Overcrowded animal shelters result in risk of compassion fatigue among workers

Animal shelters are dealing with a crisis. They are packed, and for people who work there, it can be overwhelming.
Published: Mar. 27, 2023 at 9:47 PM CDT|Updated: Mar. 27, 2023 at 9:50 PM CDT
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TYLER, Texas (KLTV) - Animal shelters across the country and in East Texas are dealing with an overcrowding crisis. Not only can it be overwhelming for the people who work at shelters, but it’s potentially dangerous to their mental health.

Amber Greene oversees the Smith County Animal Shelter. She’s been in this line of work for about 13 years and knows all about the risk of something called “compassion fatigue.”

“Their heart can’t handle it anymore,” she said about those facing compassion fatigue, which is similar to burnout. It’s defined as the physical, emotional, and psychological impact of helping others.

Studies show shelter workers are at a higher risk not only for compassion fatigue and burnout, but also of suicide. It’s a job that often takes an emotional toll, worsened when there are more animals to care for.

“Taking time off, a day or two here and there, is essential for us to decompress,” Greene said. “And when we can’t take those days, the compassion fatigue sets in.

Among the biggest strains for shelter workers: euthanasia.

“It does take an emotional toll on you,” said Talia Rowe, a veterinary tech at the animal shelter. “It’s hard. Nobody wants to see the dogs being euthanized. However, we do understand it’s part of the responsibility that we take on being a shelter worker.”

Shelter workers are not the only ones at risk, according to Greene. Animal control officers often come face-to-face with animals in cruel situations, which puts them at risk for the same conditions.