Kitten season is in full swing here, and that means lots and lots of work for those trying to manage trap-neuter-return programs as well as the rescue groups that try to find homes for way too many kittens.

For those who volunteer or have paid positions in animal rescue, downtime is a non-entity, or at best, a rarity.

On top of that each of us has seen wretched things we will never be able to erase from our brains. Each of us has been overwhelmed here and there, and some seem to live in a state of perpetual overwhelm. Constant phone calls and emails tell us that we’re the only hope for this or that animal, that if we don’t act now, this dog or this cat will die. Others call us at midnight or five am in the belief that their concern can’t possibly wait until, say, 7 am.  Some people complain when we don’t get back to them within an hour, conveniently forgetting that most of us are volunteers and other things, like our paying jobs, need tending too. It’s no surprise that those of us who do animal rescue work can get…well..a bit snarky at times, and that others break under the pressure and drop out of rescue.

When we find ourselves in a perpetual start of snark, however, that’s the danger zone. Landing in that zone is so easy to do. There will ALWAYS be more than any one of us can do, sometimes even more than any group can do, and coming to grip with that fact is the only way to stay sane in the midst of the never-ending demands and legitimate needs.

I hit the state of perpetual overwhelm last year. I was tired, angry, and frustrated, and let’s face it, a bit of a martyr too, before realizing things had to change. I’m no expert in all of this but here are the things that woke me up and got me moving in a healthier direction.

  1. As they say on airplanes, put your own oxygen mask on before trying to help others. Translated into rescue work that means we each have to have a well of personal resources, instead of a drained and dry well, or we won’t be much use to anyone else. That means different things to each of us, but if you don’t find what fills you back up and make space for that in your life, your well will go dry or you’ll run out of air, and you’ll be much less able to help others.
  2. If you continue to try to do everything yourself, no one else has to step up and do what they can. So many of us in rescue have been doing it a while. We have skills and knowledge. We know how to get things done. But we weren’t born that way, right? Somewhere along the way someone gave us the opportunities to try out these skills, to gain the knowledge, to make things happen. When people tell us that we’re the ONLY one who can help, don’t believe them. Everyone can do something. Give them the opportunity to do that something. Sometimes that means saying “no.” Sometimes it means a referral. You decide.
  3. Boundaries are a good thing. I like to think of myself as Superwoman, but that’s a grand delusion. I can only do so much. I think it’s a pretty reasonable amount that I do to help the cats in our Derry Township Community Cats program, and it has to be enough. The fact that it is about 50% less than I was doing last year doesn’t matter, because I’m able to do a better job of the 50% I’m still doing. And by my calculations,  I’m just slightly more sane.
  4. Boundaries are good, part two. Boundaries are good in other ways too. My phone doesn’t have to be on all the time. And after trapping and fixing 945 cats we pretty much know how to do that in the way that is quickest and easiest on the cats. If you don’t want to do it our way, or mostly our way, there are lots of other groups you can contact for help. We want to be flexible when possible, but there are limits…boundaries. I’ve stopped feeling bad about nicely stating the boundaries. They keep me from going crazy.
  5. Rely on others in rescue work. We’re all in this together, and we’re in it for the animals. Be nice to one another. Disagree respectfully whenever possible. I probably have no idea what pressures you may be under and you might not know mine either. Give folks the benefit of the doubt when you can.
  6. Say “thank you” to everyone you work with as often as you can. Say it until they are sick of hearing it. We all need to be thanked.
  7. Celebrate the good stuff and the successes or the bad stuff will do you in. Enough said.

I love the tag line on the Animal Planet Show “Pitbulls and Paroles,” from Tia, the head of the rescue. She talks about doing rescue because she has to, and hopes that someday there won’t be a need. I hope there won’t be a need someday too, but I’m not holding my breath. In the meantime, I will do what I can, and perhaps – here and there – more than I can, but I’m in this for the long haul so boundaries, and breathing, and time off are all required. And lots of kitten cuddling. Lots and lots of kitten cuddling. Lots.

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11 thoughts on “Lessons from the animal rescue field

  1. I really wish that more people would understand just how fast cats reproduce….and just because a kitten is cute….that it is actually a forever pet….which is a pet. Not a something until it isn’t a cute kitten or until u grow tired of it. Its the pet that pays the ultimate price.

    1. Indeed. And hopefully we keep educating folks about cat’s amazing reproductive powers too!

      1. Indeed. But at least in our township, our efforts are making a difference. Waaaayyyy fewer kittens this year than ever before, and we expect that # to keep going down.

  2. You are a leader planting seeds. Your deep insight is a result of experience, compassion and wisdom. Know that you are making your neck of the woods a better place every day.

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