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I Heart Boundaries: Compassion Fatigue Education

Earlier this summer I met the coolest bunch of rescue and shelter workers at BAD Rap’s Rescue Jam. There were 70+ people at this unique weekend-long event and they were all stoked to get to work using the new tools, ideas, and connections picked up during their time in Oakland.

I was there to give two presentations: one for DINOS and another on compassion fatigue. My compassion fatigue talk was a way to remind them, before they jumped back into work at home, that their most important tool – the one that is capable of making the biggest impact and doing the most good – is themselves. We are our most important tool and yet, we rarely take time to care for ourselves.

As far as our Make-A-Difference-Toolbox goes, nothing trumps the tool of people when it comes to making things better for dogs and their peeps. But generally speaking, our field doesn’t spend a whole lot of time, energy, or resources addressing the needs of the people who dedicate themselves to the difficult work of making a difference for animals.

So that’s why I’m hanging out in hot tents talking about compassion fatigue these days. At the Jam I shared strategies for managing compassion fatigue related stress. There are many, but setting boundaries is an important one. In fact, it’s critical.

Setting boundaries and taking care of ourselves allows us to engage in sustainable, effective, and ethical work.


jessica dolce

You can score “I heart boundaries” gear here  | photo credit: Maggie McDowell


I wasn’t the only one talking about setting healthy boundaries at the Jam. It’s such an significant topic that many of the other speakers touched on the importance taking care of ourselves and setting limits too. It’s the only way to stay in the game long term and do good work.

Ironically, I had “I heart boundaries” t-shirts made for DINOS a few years ago because I want people to respect the personal space of dogs. Turns out this tee is made for compassion fatigue work and was a big hit at the Jam.

So this brings me to my announcement: I’ve got a whole new website and new blog! 

The site is still a work in progress, but you can check out the new compassion fatigue resources I’m offering here:



Just in case you’re wondering, Notes From a Dog Walker and DINOS aren’t going anywhere! I just needed a separate space for all my compassion fatigue offerings, which are aimed at helping animal care workers, to live.

So, let me tell you a little about why this work is super important to me:

1. No one talked to me about compassion fatigue, stress, or self-care while I was working at the shelter. When I had trouble dealing with the work, I thought I was crazy and weak. Now I know I was having a normal reaction to the stress of constantly providing care for people and animals in need and that there are things I could have done to help myself.

2. Our industry has a very high turnover rate. When we invest in training an employee, only to lose them to stress and trauma (the pay isn’t anything to write home about either), we lose their knowledge and skills too. If we want to make progress, we need people to stick around long enough to make a difference.

3. I respect the hell out of animal care workers: animal control officers, shelter workers, foster families, vet techs. If they’re working hard at making things better for animals and their people, then they’re my heroes. I want to do what I can to support them. This is a way for me to give to others what I wish I had had for myself.

I believe that compassion fatigue education and self-care practices need to be made a priority in our field. We can’t do effective, ethical work if we’re depleted, stressed, traumatized, and burned out.

We need to be well to do good.


So that’s why I’m dedicating so much of my time to compassion fatigue education these days. I’ll be travelling to a few organizations this fall, but in between my live workshops, I’m whipping up what I think will be my best offering to date:

A multi-week online class for animal care professionals and volunteers called Compassion In Balance:

compassion in balance online class photo


The class will be a way for anyone who works with animals to easily access the resources they need to better understand and manage compassion fatigue. It’s going to be a safe online community where we can support each other each week, as we build our self-care toolbox and practice new strategies for being well, while we’re doing good. No one else is offering anything quite like it.

I’m finishing up the class design now and will be beta testing it this fall on a group of animal welfare bad asses. We’re gonna let them deal with all the first-run kinks. The class should be ready to launch this winter.

My goal is to get the class running for animal care workers and then later offer a modified version for people who own dogs with serious behavior or medical issues. Those of you who live with dogs like this may be suffering from compassion fatigue and you bet I want to support you too!

I still have a few months to go before I can roll out the classes, but if you’re interested in finding out more or just hearing from me every once in a while, may I suggest that you:

Sign up for my brand new e-letter!


Starting in September I’ll be sending out a monthly(ish) e-letter with news and notes on what’s shaking in relation to compassion fatigue and self care, plus highlights from DINOS and Notes From a Dog Walker too. It’s the best way for me to stay in touch about everything I’m working on, share the resources I think you guys will find helpful, and offer you special deals when the classes are ready to launch.

So that’s what I’ve been up to this summer and what I’ll be buried in this fall! I’m so excited to offer this to you guys – nothing makes me happier than connecting you all to life-changing resources that will support and empower you in your important work with animals.

So get psyched:

Boundaries are the new black y’all.

  1. This is such a brilliant and helpful idea! I know I’ve definitely gotten to the point of feeling as though what I was doing would never be enough. This is an invaluable tool to offer – you’re so rad!

    September 12, 2014
    • Thanks! That’s totally a sign of compassion fatigue and one that so many of us can relate to: welcome to the (really tired, can’t get out of our yoga pants, but still rad) club!

      September 12, 2014
  2. Hi Jessica

    Thank you for continuing to spread the word on compassion fatigue -something I wish I’d known about earlier.

    Your blog reaches all the way to Cape Town, South Africa! And has helped me, a late-dog-bloomer at age 35 to figure out how to build a healthy, happy healthy rescue dog family.

    Hugs, Lu.

    September 12, 2014
    • Lu, that’s really cool – thanks for letting me know you’re reading from Cape Town and for the kind words. You made my day!

      September 12, 2014
  3. Tracy Collins #

    Fabulous post!! I’m also a follower and big fan of BAD RAP and saw that you were there over the summer. The compassion fatigue work sounds wonderful – I’m hoping to start doing some volunteer work in my new home with the humane society but this has been a huge worry for me. I’ll be checking out your new things!

    September 12, 2014
    • Thanks for reading Tracy and (more importantly) for thinking of volunteering with your local shelter! Before you get started, take a look at this site for some good info that will support you in your work:

      September 12, 2014
  4. Cathy Kasaback #

    Jessica, you made my morning! I shall be spreading the news far and wide!!! I work for a dog aggression expert, and have many friends who rescue and foster. I am thrilled to see something like this come along. SO looking forward to diving in to what you’re doing, and being able to share. Thank you again!

    September 13, 2014
  5. Rhys #

    I’m a clinical counsellor and I’m actually researching compassion fatigue in animal (dog) rescuers. It’s a topic close to my heart so I’m excited to be using my academic background and experience in animal welfare to create a compassion fatigue support program.

    Great posting and thanks for shedding light on this little-talked about subject! Take some time for yourself and enjoy the beauty in the small stuff! Cheers!


    September 13, 2014
  6. Bre #

    Thank you so much for this. I made it for one year as a shelter volunteer before I had to take a break. I am hoping to go back post pregnancy ( I honestly can NOT imagine going to the shelter while this weepy. I wont be good to anyone) but between 50 hr work weeks plus 2-4 hour commutes a day, I was not prepared for the emotional toll of kitten overflow in spring, or people bringing in 6 or 7 dogs at a time, then go looking in back for a puppy. I was only a volunteer- I give major props to those there everyday, doing the really hard work. I wish this was address for all animal workers! Good job!

    September 15, 2014
    • Bre #

      (oh I my work weeks were at my normal full time job, not the weekends at the shelter fyi.)

      September 15, 2014
  7. Hi Jessica, I belong to organization called ACAT. I am one of the Directors for middle Tennessee, I am also a Director for Animal Control. I have been in this business for some time now and I do know what compassion Fatigue feels like and what it can do to someone. ACAT requires us to put on a class in our districts, I have talked to the other Director in my District and asked if we could put on a class for compassion fatigue he thought it would be great. We are looking for someone to come and be our speaker. Do you or can you teach a class on this? Could you please get back with me and let me know if you are willing or you know someone that does. Looking forward to hearing from you Sincerely, Mary

    September 24, 2014
    • Hi Mary, I just emailed you – check your inbox : )

      September 29, 2014

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