An essay from HSEC Kennel Team Leader Erin. Working in an shelter is amazing and yet extremely tough at times.
“I’m a shelter worker. I work with animals every day. I feed them, clean them and make sure they have any medications they may need. Most people I talk to tell me my job must be so hard. It must be so hard because how can you not want to take all the puppies and kitties home? They are right. My job is hard. But for so many different reasons. For the scared animals that won’t eat and stuff themselves in the back of their cage. For the aggressive animals that will hurt me if they get the chance but only because they are terrified. For the sweet old animals with the most loving personalities that won’t last long due to health. For the less adoptable animals that get looked over every day but deserve a home just as much as everyone else.
This is the hardest job I’ve ever had, but I’ve never loved a job so much. But with the beautiful success stories of animals overcoming injury, sickness and unfortunate beginnings also comes the sad stories. The ones that don’t make it. The ones that we couldn’t save, but did what was best for. Because there is a blissful ignorance in thinking that saving animals always means a happy ending. The truth of it is, that isn’t always the case. I’ve had a hand in saving many animals but there are many different ways to do that. We don’t like to talk about it but sometimes what’s best is to help them move on. Help them leave the pain and suffering behind. Leave the fear behind. I’ve held many animals as they took their last breath and I love every one of them. I do this job because I want to do what’s best for them no matter how hard that is.
It’s easy to look in from the outside and say that things could be done better. It’s another thing entirely to be in the middle of it. You have a plan for how many animals you have and what your day will be like, but often that is turned on its head. Working with animals is often unpredictable and people who have never experienced it often don’t understand that parameters change in an instant and you have to adapt.
I’ve learned many things about myself over the past 4 years: I’m not nearly as squeamish as I originally thought and that I can work decently well with sudden difficult situations. I’m able to set my emotions aside and do what needs to be done right now. Sometimes I worry that I’m becoming numb because while I feel for every animal I interact with, I don’t get super emotional very often. But compassion fatigue is a real thing, and every now and again it hits me with a flood of emotions that remind me I’m as human as anyone else.