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Posts from the ‘people problems’ Category

How to Talk to Your Gynecologist About Euthanasia

If I tell someone that I work with dogs, it’s guaranteed that that person will ask me for advice about their dogs. This happens no matter where I am.

If I’m getting a massage, I get asked about house training problems. If I’m at the dentist, my hygienist wants to know how she can convince her mother not to be terrified of her pit bull (who is lovely, thank you very much). And when I’m at the gynecologist, my doctor is asking me about her elderly dog’s end of life issues.

Let me say this from years of experience with a variety of gynecologists who have nothing in common with one another except that they all like to talk to me about their dogs while they root around in my lady bits:

After someone’s had their hand in your vagina, it’s pretty easy to talk about euthanasia.

 

So there I was at my new doctor’s office, having never met her before, and she’s telling me about the wonderful dog her family adopted a few years ago from the animal shelter where I used to work. The dog, let’s call him Paps (ladies, are you with me here?), was pretty old now and had a whole host of expensive medical conditions.

His meds were running about $500 a month. My doc said she didn’t mind paying, even though that meant her family wouldn’t be able to afford a vacation this summer. She was really just so worried about her dog.

Was he ok? Was he suffering? Why didn’t she know if it was the right time to let him go?

Everyone kept telling her she’d “just know” when it was time.

 

photo credit: glamour magazine

photo credit: glamour magazine

 

Around this point in the conversation I wrapped that weird plastic sheet around me and sat up. “That’s not true for a lot of us. We don’t just know. Some dogs don’t magically tell us and we can’t figure it out, even though we love them. It’s ok if you don’t know.”

Tears. Hers.

She was relieved to know she wasn’t failing Paps.  Because you know what “you’ll know when it’s time” implies? That if you don’t know, then you suck at loving them.

Doc thought that if she didn’t know the answer to this seriously important question, then that meant she didn’t really know her dog. How awful is that? On top of being torn up that your dog is old and sick, now you have to question whether or not you’re a good dog owner because you don’t “just know”?

I know we mean well when we say this (I know I’ve said it in the past) and it is true that sometimes we do “just know.” But this common advice winds up not only failing, but hurting, a lot of good people.

So, why wasn’t he just passing away quietly in his sleep? Would that happen, she wondered?

Maybe. But with the level of medical care she was giving her dog, Paps, like so many of our pets, was receiving life-extending treatment. It’s not like the old days – for pets or humans. Today we treat a lot of conditions we couldn’t years ago and that means that both pets and people may get to experience a long period of old age. And with it comes full on decrepitude and peeing in our beds (when we’re sober). Which means we need to actively make a choice on their behalf.

So when is it the right time?, she asked.

I told her what so many people have told me over the 15 years I’ve been caring for their pets:

Waiting too long, because we can’t bear to let them go, often results in a shit-storm of guilt later. If we let our pets suffer, because we’re not ready to lose them, then months and years later we’re stuck with a lot of guilt about the unnecessary pain we put them through. Often, it’s better to err on the slightly too soon side, then the slightly too late side of things.

Disclaimer: When I say “soon”, I don’t mean that the minute they have an accident or sneeze or fall over we should rush to put them to sleep (if that were the case I would have sent Birdie to meet her maker – Charles Schulz, I think – about 4 years ago). I really mean when things are already quite serious and the end is near.

But how will I know?

I told her about the Quality of Life scale which would help her measure the, uh, quality, of her dog’s life. She was so relieved to know this existed and that she would have something to help her measure this seemingly immeasurable thing. She thanked me profusely.

Tears again. Both of us this time. And a hug.

Then she stuck her hand back up my hoo-ha and talked to me about my cervix.

Later that night, when she opened my email that shared a link to the Quality of Life scale, Doc was sitting in her sons’ room waiting for her boys to fall asleep. Her boys wanted to know why she was crying. It was because, thanks to the scale, she now realized that old Pap had some life left to enjoy.

And when the time comes for her to make that inevitable and excruciating choice for her family member, now she knew that she didn’t have to hope that she’d “just know.” She’d have some help.

End of life issues are so complicated. People shouldn’t have to hope that a dog walker with no filter and no shame comes into their office for a birth control refill just so they can get sound advice about when they should put their dog to sleep.

Instead let’s make a point to talk about the hard stuff. Leave out the judgement and shaming and let’s do everything we can to help our family, friends, and clients be better prepared, so that they can make choices that support real quality of life for both them and their pets.  And veterinarians, can you please do me a solid and make sure this Quality of Life scale (and hospice information) is easy to access? It’ll save me some weird moments next time I’m in stirrups at the doctor’s office. Many thanks.

 

weimaraner

 

Here are some resources about figuring out when it’s time, including the quality of life scale:

The “HHHHHMM” Quality of Life Scale by Dr. Alice Villalobos

Minimizing the stress of euthanasia by Dr. V of Pawcurious

How to say goodbye by Dr. Andy Roark (with other ways to measure quality of life)

 

And because I get asked about euthanasia for behavioral issues ALL the time, here are some wonderful, non-judgmental, realistic resources to help with that brutally painful and individual decision (really folks, we need to do a better job of openly talking about this too. I’ve had enough with the shaming and bullying around euthanasia. It’s not helping anyone when we go ALL CAPS about something as complex as this):

When is it time to put down a dog who is aggressive to people? by Patricia McConnell

When is it time to put a problem dog down? by Casey Lomonaco

Euthanizing Aggressive Dogs: Sometimes It’s the Best Choice by Phyllis DeGioia, editor Veterinary Partner and VetzInsight

The burden on euthanizing an aggressive dog by Mel of No Dog About It

Goodbye Huckleberry by Ana Poe – I read this years ago and it’s never left me. Such brave, compassionate, honest writing.

 

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On Ambassadors and Advocating For (Your) Pit Bull Dogs

Here’s some stuff I’ve been thinking about lately:

1. Why is it so hard to find the perfect black hoodie? You know, not too baggy, not too tight, not too lightweight, not too heavy.

2. What is Terminus and how will I survive waiting another year for the new season of The Walking Dead to come out on dvd? No spoilers or I’ll stalk you when I turn.

3. What gets in the way of responsible people making smart choices for their dogs?

 

Since this isn’t a blog about zombies (yet), let’s look at #3:

We already know that it’s our job to stand up for our dogs and be assertive in protecting our dog’s physical and mental health, as well as the safety of those around them. Right?

We know that what gets in the way of us doing that is we often don’t want to be perceived as rude or “bitchy.” Not sure what I’m talking about? See one of my most popular posts of all time: Stop Caring What Others Think and Stand Up For Your Dogs.

But in addition to the regular worries about what other people think about us when we are standing up for our dogs, there’s this other thing that affects a really big group of dog owners that I love dearly and belong to myself. I’m talking about my pit bull peeps.

Many people who own pit bull dogs are concerned about how our dog’s behavior (or our own actions) will influence public opinion about all the other dogs out there that look like ours. It’s not just internal pressure. We’re generally encouraged to make our dogs into “ambassadors.” But here’s the thing:

Wanting your dog to be an ambassador can sometimes get in the way of you being a good advocate (for your actual dog).

 

For those of you who get to go about your daily business without ever spending a second thinking about your dog being an ambassador, please let me explain what that means:

Those of us who share our lives with pit bulls would love to bust stereotypes and change minds about our misunderstood dogs. We know that a positive, real-life interaction with our nice dogs can go a long way in undoing the myths that surround pit bulls. So we’re extra sensitive to how our dog’s behavior in public might either mistakenly confirm peoples’ fears or cause them to have a change of heart about pit bulls. We work hard for the latter. Every time we leave the house.

There’s a lot of pressure on our dogs to be “ambassadors” for all the other pit bulls and that’s a heavy load for the average dog to bear, because guess what?

Pit bulls are just dogs.

And dogs aren’t pre-programmed ambassador robots.

Dogs are, well, dogs. Even the very best behaved dog – no matter what their shape, size, breed, or political orientation – have boundaries that need to be respected. For example, few dogs (even very social ones) enjoy rude, uninvited greetings from out of control dogs and grabby kids.

The point is to say that even dogs that are excellent ambassadors still have needs. It’s our job to pay attention to them and speak up when they need us to, so they stay healthy and safe. We’re our dog’s everyday advocates.

And yet: our desire to change public perceptions of our dogs sometimes means that we ignore what our dogs need, because we’re afraid that if we speak up, that other people will think our dogs aren’t friendly or that we’re mean and that will reflect badly on all the other pit bulls out there.

Look, if you’re ever feeling icky about speaking up for your dog, here’s the deal:

Never put your desire to change public perceptions of pit bulls before your own dog’s needs.

 

Don’t do anything that will cause them to have a training set back or damage their own social tolerance of other dogs or make them uncomfortable or allow them to get hurt because you’re hesitant to speak up for their needs for fear that it will give people a bad impression of pit bulls.

That’s not your problem. Your dog’s needs come first.

problem

 

If your dog seems uncomfortable meeting a new person or dog or is uneasy at an event, please walk away. Don’t stick around because you want people to meet your nice dog and have an a-ha moment about pit bulls.

When someone wants to just “say hi!” but it’s not a good match for your dog, don’t agree to it because you’re afraid the other person will think that all pit bull dogs and their owners are unfriendly if you say “no thanks”.

It’s awesome when our well behaved, outgoing pit bulls are enjoying themselves in public and change some opinions in the process. I love when that happens and I’m super grateful to all the pit bull owners out there who are making a real difference through their public appearances and awards, therapy dog work, sporting events, and parade dance parties.

But our desire to have our dogs be ambassadors should never come at our dogs’ expense. All dogs, even UN World Happiness Ambassadogs have boundaries and emotions that need to be respected. Never put the needs of the “movement” before advocating for your individual dog’s needs, ok?

And for those of you who have pit bulls that you know are not “ambassadors” because they’re reactive, fearful, anxious, or whatever other common dog behavior issue you may be dealing with, listen up.

Please don’t hide at home because you’re afraid that if your dog has a meltdown on a walk that it will make people think bad things about pit bulls. Go on and walk them in public (if that’s what works for them) and practice their training, just like any other dog owner would do. Don’t deny your dog a chance to work on their leash skills or do some counter conditioning work because you’re afraid of showing the world a not-perfect pit bull.

You are not responsible for everyone else’s opinions about pit bulls.

You are responsible for properly managing and training your dog, as well as protecting their well-being. Just like all the other dog owners out there.

 

Focus on that. Do right by your dog and you do us all proud.

Side bar: If you need to muzzle your dog, just do it. Don’t get hung up on what other people will think about pit bulls because your dog is wearing one.

It took me a minute to be ok with the fact that Boogie, my sensitive, sometimes leash reactive, and fearful pit bull, was not going to be an ambassador. But I realized life is hard enough for him. I didn’t need to put any more pressure on Boogie by asking him to represent every other dog that looks like him.

boogie sun

Sweet Boogie seen here impressing the wilderness beyond the porch with his polite behavior.

 

My job is to be Boogie’s advocate. That means that sometimes people will shout out “Can my dog/kid say hi? Is your dog friendly?” and I have to say “No! Sorry!” and I’m dying a little because I want to say is:

“My dog is so sweet and he lives with another dog and three cats peacefully, but strange dogs and random kids scare him, so he needs his personal space respected. But please don’t think that pit bulls are aggressive or mean because my dog can’t say hi to you guys right now. He’s only representing Boogie. It has nothing to do with his breed. Thanks! Also, do you like the Walking Dead? Do you know what Terminus is? Wait, wait, don’t tell me!”

But there’s no time to say that, so I just say “No!” And I let them think whatever they’re going to think about my dog. Or make whatever generalizations they’ll make about pit bulls and short women with New Jersey accents, because we hustled to get away.

Just in case you’re wondering, I’m not saying you shouldn’t train your dog and help give them the skills they need to be better behaved or more comfortable out in the world. Or that you shouldn’t want your pit bull to be an ambassador. By all means, help them learn how to navigate the world with grace and if you can, change some hearts and minds along the way if they’re comfortable doing so.

But I am saying:

It’s not fair when our desire to make a good impression or change public opinion comes at the expense of our own dog’s needs or their safety.

 

When we do that we wind up setting up our dogs to, at best, have a rotten time, and at worst, force them to make a choice that could get them in a lot of trouble.

Being a good advocate for pit bulls (and all other dogs) means that we make choices based on what our individual dogs need to succeed in our crazy world. Even if that means leaving our advocacy work at our desks when we take our dogs for a walk. Your dog is counting on you to stand up for them, not just on the big issues, but in life’s everyday occurrences. Be your pit bull’s hero and advocate for them first.

 

 

 

Are You Giving or Taking Space? It Matters.

It’s Dog Bite Prevention Week again. Hey! Ho! Let’s Go (look at some ways to not get bit)!

There are a million ways to prevent dog bites. Fortunately dogs aren’t really into biting us all that much. Did you know there are more than 70 million dogs in this country? That’s a lot of teeth. And yet, they rarely use ’em on us, even when we act like fools. But occasionally, due to a variety of factors, dog bites do happen.

One of the ways that we can prevent dog bites is by thinking about space.

Specifically, how we take space from dogs.

 

When I started talking about Dogs in Need of Space a few years ago, I was looking for a simple way to communicate that all dogs have a right to their personal space and we should do what we can to avoid taking that space from them without permission.

Dog bite prevention tips are often about space (even if that’s not how they’re framing them). That’s because how we give and take space can influence the likelihood of a dog feeling the need to talk to us with their teeth. Let me show you how space plays a role in reducing dog bites:

 

Body Language: The way we move our bodies can help change how dogs are feeling about a situation. For example, we can take a step back, turn our bodies sideways, or crouch down to reduce the amount of space we take up and appear less threatening.

This week I was charged by a loose and under-socialized dog. I slowed my pace and turned my body 3/4 away from the dog to minimize the confrontation. I rocked my weight back, avoided looking directly at the dog, and kept my hands at my sides. I gave him as much space as I could in that moment through my body language. I got sniffed and he left.

Dear human, I am watching you carefully for clues.

Dear human, I am watching you carefully for clues.

 

Leash Laws: Using a leash helps to create space between your dog and other dogs or people (including the elderly and the disabled). When we leash our dogs and keep them by our sides as we pass others it maximizes the amount of space between both parties. This allows the person or the other dog, who may not appreciate meeting another dog while they are on leash, the opportunity to pass by calmly.

Leash laws can reduce bites between dogs, but also to humans (since we’re the ones who usually get bit when we try to intervene in a dog-dog brouhaha).

Not leashing your dog and allowing it to approach another dog  or a person without their permission robs others of their personal space. When that happens, many dogs and people will act in ways that will increase the likelihood of a bite (think: screaming, running away, and hitting or threatening your dog).

Not sure when to leash your dog? Ta-dah!

Proper Containment: Dogs that are properly contained on their property cannot escape to chase passing dogs and people. When we keep our dogs on our property using a fence, a lead, or a rock solid recall/proper supervision, we can create enough space between our dogs and passing pedestrians, playing kids, dog walkers, etc., so that they can all whiz by safely and without incident.

The other day while I was walking two dogs, I was chased by a loose dog that was not happy that we were walking by his lawn. I retreated into the street and up the block a bit to give him as much space as possible. I did not want him to feel as though we were in “his” space and that he had to protect his property. He followed us for 3 houses, then turned back. I gave him space, but I was at risk. You know what would have been a safer way to give that dog space near his property? A fence.

Don't makes us leave our yard.

Guard Wieners say: We see you. Just keep moving and no one gets hot dogged.

 

Being Polite: Every single time you pause to ask permission when meeting an unfamiliar dog you are creating space on multiple levels. You’re creating physical space by stopping your body/hands/your dog from moving forward without an invitation. You’re creating the space to observe by allowing enough time to look at the dog’s body language for clues about how the dog really feels about meeting you or your dog. You are creating the space for a response by allowing the dog and the other owner time to respond to your request, which might be “no”. In which case, you are giving them the space to leave. 

Seriously, just being polite and respectful by asking first is a real winner in the preventing bites category.

 

Kids and Dogs: When we teach kids that they are not to go near the dog when it’s eating or chewing a bone, we’re teaching them to give a dog space. Same goes for teaching them not to use dogs as full body bean bag chairs, not to hug them, not to approach loose or chained dogs, and also to get the heck out of the dog’s crate. It’s all about teaching kids to respect the dog’s space.

Kids, please give this dog space. Then tell your parents to call the SPCA.

Kids, please give this dog space. Then tell your parents to call the SPCA.

 

Avoiding Surprises: If you are a jogger or cyclist, please give dogs physical space by not zooming right up on them. When you make a wide arc around them, you maximize the space between you. Dogs are dogs – they don’t understand why you are running full tilt right at them. When they are surprised by your approach, it increases the likelihood of a bite. Even the best behaved, most well socialized dogs can have a bad moment when they are surprised by having you suddenly in their space.

Good Management: Making good choices gives our dogs the space they need to succeed. When we have guests come over, workmen, unexpected deliveries, etc. we can give our dogs the space they need to feel safe by using crates, gates, leashes, and old-fashion doors to separate them from people. Same goes for on-leash walks. You may need to say “no” when someone tries to approach your dogs. You’re making a smart choice, so don’t worry if  it pisses someone else off. You’re in charge of doing your best to create the space your dog needs to succeed. Always stand up for them.

Rocket Ships: Or, we can forget everything I said, load all of us humans onto a rocket and blast us into space. The dogs would miss us, but we’d prevent lots of bites if we were on Mars. Also, would I get to hangout with Neil DeGrasse Tyson if we were all in space? That would be so rad.

 

This here is a BAD ASS.

This here is a BAD ASS.

 

Wrapping it all up: The next time you’re with dogs and not sure what the best thing to do would be, you can ask yourself:

Am I giving space or taking it away? How can I create space so that everyone stays calm and safe?

 

And so, another Dog Bite Prevention Week comes to a close here on Notes from a Dog Walker with this thought: SPACE, it’s not just about the cosmos, it’s also a great way to prevent a lot of dog bites.

 

5 Ways to Stay Accountable In Online Classes

Have you ever signed up for an online class, but never got around to doing a thing with it? You’re in the right place. We’re gonna talk about online class accountability today.

Taking an online, self-paced course is awesome because you can do it at, you know, your own pace. But let’s be honest: sometimes our pace turns out to be…never.  If you’ve ever registered for an online class and not actually taken it, then we have something in common.

Somewhere out there lives an entire village of untaken, unopened class lessons on everything from: How to Excel at Selfies When Your Arms Are Super Short to How to Make a Million in 30 Days Selling Miniature Soap Sculptures of Jon Hamm on a Motorcycle.

jon hamm

Won’t you please take your online class for this poor fella’s sake?

I don’t want you to buy a class and not take it. I want you to benefit from your soap sculpting class. I take a LOT of online classes and over the years I’ve figured out how to stay accountable, so that I actually get something out of them.

Here are a few tips:

1. Enroll with a Friend:  Ask a friend or colleague with similar interests to take the class with you. Start the course at the same time and make a schedule together, so that you’re both progressing through the lessons at about the same pace. Then hold each other accountable by planning to discuss it on a regular basis. You can do this in person over brunch or by email. Or try a quick daily check-in message (“DONE!”) with no need for a reply to one another.

Have a lot of friends? Ask a bunch of them to enroll in the class and make it a work project or a book club-like event.

Hooray for Accountability Partners (and Keith Haring)!

Hooray for AccountabilityBuddies (and Keith Haring)!

2. Go Public: We’re more likely to stick to our commitments when other people know about our goals. Tell people in your life that you’re taking the class and what you hope to achieve. Make it known.

You can also use social media to hold you accountable. Sometimes just the act of posting your goals and progress to an audience is enough to keep you plugging away. If you want to raise the stakes a little, try an online site like SticKK where you can get a community of people to hold you accountable to your commitments and cheer you on. You can even put money down on yourself – fail to reach your goal and you forfeit the money (to charity – yay!).

3. Create Content:  Bloggers, this one is for you. As a spin off to #2, if you already have an audience, think of the class you’re taking as content fodder. It can be tough to find new things to write about every week. Use the structure of the class to create new content. You can write weekly posts to correspond with each lesson and share your progress. Or your can write a wrap-up post when you finish the class to share what you’ve learned. Announce to your readers early on that you’re in class. Knowing your readers are waiting for your thoughts on the topic will help keep you in school.

4. Schedule It: Before you get started, look at your calendar and life. Is this the right time to start or should you wait a couple of months to dive in? Where can you block out time each week to do the lessons?

Plan to start the course when you feel like it’s realistic for you, but then stick to it by blocking out time in your calendar to do the work. Make a commitment to start each lesson on a specific date and mark down any live calls or webinars. Do this in advance – so your schedule reflects your commitment.

Personal_Accountability

I can never get enough of these chickens. They really speak to my soul, you know? (source)

5. Set Intentions and Goals:  Be clear about why you’re taking the class. We’re all so busy and have a trillion things pulling at our attention. Reflect on why you really hit “buy now!”, so you know why you’re willing to pass up New Girl reruns to do the homework.

Here’s a question to help you figure out your intention for the class: What do you hope to be able to do differently because of this course? Try to be specific.

Once you know why you’re in class, set SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-based) to help you get there.

Here’s an example: I will complete the 15 lessons in the Sculpting Hunky Stars From Soap course over the next four months so that I can improve my Jon Hamm soap miniatures and start charging double for them. To do this I will spend 20-30 minutes per day, after work but before dinner, doing the practice lessons and whittling tiny abs out of Ivory bars.  

Now that’s a SMART goal.

So that’s it folks – a few ideas for how not to fall off the online-class wagon!  What about you? Do you have any tricks or tips for staying accountable and engaged in online classes? Share them in the comments so we can all benefit from your knowledge!

Your End Of The Lead Class: A Very Special Offer for DINOS!

Put down your kale chips. Remove your cat from your keyboard. I’ve got some news:

Your End of the Lead is being offered, for the first time ever, as an on-demand online class. And to celebrate, I’ve partnered up with the founder, Janet Finlay, to offer you some really sweet deals.

This unique online course will change how you think about yourself and your reactive dog. 

 

logocompleteyeotl

 

First things first.

What is Your End of the Lead?

This is not a training class. Your End of the Lead was designed to complement the training you’ve done or are already doing with your dog. Created and taught by professional dog trainer, coach, and Tellington Touch practitioner Janet Finlay of Canine Confidence in Wales, this is for YOU. The lessons are there to help you become a more aware, calmer, confident, and effective handler.

I’m really excited to share this class with you guys.

 

For a long time, I’ve wanted to offer Team DINOS (that’s you!) something more than what’s on my website and social media, like: an online forum, classes, support groups, a junior prom, and at least one national holiday.

But I know my limitations. I’ve never felt comfortable creating and offering those particular kind of resources. Still, I knew there was a gap and I really wanted to fill it because many of you need more support. I wanted so badly to offer it to you!

So imagine how stinking happy I was when Janet started offering her online class Your End of the Lead last year and I began hearing from her students that they loved it. Janet let me audit the course a few months ago and in all 15 lessons, you could hear me shouting at my computer “Amen!!” and “I meant to write about that for DINOS!” and “Oohh, that’s a great idea!”

I immediately started putting some of her suggestions to use, particularly her calming practices. And not just when I’m dog walking. It’s good stuff for all the time.

 

your end of the lead

This looks nothing like me and my dogs, but HIGH FIVE y’all!

 

Your End of the Lead covers, in depth, a lot of what I just touch on over at DINOS, along with other stuff we never really get into – thanks to Janet’s TTouch and dog training expertise. So if you find DINOS helpful, I think you’ll really dig YEL.

YEL covers everything from understanding your dog’s triggers and thresholds to dealing with other dog owners out in public to learning TTouch wraps and breathing exercises to help you relax. Each lesson is overflowing with information, thought provoking prompts, and exercises for you to try.

Janet is really talented. She put all of this together in such a professional, yet compassionate way.

That’s why I’m promoting the class as an affiliate partner. I feel a deep sense of responsibility to all of you, so I don’t take promotions or sharing other people’s work lightly. I hope you know how much I want things to be better for you and your dogs. I think this class can help many of you.

If you’re stressed out by your dog’s reactive behavior, this course is designed for you.

 

Ready to sign up right now? Don’t let me stop you! Hop on over to the DINOS affiliate page to learn more about the class and register now.

 

Living with a reactive or fearful dog can be really hard and isolating. Maybe you’ve gone to dog training classes already, but found there really isn’t anything out there that directly supports you. Now there is! Your End of the Lead is really special in that it addresses your needs. And you can take the class on your schedule, at home, no matter where you live.

 

Using techniques from Tellington TTouch, coaching, and positive-based dog training techniques the class will:

Increase your awareness of yourself and your dog

Teach you how to be calm under pressure

Show you how to handle your dog with kindness and confidence

Not sure if you should take the class? Go on over to this page and watch Janet’s special video just for Team DINOS to hear more from her about why this class rocks and how the lessons are formatted.  You can also access a free sample lesson on TTouch.

Who is this class for?

This class is for you if any of the following apply:

You live with a dog that is reactive, fearful, anxious, or aggressive.

You want to learn relaxation techniques that you can apply to yourself and/or your dogs.

You’re interested in learning and incorporating TTouch techniques.

You work with reactive dogs, especially those of us that walk them.

You’re interested in becoming a better observer – of our dogs, our environment, and ourselves.

You work with owners of reactive, fearful, aggressive, or anxious dogs and you want to learn new skills to help dog owners stay calm while working with their dogs.

 

I think most folks would benefit from the class. Even if you’re already an experienced dog trainer or have owned reactive dogs for years, I bet there’s more than a few week’s worth of lessons that will be fresh material for you. Like Lesson Five on Limiting Beliefs or Lesson Ten on Practicing Calm. This is not your average class about living with dogs.

But it’s not for everyone. You’ll only get out of it as much as you put into it. There are no magic potions or quick fixes offered in this class. You have to dedicate time to each lesson. You still have to do dog training and management. You have to be interested in exploring your relationship with your dog.

 

Ahh, I feel better already!

Ahh, I feel better already!

 

Thinking about signing up?

 

Just for you! A special DINOS offer:

The class is normally $165. But for the next two weeks, through April 30th, the class is only $99.

That’s 40% off the normal price.

You’ll get 15 lessons that include multimedia teachings, weekly prompts, monthly live webinars with Janet, and so much more.

You’ll even get 6 months of FREE access to her ACE Owners Club. This club has additional resources and mini training challenges, as well as a private community forum where all of her students – past and present – support each other.

Starting May 1st, the class goes back to $165, so why not sign up now and save 40%?

Here’s the thing: even if you don’t have time to take the class right now, you’ll have access to the course materials for a full year. So you can buy it now to save some dough, then start the class when you have the time to devote to it.

Update May 1st: The “early bird” special is now over, but you can still register to take Your End of the Lead anytime! For $165 you’ll get all 15 lessons, monthly webinars, and 6 months FREE access to the ACE Owners Club. A great deal!

Bonus time!

The first 10 people to sign up using the DINOS  link will win a FREE 40 minute, private Skype coaching session with Janet so you can discuss your questions related to the class and your dog’s reactive behavior. For real! Watch the video here and at the end, she’ll tell you more about the one-on-one session 10 lucky people will win.   All 10 spots have been filled!  Thanks to everyone who has registered so far. For those of you that won the free session, enjoy your time with Janet! If you’ve missed out on this bonus don’t worry – there is still lots of opportunity to get feedback and support through the ACE forum and the monthly webinars – all included in the course fee.

 

You can only get these offers – the $99 price and a chance to win a free session with Janet – through the DINOS affiliate link, so be sure to access the YEL registration page through the links provided here, ok?

 

logocompleteyeotl

 

Do you have questions about the class? Take a look at Janet’s class page and watch her video for more info. I’ll do my best to answer any questions you have here in the comments section too. And stay tuned – I’ve got an interview with Janet coming in a few days that you won’t want to miss!

 

 

Calling Team Future Us: It’s Time!

Hello Team Future Us! Did you get your message from Past You yet?

I just did. For those of you who participated, how did it feel to get an encouraging message from yourself? Did you totally forgot that you wrote that note? If you remembered that you wrote the email, was the content of your message still a surprise?

future me



I forgot what I wrote back in September, so it was really fun to read my message today. But hearing from Past Me is a little spooky too, because I only partially recognize myself in these emails.

During a typical day, I’m more likely to hear from that panicky, weepy kid that spins in circles (you met that kid here). But in these Future Me messages I get to hear from a different internal voice that I’m not as familiar with. She’s way more encouraging and almost unrecognizably calm. I imagine that while weepy kid is on the floor in the fetal position, this gal is peacefully sitting at a sunny kitchen table, drinking herbal tea, and petting my cat. She doesn’t own any clothing with zippers.

It was nice to visit with her for a minute today.

Just recently I learned that we spend 47% of our lives lost in our thoughts. Half our lives! We’re always a little here, a little bit someplace else. We’re lost in conversations with all the wackadoos that live in our heads and make a living spewing a non-stop stream of commentary at us.

Sometimes I hear from these guys too.

Some days my mind sounds like these two. It could be worse.



That peanut gallery in our heads is loud. It can be hard to tune in to the present moment. In can be hard to take time out to notice all the things were grateful for in our everyday lives. It can be hard to grab that one positive thought out of a sea of negatives.

Research shows that we need a ratio of five positive comments or events to outweigh a single negative one. Considering all the negative stuff we’re chewing on in our minds, we can stack the deck in our favor by contributing to the positive feedback for ourselves. We don’t have to wait for anyone else to do it.

So I hope that all of you got to visit with a different side of yourselves today, through that note. That instead of just hearing the din of all the anxious or angry or critical voices that we all spend so much time listening to or trying to tune out, that you got to hear something positive and encouraging instead. There is value in purposefully taking time out to care for ourselves through simple acts of self compassion. Maybe writing these notes is one way to do that.

And if your note didn’t do much of anything for you, then let me be the one to say: You’re doing awesome.



Tell me about your experience with Future Me in the comments: good, bad, funny? Will you try it again? 

Please Stop Neglecting Yourself: You’re Too Important To Ignore

I just opened up this month’s issue of O Magazine. That’s right, I love me some Oprah.

They did a lovely feature where they gave makeovers to women who work as founders and program managers of nonprofits. They’re all caregivers in one way or another. I was stoked to see that Sara Alize Cross, founder of Badass Brooklyn Animal Rescue was one of the recipients and that her work on behalf of homeless pets was featured right along side those who run human-focused programs.

Her rescue, founded just two years ago, has saved more than 1,000 dogs. Pretty amazing. I was feeling happy, until I read this part of her interview:

The stress has taken it’s toll. “I’ve gained 25 pounds and have thousands of dollars in credit card debt”, she says. But she has no regrets,”Being able to alleviate suffering is incredibly empowering.”

That broke my heart. Then I read this:

“…I’m really going to try to take care of myself again.”

I felt a wee bit better when Sara acknowledged that she has to make her own needs a priority again. Because the truth is: if helping others is your jam, your own needs have to come first. Not in a selfish, narcissistic way, but in a Put-Your-Own-Oxygen-Mask-On-First sort of way. Self-care is critical to the work of caring for others.

I’ve written about this before. I’m writing about it again because I feel like this notion of self care bucks up against some deeply entrenched ideas we all have about what giving and caring for others is supposed to feel like.

In general, our culture promotes exhaustion, over-extension, and lack of self care as stuff that goes hand-in-hand with helping others. So we wind up wearing our lack of self care as a badge of honor. Proof that we’re doing good work. As if what we do doesn’t count unless we suffer.

Sometimes I wonder: Do we think that it somehow proves  – to ourselves or to others – that we care the most about the animals, if we don’t care about ourselves at all?

So I’m writing this, not as a criticism of Sara or to point a finger at her in any way, but because her story resonated so deeply with me. Just like her, I gained 25 pounds and compromised my financial health when I was working at an animal shelter (and later volunteering with an animal welfare group). I too felt empowered by my work, but eventually I became totally depleted. I kept putting off my own self care. It was as if I believed there was some magic, perfect day in the future where I’d suddenly have free time and everyone else’s needs were totally taken care of and then I could handle my own stuff.  Only that’s a day that never comes – for anyone. Not me and not you either.

Since I didn’t stop to take care of myself, I burned out.  And I can’t stand to see others on the same path I was on.

This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful – as always – for all of you who are on the front lines, taking care of the animals. So, I’m asking that you please please please take care of yourselves. The work you do is so important. You are important. We need you to stick around.

Make yourself a priority. Set boundaries. Say no sometimes. That means sometimes you won’t be able to help an animal or person in need right now. But it will mean that, down the road, you’ll still be around and can help someone else. Try to take the long view.

Know this: You can’t save them all. Or do it alone. Or do it all right now.  No one can.

Neglecting your own needs in order to take care of others isn’t a sustainable plan. You need to fill up your own tank – every day and in healthy ways – in order to give to others day after day.

If you don’t take care of your own needs, you might be a hero, but for only for a very short time. Find ways to take back some of your energy for you, so that you can do great things for a long, long time to come.

You know what I would love to read in O Magazine one day? A founder of an animal rescue who says this:

“I realized that in order to continue doing this important work, I needed to set boundaries and take care of myself first. I exercise, eat right, stay within my budget, and take regular time off to restore myself. I may not be able to help as many animals as I’d like to this way, but because I’m taking care of myself I’m going to be able to keep giving for a long, long time.”

I’d love to see caregivers celebrated – not just for the amazing work they do – but also because they model a healthy balance between giving to others and giving to themselves. I hope one day our culture promotes physical, mental, and spiritual health as something that goes hand-in-hand with caregiving. When working to alleviate the suffering of others and ourselves is considered of equal importance.


P.S. Sara, if you’re reading this: you looked smoking hot in both photos! Go on with your bad self!



Read more:

How to avoid burnout or a breakdown from UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center

My own story of burnout and leaving the animal shelter

What is Compassion Fatigue? 

Simple Self-Care Tips for Caregivers

Books that might be helpful

Q: What Do Cat Pee and Governor LePage Have in Common?

A: They’ve both been stinking up my life this month!

First things first: I don’t know where the month of October has gone. Thanks to a handful of writing-intensive projects I’ve been busy working on for one of my jobs, I just haven’t had any brain juice left over to write much of anything here. Plus there has been cat pee. Cat. F’n. Pee.

There we were at the start of October in a clean house: smelling pretty darn fresh considering three cats, two dogs, and two humans are crammed inside. And then, the cat pee came to visit.

Do you want to talk about how awful cat pee smells? I don’t. But I’ll tell you this: it makes that hot blast of subway station air – the kind that smells like Mole People and foot fungus and ancient space heaters – smell like a summer rain.

cat pee

There are shirts.


I could never catch any of the cats in the act, but someone was whizzing on the dog beds. I didn’t know who to bring to the vet. Here’s the thing about my cats: for ten years, they’ve never had an argument with the litter box. They’re a well adjusted gang of jerks. They roll hard on litter. So when one of them started stinking up the house, I knew it was because they were sick.

Except all three of the stooges were acting fine. I couldn’t tell who the Rogue Tinkler was, until one day when our cat Penelope (pronounced Pee-na-lopue like cantaloupe) looked me right in the eye and unleashed a river of cat pee at me. There was blood involved. We went to the vet that day and saw the first doctor that was available (a dude we’d never met).

Because Penelope refused to give any of her precious pee to the vet, we got sent home with some special litter and syringes, so I could bring them back a sample for testing. Which is how I found myself the next morning, huddled over a puddle of pee with a needle in my hand. The pee was on a shelf. Not in the litter box with the special litter. Collecting cat pee with a syringe is one of those moments that makes me question the choices I’ve made in my life.

Later that day, the urinalysis revealed that she did not have what we expected: a Urinary Tract Infection. So the vet told us we needed to get an ultrasound to determine if Penelope had one of two types of bladder stones or worse, tumors. I asked him a lot of questions. But he felt sure those were the only two possible options: stones or tumors aka cancer aka my cat is going to die.

Here’s what I learned: the next time the vet sends you to a specialist for a very expensive test, ask them these questions:

  • Is this an emergency?
  • How long can we reasonably wait before performing the test? A day or three?
  • Are there medications we can try during that time?
  • What may be causing this issue that is improbable, but not impossible?

Because it turns out, hundreds of dollars I didn’t have later, that Penelope had cystitis, which is basically an inflamed bladder. No stones. No tumors. The treatment was a $5 prescription for Amoxicillin.

The specialist told me that the initial vet we saw probably didn’t think it could be cystitis because Penelope is 10 years old and cystitis usually presents in cats under 10 years old. The specialist suspected it was cystitis (even before she did the ultrasound!) because her 10 year old cat had recently had it too. So she knew that although it wasn’t probable for a 10 year old cat, cystitis was certainly possible.

She was right: One day (of a ten day run) of antibiotics and Penelope went back to normal, peeing in the box, ever since. Woo.

That’s a $400 lesson folks. Yours at the low low cost of reading this blog and imagining me in my pajamas sucking up cat pee in a syringe. You’re welcome. Now excuse me while I go back to doing three hundred loads of laundry and scrubbing every surface of my house. Cat pee. Blech.


Also in October: Governor LePage can go clean a litter box, if you know what I mean. This month I logged into my Amazon affiliate store to add some cool products to share with you (to help me pay off my cat’s ultrasound bill) and found out it had been shut down.

Turns out my super pro-business Governor (and the genius behind the “tiny beard” fashion trend for women) passed some Interwebz tax legislation this summer and now he and Amazon are in some sort of pissing contest, with me and my fellow Mainers in the cross-stream.

lepage

That’s my Governor!


Here’s the deal straight from Amazon’s mouth:

We’re writing from the Amazon Associates Program to notify you that your Associates account will be closed and your Amazon Services LLC Associates Program Operating Agreement will be terminated effective October 6, 2013. This is a direct result of the unconstitutional Maine state tax collection legislation passed by the state legislature and signed by Governor LePage on June 5, 2013, with an effective date of October 9, 2013. As a result, we will no longer pay any advertising fees for customers referred to an Amazon Site after October 6, nor will we accept new applications for the Associates Program from Maine residents.

While we oppose this unconstitutional state legislation, we strongly support the federal Marketplace Fairness Act now pending before Congress. Congressional legislation is the only way to create a simplified, constitutional framework to resolve interstate sales tax issues and it would allow us to re-open our Associates program to Maine residents.

We thank you for being part of the Amazon Associates Program, and look forward to re-opening our program when Congress passes the Marketplace Fairness Act.

So the point of this is to tell you that while my Amazon store still exists (for now), I no longer make any commission on the products you buy through the store. I wasn’t exactly making Crystal, Maybach, Diamonds on your timepiece, Jet planes, Islands, Tigers on a gold leash money from my affiliate store, but I made enough to buy a book here and there. Now it’s nada.

Just figured I should tell you guys in case any of you (MOM) were nice enough to purposely shop in my store to help support my reading-habit. 


Last up this month: I went to the No More Homeless Pets conference the other week in Jacksonville, Florida. I attended a couple of excellent presentations on stress reduction and compassion fatigue. More on that later.  All I’ll say about the conference right now was that the theme for the weekend was “Save Them All.” Someone awesome, who shall remain nameless, pointed out that this rallying cry sounds an awful lot like “Save the Mall” when you say it out loud.

So I spent the conference imagining that me, Jay, and Silent Bob were leading a campaign to save one of our many New Jersey state treasures. Save the Mall!

proud to be a native of Dirty Jerz.

proud to be a native of Dirty Jerz.

And that’s all there is to say about October. 




Team Future Us Challenge

This morning I got a surprise email from someone I know really well. It made me laugh and then my face leaked a little. Even though it was only three sentences long, the email left me feeling cared for and encouraged.

The message ended with:

p.s. you will figure this out!

Who’s writing me such nice emails? Who knows how much time I spend trying to figure it out (“it” being a synonym for my life/my career/the fate of the world/the plot of Homeland)? And that I need to be confident in myself and then learn to let it go?

I’ll tell you who: Me.

Yep, not only do I walk around talking to myself all day, but now I write to myself too.

That’s because I discovered FutureMe.org

future me



It’s the most simple, brilliant idea ever. You write yourself an email and schedule it to be delivered to yourself some time in the future.

You might think it’s dumb to write yourself because you’re soooo smart that you’d never forget what you wrote to yourself in the first place, so duh, who cares if you get an email saying stuff you already knew.

Nope. I completely forgot that I wrote that email. Given, I forget to put on real pants some days, but I’m willing to wager that most people totally forget (the email, not their pants). And more importantly, everyone probably forgets what they actually wrote. The content will be a surprise. Wheee!

Think of how helpful this could be. You could:

  • write yourself monthly emails with your plan and motivations for taking care of yourself.
  • write a letter and schedule it to arrive the morning of a day you anticipate will be challenging. Like the first day of a dog training class you’re afraid of going to with your poopy-pants dog. Or a difficult anniversary.
  • write yourself a caring letter of encouragement, to be read on any random day in the future. You might be surprised at how good it feels to hear kind words, even when they’re your own.
  • write yourself random reminders like: Look Down. Are You Still Wearing Pajama Pants?



I really think this might be a good thing. I want you to do it. So let’s try it together. I’ll call it the Team Future Us Challenge.

This week take a few minutes to write yourselves a letter of encouragement. No beating yourself up. Keep it above the belt. Just write a few sentences to give Future You a boost.

Not sure what to write? Think of some area of your life that you’re struggling with and give yourself a pep talk. For example:

If you have a dog that is experiencing some challenges right now, like they lose their marbles every time a dog farts within 50 miles of your house, you could list a few things that you really love about your dog and a few ways that you’re pretty swell too, such as: Despite the fact that walking my dog is torture some times, I really do love him. He’s a world-class foot warmer, a champion floor cleaner, and an excellent karaoke audience. Also, I should give myself credit for trying so hard and stop comparing myself to everyone around me. I’m doing a really good job. Me and my dog RULE.

Or if your dog is perfect and cooks you brunch on the weekends, maybe you could write about some other aspect of your life where you feel a little less than perfect. Think about what Future You might need to hear. Be kind.

So here’s the Team Future Us Challenge part (that is dangerously close to being Team FU, huh?):

  • This week, write yourself a letter of encouragement.
  • Schedule the email to arrive two months from now on November 30th, 2013. That’s Thanksgiving Day weekend. I bet a lot of us could use a little bit of encouragement around the holidays, right?
  • In two months, we’ll all get an email from Past Us. I’ll post a blog here, so that those of us who want to can check in and celebrate our awesomeness together. Because sometimes peer pressure  a community can help motivate you to do something nice for yourself.



What do you say? Let’s go be nice to ourselves.

See US in two months!

Interview with Patricia Smith: Founder of the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project

I recently wrote about my experience with Compassion Fatigue (CF) and burnout while working at an animal shelter. To learn more about CF, I reached out to Patricia Smith, founder of the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project.

The mission of the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project is, “To promote an awareness and understanding of Compassion Fatigue and its effect on caregivers.” Patricia is a certified Compassion Fatigue Specialist with more than 20 years of training experience. She writes, speaks and facilitates workshops for all caregiving professions.

The interview focuses mainly on CF in the animal sheltering world, but Patricia’s thoughtful answers are relevant to many of you.

Before we get rolling with the interview, let’s go over CF and burnout:

Compassion Fatigue is a secondary traumatic stress disorder resulting from caring for and helping traumatized or suffering people or animals. It is a reaction to the ongoing demands of being compassionate and effective in helping those that are suffering.

Compassion Fatigue is not the same as burnout, though they can co-exist. Burnout can happen to anyone, in any profession. It’s a cumulative process marked by emotional exhaustion and withdrawal associated with increased workload and institutional stress. It is not trauma-related. CF is specific to those who are working with a traumatized or suffering population.

If you work as a caregiver you may experience either CF and/or burnout. Compassion Fatigue has a more rapid onset while burnout emerges over time. The good news is that we can rebound from CF if we address and manage the symptoms (it’s more of a challenge to make a comeback from burnout).

Patricia writes in her book To Weep for a Stranger: “Compassion Fatigue is a set of symptoms, not a disease.”

Some of the symptoms of CF are:

  • Bottled up emotions
  • Loss of sense of humor
  • Chronic physical ailments such as gastrointestinal problems and recurrent colds
  • Substance abuse used to mask feelings
  • Sadness, apathy, no longer finds activities pleasurable
  • Poor self-care (i.e., hygiene, appearance)
  • Recurring nightmares, flashbacks, intrusive thoughts or images
  • Relationship issues and co-worker disputes
  • Poor decision making and problem solving skills
  • Voices excessive complaints about administrative functions

Compassion-Fatigue-Diagram


– Interview with Patricia Smith –


Jessica: Are the professional challenges that animal welfare workers face different than those in other helping professions (nurses, social workers, EMTs, etc)?

Patricia: While many people wouldn’t agree, I definitely believe animal welfare workers have more difficult challenges. This is due to the fact that most animal caregivers go into the work carrying a true love for animals in their hearts. They certainly don’t choose the work because of the extraordinary benefits or high salaries.

I found in my work as training and development manager at a shelter that people enter this field very idealistic, really hoping to make a difference in the way animals are cared for and treated. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long for that bubble to burst. Working with an uninformed public only magnifies how little most people know about the human/animal bond. In the shelter where I worked, the turnover rate was extremely high. It didn’t take long before new employees figured out how disrespectful society is toward not only the animals, but shelter workers as well.

In other helping professions such as health care, social services, law enforcement, teaching or firefighting, the workers are respected and even idealized. This is not the case with shelter workers. Most people believe they are part of the problem since they euthanize animals.

Most often, animal caregivers leave shelter work beaten down and disillusioned. The ones who stay grow the proverbial “thick skin” in order to deal with the negativity they face, day in and day out.


J: I can’t help but think that if compassion fatigue and self-care were taken more seriously in animal sheltering, employee retention rates might be higher, which would allow for staff to stay in the field longer, gaining additional skills, and contributing at a higher level. Any thoughts on employee turnover in relation to compassion fatigue?

P: You have hit the nail on its head! As I mentioned in the first answer, yes, turnover rates are extremely high most likely due to compassion fatigue, so are Worker’s Comp claims and high absenteeism among staff.

I firmly believe when the majority of workers in an organization suffer the symptoms of compassion fatigue, the organization itself takes on the symptoms of organizational compassion fatigue. This includes high Worker’s Comp claims, absenteeism, inability of staff and management to collaborate, inability of staff to follow rules and regulations, and lack of flexibility and adaptability among workers.

Eventually this all affects the bottom line and lack of funds creates another layer of challenges: paying decent wages and benefits, lack of quality in the care the animals receive, inability to retain talented workers – the list is endless.


J: Does management need to make self-care a priority in order for it to be taken seriously?

P: Yes! Turning around a shelter environment that is plagued with compassion fatigued workers is the job of management. Those in leadership positions need to understand and recognize the symptoms of compassion fatigue in themselves and their staff. They must educate themselves and others – that is the first step.

I have been working on creating a new hire guide to compassion fatigue that would be included in every single new hire’s orientation. That is where we need to start – in the schools and in the orientation. If that could happen, animal welfare workers could go into their new positions with eyes wide open. I believe that would make a huge difference in retaining people who care and want to make a difference in the lives of animals.


J: Neglecting self-care care can have negative consequences for the people and animals we care for. For example, compassion fatigue has been linked with ethical violations and impaired functioning. Have you found that compassion fatigue impairs our ability to do good work? If so, are we obligated to take better care of ourselves?

P: Authentic, sustainable self-care is the ONLY answer to healthy caregiving in the helping professions – but mostly in animal welfare. If we are “other-directed,” which means we care for others before caring for ourselves, it takes hard work to learn to become “self-directed” so we can be healthy caregivers. Self direction means that we have personal boundaries, we are able to say “no” without feeling guilty, we know our limitations and we honor them, and we practice self care daily. We need to heal our deep hurts and not allow ourselves to be re-traumatized by the work we choose to do.

We learn to focus only on the mission of the organization – which in animal welfare is to rehabilitate each and every animal to the best of our ability to prepare them for a successful adoption – without drama, without the symptoms of compassion fatigue directing our actions and behaviors. This takes work!!

I think the reason this is all so important in animal welfare work in particular is because the animals pick up on our feelings, emotions and actions. They are super-sensitive to us and how we react to our environment, to each other, and to them. A calm, peaceful environment when they enter the shelter, veterinary office, or animal hospital sets the tone. Nervous, unhappy, frazzled animal workers = nervous, unhappy, frazzled animals. And they deserve so much more!


J: Is there anything we can learn from other helping professions about support and self-care? For example, social workers often participate in clinical supervision or peer group supervision where they can have a safe place to talk about their challenges and learn from one another. 

P: While there is much to be learned within all areas of the helping professions, I don’t believe the necessary sharing is actually happening. And that could be that each profession has its own challenges, difficulties and unique environments.

The one thing I have seen in my 14 years of doing this work is the increased interest in compassion fatigue, its definition, symptoms and causes. I am asked to present workshops often and mostly from animal welfare organizations. I think this is due to necessity. Many shelters are suffering from decline in staff, decline in funding, and increased numbers of animals in their care – I think maybe we are hitting the tipping point. It is painfully obvious that something needs to be done.

My job as founder of the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project is “to get the word out.” Since my background is in journalism, I write on the subject as often as possible to reach as many people as possible. Others are now doing the same. I helped edit a wonderful new book entitled When Helping Hurts: Compassion Fatigue in the Veterinary Profession by Kathleen Ayl, PsyD. She did an excellent job of explaining compassion fatigue and how it affects animal welfare workers. While it is aimed at the veterinary profession, every animal caregiver will benefit reading this book. You, too, are doing an excellent job with this blog to get the word out.

We’ll get there – I know we will. I urge anyone reading this blog to organize a group and begin the much-needed dialogue about compassion fatigue and how your organization can support self-care for staff and management.

greater good

Engaging in regular self-care builds resiliency, which can help us bounce back from the stress of our jobs. The self-care tips above also cultivate happiness. Yay! Graphic from The Greater Good.


J: Some of my readers have started support groups for shelter workers or for families who are caregivers for dogs with behavior or medical issues. Do you have any tips for creating a successful support group?

P: This is excellent news. I have a number of tips to convey to your readers:

a) If you hold debriefing sessions following traumatic incidents at your organization, ask participants to share feelings and not details. Often when we are traumatized by situations such as animal abuse or animal hoarding, we want to give a voice to our pain and suffering. Unfortunately by doing that, we run the risk of re-traumatizing our fellow workers. Talk about how the incident made you feel – sad, frightened, alone, maybe even sick to your stomach. By sidetracking the gory details we are able to identify our feelings and, hopefully, apply our healthy coping skills to alleviate the pain and suffering we are feeling. Healthy coping skills include yoga, walking, massage, meditation, restful sleep, or seeking professional help if necessary. We can also turn to our animal companions for love, understanding and relief. Unhealthy coping skills include alcohol consumption, drug use, smoking, eating fast food, or isolating ourselves from others.

b) Select a facilitator who has both education and experience in managing a group. Managing traumatized/compassion fatigued people can be a challenge of the highest order. A good facilitator will be sure everyone knows the rules, everyone has a voice, and everyone is heard. Time management is also of the utmost importance.

c) Limit the number of participants. A group of 6-10 is ideal. Everyone deserves a chance to speak.

d) Never force a participant to take an active role if he/she declines. Some participants will be able to speak the first time, others will take longer. Be respectful of each person as an individual with specific needs and abilities.

e) Lay down the groundwork for success in the beginning by explaining the rules. If a participant shows an aggressive side or is disrespectful to others, the facilitator has the right to dismiss that person from the group.

 


J: Vet techs, rescue and shelter workers, animal control officers, individuals with pets who are suffering – compassion fatigue seems to touch so many of us. What can we do as individuals to reduce stress and avoid burnout?

P: You are exactly right. Compassion fatigue doesn’t play favorites.

First, are you at risk for compassion fatigue? One way to find out is to take Dr. Beth Hudnall Stamm’s Professional Quality of Life Self-Test (you can take the self-scoring test here). More than fifteen years ago, it was this test that revealed my own high levels of compassion fatigue. This knowledge led me on a path to healing, but it took quite awhile and a lot of education on my part.

I truly believe the number one thing we can do to reduce stress and avoid burnout is to be self aware. What causes our stress? What are the triggers? How do we manage our stress? Or do we?

Stress is too much – too much work, too much pressure, too many deadlines.

Burnout is not enough – not enough time, not enough resources, not enough energy.

When you add compassion fatigue to that mixture, you have a crippled individual – body, mind and spirit.

Self awareness begins with education. Not only learning about stress, burnout and compassion fatigue, but learning about ourselves. By creating a Personal Mission statement (what is my promise to myself?), and following up with a Self-Care plan (start with one goal and make yourself accountable), we can begin the path to healing that will make it possible to continue to make a difference in the lives of our wonderful furry little friends.


J: Beyond increasing awareness and education about Compassion Fatigue, what are a few concrete, everyday ways for shelter staff and management to incorporate and support self-care in their work place?

P: Beyond awareness and ongoing education about CF, individuals need to do the following six things:

  • Create work/home/me-time balance
  • Create a self care plan and make a commitment to yourself to follow through
  • Identify your triggers and stressors that create stress and burnout in your life/learn to manage them
  • Build a healthy support system
  • Take the CF self-tests regularly. CF is never healed and it can creep back into our lives.
  • Raise your Compassion Satisfaction levels.

Organizations can begin to help staff manage compassion fatigue by taking the following six steps:

  • Allow flexibility in work hours
  • Promote breaks and lunch time daily
  • Management must take part and have buy in. Staff learns by example; leadership leads by example.
  • Offer corporate/organization Wellness programs: yoga, exercise, Weight Watchers, smoking cessation programs, time management classes.
  • Hold debriefing sessions following traumatic events
  • Provide adequate pay, PTO, vacation time, and benefits. Make vacation mandatory.


Many thanks to Patricia for this interview and her invaluable work through the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project! Please visit her Facebook page and website for more resources, including self-assessment tests. Her book To Weep For a Stranger is available on Amazon. If you’re exploring CF, this is a great place to start!


For further resources on this subject, please see:

The Humane Society of the United States has a collection of articles on CF

Vets and Vet techs: Continuing education in CF available here.

The American Veterinary Medical Association’s thoughts on CF in the workplace.

12 Self Care Tips for Helpers from Françoise Mathieu

For caregivers of reactive, fearful, or aggressive dogs: TACT resources

11/2014 note: I have a whole new website and more compassion fatigue resources here now!