary social work helpline at 865-755-8839 Monday through Friday 10am-5pm eastern time, and they can help connect you to resources in your area. You may also email them at vetsocialwork@utk.edu.

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It’s never too late to start working with pets

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By Jamie Migdal, CEO of FetchFind

Have you always wanted to work with pets? Do you spend the last part of August wondering where the summer went and if there’s still time to make those big life changes you had planned to implement around Memorial Day? Well, I have some good news for you – it’s never too late to plan for that career change! Here are a few good ways to get your paws wet before jumping into the deep end.

Educate yourself.  With the growing popularity of online education, it’s easier than ever to get a good basic foundation in fields as diverse as canine behavior, business administration and equine husbandry. Check out resources like FetchFind, the U.S. Small Business Administration, and Coursera.

Become a volunteer. Volunteering at a local shelter or animal advocacy group is probably the single best way to prepare yourself for a career working with animals. You’ll receive hands on experience, and see if you really enjoy the work. At large shelters, you can volunteer in areas such as dog and cat care, veterinary clinic, marketing, fostering and public relations. Advocacy groups often need researchers, marketers and lawyers, so if you already have those skills you can gain valuable industry-specific experience.

Apply for an internship. If you want to take a more formal approach to learning about the pet industry from the ground up, considering applying for an internship. Many established companies as well as small startups offer both paid and unpaid internships in areas from dog training to social media. One of the great things about internships is that if you like the company, you’ve already got an “in” for a regular job. And, at the very least, you will have gained a portfolio of skills, contacts and references that can help you later on.

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Dip your toe into the wonderful world of online education with a subscription to FetchFind Monthly Pro or one of our standalone courses, such as Canine Evolution & Ethology or Canine Development: From Birth to Old Age.