Animal rescue is deeply rewarding yet extremely difficult work. To survive in this realm, one must find healthy ways to cope with the emotional challenges. Here are 10 points to ponder:
1. You can't save them all. Even if you spent every hour of every day working to save animals, you still wouldn't be able to save them all. Take comfort in knowing that you are not alone in your efforts.
2. Work smarter, not harder. Manage your rescue efforts like a business. Organize tasks to make the best of your time. For example, time spent recruiting more volunteers may make more sense in the long run than trying to do more yourself. If you find yourself pulled in many directions, you might be more effective if you focus on one rescue facility, one geographic locale, or one species or breed.
3. Just say no. Many people feel guilty when they can't take care of everything that comes up. Be realistic about how much you can handle! If you're feeling overwhelmed, it's okay to say, "I can't right now." Delegate to others when possible, and ask for help when you need it.
4. You are making a difference. Whenever you question whether you're helping very much, remember the old parable about the man walking on the beach, picking up starfish who had washed ashore and tossing them gently, one by one, back into the ocean. Another man approaches, notices that there are starfish on the beach as far as the eye can see, and asks, "What difference can you possibly make when there are so many?" Looking at the creature in his hand, the first man replies, "I can make all the difference in the world to THIS starfish."
5. Celebrate victories. There are happy endings to many rescue stories. Rejoice in what is working. Of course, seeing an animal go home with a loving family is the greatest reward of all.
6. Small kindnesses do count. It's common to think that small efforts don't mean as much as large victories, but stopping to pet an animal, even for just one minute is worth doing. Your touch may be the only friendly attention he or she receives that day. Grooming, holding and comforting, or intoning softly that you care, are activities that many shelters don't have time for.
7. Find outlets for emotional release. Rescue work can be physically exhausting, emotionally draining, and spiritually challenging. Don't dismiss your feelings or think you're a wimp for being affected by it all. Talk to someone you trust about what you're experiencing. Cry when you need to. Write your feelings in a journal. Channel your emotions into action by writing to the editor of your newspaper or your local representative about the need for animal protection legislation.
8. Take care of yourself. Make time to do whatever makes you feel good. Take a relaxing bath, or go out to dinner and let someone else do the cooking. You need to recharge your batteries in order to maintain mental and physical health.
9. Don't downplay your compassion. When people ask me why I rescue animals, often I'm tempted to say, "Oh, it's not a big deal" or "Somebody's got to do it," when in reality I rescue animals because I care so deeply about them. Compassion is healthy, normal and necessary for this work. Let people know how important this cause is to you. You just might inspire others to become involved.
10. Never give up. When you get discouraged, it is tempting to throw in the towel. Despite all your hard work, you may not see real change in your lifetime. Still, giving up won't make it any better. Take a break, and come back fighting. And remember the man and the starfish.
Patricia Breen - www.petstorecruelty .org