Discussion: How Do You Cope?

A search term which led someone to the blog last week.
A search term which led someone to the blog recently.

Snipped from an email received from reader Renate:

Subject: How do you cope?
From: Renate
Date: Tue, August 11, 2015 8:13 pm
To: eiderdown@yesbiscuit.com

There is one thing I’ve been wanting to ask you: How do you cope with the relentless stream of bad news and downright evil reported from the animal world? I sometimes feel like I cannot stand another report about a kill shelter abusing the animals in its care, assembly line killing, callous, indifferent and abusive employees and directors. I believe such shelters and pounds attract employees that are at best indifferent and at worst abusive to animals. Who like the feeling of power over life and death that it gives them. It’s so depressing.

In my reply, I mentioned a few of the tools and strategies I use: humor, taking breaks as frequently as needed, and reminding myself that the no kill movement continues to grow and succeed. But the exchange also got me thinking about our group as a whole. While each of us is focused on our own areas of animal advocacy, we all likely suffer from some form of stress related to this work and have developed coping strategies which may be useful to others.

So I am opening up the floor to everyone who wants to share what works for them – or even what doesn’t, which might be helpful information too. Anonymous comments are accepted, as always, but please feel welcome to use your name if you feel comfortable. This will be a safe place to discuss mental health issues related to animal advocacy and absolutely no shaming or other jerkass behavior will be tolerated.

If you are a U.S. resident in crisis and need to talk to someone by phone or online, visit this site.  Additional resources, including those in other countries, are available here.

19 thoughts on “Discussion: How Do You Cope?

  1. Sometimes you have to just break down and cry. A lot.

    You have to get it out and whether that is finding others who “get it” to talk with, having a drink together (or alone) or just a full on melt down in your car… but either way, you have to accept when your heart, soul and body tell you that you need to shut down for awhile.

  2. Thank you for opening up this very important topic for discussion. I will have to think about my honest response a bit, but a couple of things I TRY to remember:
    There is a wonderful organization, CHAINED, Inc (in the Detroit area) who lives by the belief ~ Don’t let perfect get in the way of better. They have effectively improved the lives of hundreds of dogs and people.
    The other is a poster I once saw ~ Do what you can, where you are, with what you have. (Wish now I’d purchased it)
    With that said, I carry a great deal of emotional pain and sorrow for the animals who suffer and die daily. Sometimes it is so overwhelming.

    1. Two powerful pieces of advice (“Don’t let perfect get in the way of better” and “Do what you can, where you are, with what you have.”) Confiscating animals is not always the right solution. I strongly believe that when you can help owners be better owners by giving them the tools (including education) and resources when they apparently love their pet(s), that’s a thousand times better than moving that animal into the isolation of a shelter.

      I cope by sometimes withdrawing from the craziness for a bit, tuning out the local news negativity and social media haters. Then I get back into it a little stronger, help where I can and try not to worry too much about the times/places where I am powerless.

  3. Animal abuse is ignored by legislators and I’m totally sick of the cruelty! When I share on facebook, I started forwarding to the white house! Maybe if enough peoples send examples it will help! At least it’s a start!

  4. That time when you’re trying to go to sleep and all you can think about is that horrible thing you heard/saw/read about that day…

    I firmly remind myself that me and mine are safe and well tonight. And then I firmly tell myself that right now, in this moment, that is enough. My animals are safe and well. They are loved and cared for. Right now, in this moment, that is enough for me.

    So I guess for me, it’s just grasping on to the good as tightly as I can. There’s so much out there that I can do NOTHING about, that I can’t fix or help or repair. So I made my world smaller – I focused on what I COULD do, what I can fix, where I can help and I pursue that. Holding on to my lifeline of what is good, what is right keeps me from getting overwhelmed.

    1. Mikken–this is a beautiful response and very similar to my own coping mechanisms. I hug my own babies tight and think about how their lives could have been so tragic if they had not become mine. Then I look back through the years and the changes that I have made at my own local shelter. . . the lives that have been saved, the pets who once were treated as trash, but are now loved and valued. I look at how far we have come in the last few years. I try to focus on my own little piece of the puzzle and just keep doing what I can do right here in my own community. Small steps can bring big changes.

  5. By my 4th year of advocacy, In the private confines of my pet inhabited home, I had cried many tears, shared many stories, smashed several computers, lost friends and was reminded (by my own dogs) that my life and my own pets’ lives mattered. I did step away for a while because I had no choice. It had taken its toll on my own health, what should have been viewed warning mechanisms, I ignored as I posted from dawn to midnight. Then my senior Golden Retriever reminded me that it was “his” turn. It was a realization that I had two families. I had become absorbed with animal advocacy while not seeing the love & need in my own dogs. I have separate FB pages for Animal Advocacy & I now make an attempt to place what is most important on the top; my own FB page is full of humor, those friends I lost were not true friends and when I begin to suffer personally from the every day evil, and the horror of torture, forgotten, abused and abandoned animals, I turn to my own “family”; for they truly do not judge.

    Zach is now gone.
    “Fear lives in the head. And courage lives in the heart. The job is to get from one to the other.” “And between the two is the lump in the throat,”
    ― Louise Penny, The Long Way Home

  6. I love the comment above about realizing you need to take care of your own animal family and sometimes have to step away from the other to do it. My comment is I have more trouble coping with the shelter volunteers and rescues that continue to make apologies for bad shelter directors (such as MCACC) and policies that lead to all the unnecessary deaths of shelter animals. If I hear “they’re doing all they can” and “the No Kill movement doesn’t know what it’s talking about” one more time , I’ll scream! That’s what I have to step away from.

  7. I think the biggest help is others that I know – they devote their time, effort and energy to helping animals. Seeing others who do more way more than I am able create inspiration and courage for me to carry on with what I can do.

    There is an Indian legend (I think the Cree First Nation) – its the story of the Crab Pot,

    I have a card of a painting of the crab tale (the artist Shawl lady) – entitled – We Pull Together (on the back it reads)
    Community is the foundation of human life and cooperation. The tale of the Crab Pot is a disaster that is easily fallen into.
    When the crabs are captured in the pot, rather than helping one another escape, they pull each other down trapping everyone.
    Working together in fairness and love builds strong communities, families and persons.

    I try to remember that – that is to help in whatever way I can. I also try to visit a friend who has a low cost spay/neuter clinic – she is a gift to humans and animals – By watching the work she does – I feel hope. The volunteers and the animals at the clinic give me great hope. Also she and the volunteers assist in adoptions (I try to contribute as best I can)

    Also I remember what Joan Rivers said, “I have become my own version of an optimist. If I can’t make it through one door, I’ll go through another door – or I’ll make a door. Something terrific will come no matter how dark the present.” (after she passed I learned she was an animal advocate)
    I try to remember the above but I get overwhelmed too – then I can call a couple friends who understand and we talk – it helps. And I say a prayer to my Mom who rescued dogs and cats well into her 80’s – all her life.

  8. I find that laughing and/or squeeing about things that are not related to animals in distress helps, at least for a little while. Youtube is always fun if you stay far away from anything animal-related. As a big-time geek, I like videos related to shows and actors VERY helpful (thanks to EmilyS who posted the video of Benedict Cumberbatch on the Graham Norton show in the comments of the most recent Open Thread which reminded me of smiley things!). For a superb vid from a very talented Sherlock fan, try this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2kaiTrEYu2k
    and for David Tennant fans, same song, but with clips from many things he’s done: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hauU-zT7b_A

  9. I try to keep it in perspective. Even though the shelters are killing animals and I tend to view it as evil, then I think about all the factory farm animals that are abused and slaughtered and live horrific lives and I think about the dogs in China that are crammed into cages and slaughtered for meat and I think about the elephants and rhinos who are culled and poached in terribly gruesome ways and the wolves in western states that are trapped and skinned and tortured; I think about all the people in the world who are starving and destitute and some only living on a dollar a day and babies and children who die from hunger and preventable diseases or are blown up in wars; all of these are painful ways of living; then it puts animal shelters into perspective. Yes what they (animal shelters) do is wrong to our community’s pets, but other animals/people around the world and in our own country suffer and often times suffer in even worse ways. The pain of the world is a horrible thing to have to carry around in our hearts and minds. As long as we are working in some small or large way to help alleviate someone’s suffering; to hold compassion for those who suffer in our hearts, then we are working in a positive way.

    1. I commend you for being able to do this, but that would just put me over the edge. I need to find good and beauty somewhere. Even one animal being abused or killed is one too many. It’s very interesting (and helpful), though, to see what everyone is sharing. Part of this, I believe has to do with boundaries, accepting what we can and cannot control and doing the best we can with what we can control. What can we do? Where can we make a difference? And then do it.

  10. I garden. Gardening is very mystical for me. A bee lands on a flower in front of me, or a cloud moves and the light shifts . . . in that moment I’m connected with the whole universe. The perspective helps.

    Also, I read design blogs to distract myself. I love modern design — late at night, I try to finish the day by reading about something designy, and stay away from anything animal-related. (Except for bonding with our cats, of course.) Otherwise I can’t sleep.

    When all else fails, I remind myself that there are people in my social circle who know now how shelters work, because I told them. I’m a very small pebble in this pond, but every ripple counts.

    And . . . ditto everything that Linda, and everyone else here, has said so well.

    1. Thank you for reminding me to end my day with something beautiful and positive. And, I love the idea of our small circles, at some point, moving out to join others. I also try to remind myself often, It DOES take a village.

  11. Susan Ford-Whitten – I could have written your comment myself. I had to step away when my health, both physical and mental, suffered so much I was told by my therapist that if I didn’t get a handle on it she would put me in the hospital. Six months after that conversation I went, briefly. Every day I feel like I am useless to the critters in need, and I don’t know when or if I can go back to it. In the meantime, I can only do my very best for my own family of fur, which at present totals 17 (5 are “fosters” from two years ago). Does it help combat the nightmares and memories of the horrors? I still have those, I still get beyond upset and sick over it. But I have a house full that live and need me, and they are the reason I keep fighting.

    1. I hope you get the support you need to deal with the horrors you have witnessed. I find myself having to back away, too, but to also find a focus on something positive/neutral emotionally. Unfortunately, it also means I have had to un-involve myself with some local shelter issues I feel very passionately about. When my anger and pain hurts me, I cannot be a positive force for the animals. I’m finally learning that. Wishing you and all others peace and support.

  12. I left rescue about a year ago, and now exclusively foster for Beagle rescues and private persons. I lost two dogs to the road spring 2014 – one Beagle girl I didn’t even know was out and who I kept on a “tight” leash, so to speak, because she was a climber and hunter. The other was a lovely Pointer brought to me for rescue who jumped the fence and ran like the wind. I was actively trying to get him home when he was hit (and RUN) by a Mack truck in front of me. In the seconds it took me to reach him, his gums were white and I smelled but didn’t see blood, so am sure his major vessels if not heart were torn. I still took him to a vet, but after losing those two, plus needing to pay attention to my own dogs who had paid dearly through the years of rescue, I stopped actively rescuing in a formal, licensed fashion. I know I’m still helping by fostering and driving transport legs. I turn off social media and avoid the horrific photos not because I don’t care, but I can’t take it all in and still be effective. Now and when rescuing, I lived by the Starfish story – I helped THAT one. I won’t change the world but I’ll help one (or two) as I can. I’m proud of what I’ve done with dogs so beaten down they were afraid to be (Farrah and Monk), as well as the old ones (numerous), whom I love and cherish.

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