Mental Health: Compassion Fatigue

Turns out  compassion fatigue is common among animal welfare workers, and maybe, Dear Reader, you may be suffering from some of the symptoms. Compassion fatigue (CF), also known as secondary traumatic stress (STS), occurs when working we are repeatedly seeing animals getting abused, or neglected leaving with those who are suffering  deep emotional exhaustion. Easily comparable to burn out,  widely spread within the empathetic world of animal care. Left untreated, CF may produce noticeable, and potentially serious mental health problems.

“Studies find that veterinarians are between 4 and 8 times more likely to take their lives than the general population. This isn’t the case for their human treating counterparts, nor for other graduate degree holders.”

Barbara Cartwright, CEO of Humane Canada beside Chantal Dostaler, Virtuous Musher- #NAWC2019 April 2019


It’s a common issue around animal welfare workers in fact in an article published by Global News in March 2019 Barbara Cartwright, the CEO of Humane Canada says staff at shelters and staff working in animal welfare across the country are suffering from compassion fatigue, which is deep emotional exhaustion brought on by working with those who are suffering… Cartwright says the problem is being exacerbated by a lack of provincial and federal funding for shelters and animal control services right across the country.

Animal care professionals are some of the most pain-saturated people I have ever worked with…” J. Eric Gentry.


What I experienced completely broke me. Having had known what I know now about compassion fatigue and ethical dilemmas, maybe I would have felt empowered to ask for time off instead of calling in sick with a headache and working myself sick.

BC SPCA calls these days “mental wellness days”.



One day,  during the warm season in 2017, I was at the local employment center using the computers as I usually did. It was empty of any other patrons. Just me and the receptionist, who I had gotten pretty familiar with. She came up to me, and told me that she noticed something different about me and was concerned. She suggested I go to the Mental Health Center down the street, and talk to someone in person….

NOV 26 2016

I had been suffering on and off with my cPTSD for a while, and had become, what I had believed, to be fairly resilient – with the occasional boughs of depression.

When it was suggested by an “outside source” that I get help because “I would need my strength” I took it seriously.

After I was done with the computer, I went straight to the Mental Health Center to speak to a counselor.

I have had my share of experiences with the mental health care professionals, ranging from great to poor. Grrrl, did I ever get lucky with this one!

I have since thanked that receptionist for her courage and honesty.

prevention and treatment


My case might be different then yours: In the end, I got fired when admitting that I couldn’t take on the responsibility that was being asked from me. I asked for alternate work. I got fired: Loud and Clear.

Of course, not every workplace looks like this, thank goodness! We need to keep working on ending the stigma around mental health in general.

It’s 2019.

There’s no need to suffer in silence.


If you See Something, Say Something!


Chantal Dostaler



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