July 6, 2023

One of the Greatest Challenges Facing Ottawa’s Animals

Cute dog in critical care staring at you.

Working at the OHS is a caring job. From our team who provide for the animals every day, to our staff who complete adoption matches, to those who help the animals from their desks — we are staffed with people who care.

I wouldn’t have it any other way; it’s energizing and inspiring to work with compassionate people who are invested in building a better future for Ottawa’s pets and their families.

But compassion comes at a cost, and it’s not one that can be measured in dollars or cents. In caring professions — jobs that work directly with people or animals in need — there is a condition known as compassion fatigue.

You’re probably familiar with the concept of burnout — when someone has pushed themselves to their limits for too long and experiences a sharp decline in their wellbeing that often has severe consequence on their personal and professional life.

Compassion fatigue is similar but is associated with an overload of empathy and how we respond to that empathy.

At the OHS, we face a double dose in helping both animals and people who are in hard situations. We are here for animals who often arrived frightened and in terrible physical pain, and for people, who face the difficulties and emotions that come with surrendering a pet, searching for a lost animal, or other challenges.

Everyone’s experience with compassion fatigue is different. One of our assistant veterinary technicians, who has worked with the Ottawa Humane Society for 20 years, shared that for her, compassion fatigue manifests in struggling to come to work, bad moods, and no longer finding purpose or joy in day-to-day tasks.

She explains that her compassion fatigue hasn’t always been easy to identify, and that there can be pressure to keep emotions bottled up and press on. Of course that makes sense… when the animal or person in front of us is suffering, we tend to put them first.

Summer at the OHS is hard. Compassion fatigue is a hazard of the job, but during the summer, when our admissions peak, it’s worse. We equip our team with tools and techniques to protect themselves – from investing in compassion fatigue training to our employee assistance program, but we know it’s not enough, and we’re committed to doing more. As one of the “caring industries”, we need to stop depleting the compassionate individuals who come here to make a difference, because those individuals are the future of animal welfare. And because, only by protecting our staff can we continue to be here, for every animal in need.

Sharon Miko
President & CEO