Blurring The Line Between Homeless And Helpless
My research into compassion fatigue has led me out of the veterinary practice and into the world of shelter medicine. I recently finished a book called Bridging the Bond: The Cultural Construction of the Shelter Pet. It was an amazing glimpse into a world I have been near, but never inside. Although I have worked in settings where I was required to participate in the euthanasia of homeless animals, I was not surrounded by a facility where adoption was the hoped outcome. So I struck out to learn more about this career path.
Compassion Fatigue in animal care giving was actually “born” in shelter medicine, when euthanizing homeless animals was identified as causing lasting effects on those doing this shelter work. I anticipated much of what I uncovered because of my similar jobs in the past, but I did not expect to come across the raging battle, basically, between no-kill and the more traditional “kill” shelters. These are also referred to “limited admission” (where not all animals are accepted because none of them will be euthanized for lack of a suitable home) and “open admission” (where all animals are accepted but unfortunately not all will end up living in a home, or living at all). The line in the sand is very deep, and divides two groups of people who are passionate about their stance on this subject. Regardless of where you fall on this line, it is worth introspection to discover your own personal feelings.
I stumbled headlong into my own feelings recently, although it took me a while to realize where I stood on that line. With a growing desire to give back to the animal community now that I was away from day-to-day veterinary practice, I went to volunteer at a local animal rescue, “no kill” or limited admission shelter facility. I attended volunteer training, and then life got too busy for me to devote time to volunteering … or did it? Months have passed, and while I have indeed been busy, there was more to my reluctance. The deeper I plunged into the debate of “kill vs. no kill” shelters, the more my own feelings came into focus. I was able to recognize that the reason I had not been more compelled to fit in the volunteer time was because of an uneasy feeling I felt when I visited the rescue facility … I came to realize that I just didn’t believe those animals were in a “better place” by being in a rescue, versus being euthanized for lack of a suitable home.
This is where the Quality of Life clashes with Quantity of Life. Should an animal be kept alive at all costs?
Who determines which is better, euthanasia or life confined in a rescue facility? The most uncomfortable part of my experience was that at this facility, cats with inappropriate urination were all kept in a small area, able to urinate wherever they pleased. It was a place I didn’t look forward to visiting again, and I didn’t even want to think how it must feel to be a cat living in that environment.
I don’t have any answers, only more questions, but when devoting your life to caring for animals, these questions must be faced by each of us at some point in our career.