Animal Welfare

The Four Phases of compassion fatigue.

Those of us who work on behalf of and who dedicate our lives to animals go through four phases in our career evolution.  As we are unique, so are our individual stories, but we all go through a similar process and, if we survive that process go on to understand that we have achieved what we wanted in the first place.
Phase One — Honeymoon

Red hot and raring to go, we are out to change the world.  We are high on life. We know we can make a difference; that our efforts on behalf of animals will ease their plight.  We work what seems like 25-hour days yet are energized.  Our enthusiasm overflows, our capacity for challenges is limitless.  We eat, sleep and live in the cause for animals.  Our friends don’t understand our obsession and turn away or just fade away, and we let them for we meet new ones.  Some of us though don’t make new friends; we’re too busy working for animals.  Some of us become loners with only our canine or feline companions to keep us from total isolation but we’re content because we have a cause.  In our zeal we tend to affix simple solutions to complex problems — every animal should be sterilized or no animal should be euthanized.  We’re often late because we try to rescue animals from highways and streets.  We think we understand the problem and we know we can fix it if only people would get out of our way.
Phase Two — Depression

Our phase one enthusiasm has turned sour; the bubble bursts and we crash.  We see the same people coming into the shelter with yet another litter — they haven’t heard our message.  We continue to euthanize, there seems no end to it.  Even our friends — those we still have left — don’t understand us.  We can’t seem to reach anyone.  Animals are still abused and neglected; their plight seems unchanged despite all our efforts.  We’ve lost the boundless energy that characterizes Phase One.  We no longer wish to talk about work, don’t even want to admit where we work.  We’re tired all the time.  We go home from work, lock the doors, turn out the lights, turn off the answering machine and close the window blinds.  We’re too exhausted to cook so we scarf fast food, pizza, potato chips or chocolate.  Some of us buy useless objects we can’t afford.  Some of us turn to alcohol for it takes away our feelings of hopelessness.  We ignore our families and even our pet companions get less attention than we know is right.  We seem powerless to affect any of the changes that drove us to such ecstasies of dedication in Phase One.  We have become horrified by the work we have to do.  Even our dreams are filled with the horror.  Every animal we take in, every animal we euthanize is yet another nail in our coffin of defeat.  Somehow we’re to blame for our failure and it’s destroying us; our wall of isolation gets thicker and thicker.  It blocks the pain and the sadness and makes our life somehow tolerable.  We continue on because every now and then we get a spark of Phase One energy.
Phase Three  — Anger

Our Phase Two depression has turned outward and we’re mad as hell.  Hopelessness turns to rage.  We begin to hate people, any people and all people unless, like our co-workers they dedicate their lives to animals the way we do.  We even hate our co-workers if they dare question us — especially about euthanasia.  It occurs to us, let’s euthanize the owners not the pets.  Let’s take everyone who abuses an animal, or even surrenders an animal and euthanize them instead.  Our rage expands to our out-of-work life.  That guy in front of us on the highway, the one who’s in our way, euthanize him too.  We rage at politicians, television, newspapers, our family.  Everyone is a target for our anger, scorn and derision.  We have lost our perspective and our effectiveness.  We’re unable to connect with life.  Even the animals we come in contact with seem somehow distant and unreal.  Anger is the only bridge to our humanness.  It’s the only thing that penetrates our shield.

Phase Four — Resilience

Gradually and over time the depression of Phase Two and the anger of Phase Three become replaced with a new determination and understanding of what our mission really is.  It is big picture time.  We realize that we have been effective — locally and in some cases regionally and even nationally.  So we haven’t solved the problem — who could — but we have made a difference with dozens, even hundreds and sometimes thousands of animals.  We have changed the way others around us view animals.  We begin to see our proper place in our own community and we begin to see that we are most effective when we balance our work and out-of-work lives.  We realize that work is not our whole world and that if we pay attention to our personal lives we can be more effective at work.  We understand that some days we work 14-hours and some days we knock it off after only 8.  We take vacations and we enjoy our weekends.  We come back refreshed and ready to take on daily challenges.  We see that all people are not all bad.  We understand that ignorance is natural and in most cases curable.  Yes there are truly awful people who abuse and neglect animals but they are a minority.  We don’t hate them.  When we find them we do all we can to stop them from hurting animals.  We recognize that the solutions are just as complex as the problems and bring a multitude of tools to the problem at hand and use them any way we can and we begin to see results — one small step at a time.  We reconnect with the animals.  Our shields come down.  We understand that sadness and pain are a part of our job.  We stop stuffing our feelings with drugs, food or isolation.  We begin to understand that our feelings of anger, depression and sadness are best dealt with if we recognize them and allow them to wash over and past us.  We recognize our incredible potential to help animals.  We are, little by little, changing the world.

The author of this article is Doug Fakkema.

Brief Biography

  • January 1971:  Graduated from San Jose State University in California with a B.A. in radio-TV-film.   
  • September 1971:  I walked into the Lane Humane Society (Eugene, Oregon).  Worked in animal shelters 19 years, mostly as executive director.  
  • July 1990:  Began full-time teaching and consulting around the world, 1.8 million air miles.
  • January 2014: Retired from full time traveling and teaching, but continue to teach Compassion Fatigue classes on a limited schedule.

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Animal stories

Lieutenant Dan… A cat’s decision.

The latest news on the Lieutenant Dan saga

Claire Meade at The Cat Hospital oversaw Lt Dan’s treatment from the very beginning; first with the amputation of his seriously damaged leg, then with the lancing of the numerous abscesses that repeatedly formed on his head. Weeks passed when I had to clean the abscess every night to draw out  puss.

Necrotic flesh removed from Lt Dan Abscess

The  decision was made to operate to remove the dead skin around the wound in the hope that his head would finally heal.  This surgery was combined with Laser treatment from Emma Robertson,Veterinary Physiotherapist.

Lt Dan after his operation
Dan undergoing laser treatment

We hoped that Dan could finally be free from pain. Unfortunately this was not to be. Lieutenant Dan seemed determined not to get better. Lieutenant Dan’s abscesses started last October. He had numerous medical tests done, including a test for MRSA, but they all came back negative.  Although the laser treatment seemed to help Dan, he had a relapse in March. 

Lt Dan’s abscesses after his relapse

Claire Meade, however, did not give up hope. She had one last trick up her sleeve. After spending her own time to come up with an answer to Lt Dan’s problem, she treated him for Nocardiosis a form of bacteria that can be picked up from the soil.  Dan faced six weeks of antibiotics, twice daily, coupled with Emma’s Laser treatment.

Dan, all wrapped up and ready to receive his medication.

Within weeks of Dan receiving his new medication he was up and about like  a new cat.

Dan then decided to take the matter of his new life into his own hands. He figured out how to use the cat flap (something that he had never bothered to do before) and returned to his natural feral life. He spent eight months living with us in our house – without the need of a cage once his leg had healed – and played with our cats, but always suffered from his abscesses. He now spends his days in a feral box, or boxes, of his choosing, in our back yard.

Lt Dan peeking over the garden wall

Our cat flap is fixed to the window so I made a special ramp for Dan when he wants to come to visit. He comes in to the kitchen for his breakfast and dinner and, late at night, he sneaks in for a cuddle with Captain Underpants by the fire.

Lt Dan’s special stairs.

I miss him terribly, but I get the odd glimpse of his rear end disappearing around the corner of the house if he sees me.

Lieutenant Dan has made his decision to live his life the way he wants it and who am I to deprive him of this great joy?

Dan playing in the hedge.
Lieutenant Dan cuddling with Captain Underpants.
In memory of

Little Tom

Little Tom was a feral cat who was disregarded by humans all his life.  Nobody would look at him, nobody would care for him.  He was lonely, starving and cold.  Today, he just had enough with this world of indifference and decided to give up on life.

As I was at the Cloyne Veterinary Clinic this morning, a lady walked in asking Sinead if she could help as there was a cat on the carpark who wasn’t moving.  Was it a coincidence that I was there at this particular moment?  I went to the carpark and immediately spotted him, in the middle of the carpark.  A car would have actually had to swing to the left to avoid him.  A woman passed by and prodded him with her foot; she kept walking.  I bent down and wrapped the towel over him.  He didn’t move.  He didn’t struggle when I picked him up, but pushed a terrible cry of pain.  I held him close to me and brought him to Sinead.


I knew he was sick and I could sense his chances at a better life were slim, but we had to try.  Sinead examined him.  His gums were paled, his temperature was low, he was dehydrated and so skinny…  He was so skinny we could nearly circle his spine and his legs felt like they weren’t attached to his body anymore.  Sinead brought in a hot water bottle and put a drip on him; I petted him, trying to give him as much comfort as I could.

When Sinead carried him upstairs, Little Tom pushed another cry, a cry of death Sinead thought.  She made a bed for him and we put him there.  The little Shona , who was rescued only yesterday,was looking at us from the bottom cage asking for attention.

When I left, I didn’t know if I would see Little Tom again.  Sinead told me that she would try but that his body seemed shut down.

At 4 pm, Sinead rang me (thank you Sinead for giving him a chance, for doing all you could and for your compassion).  Little Tom’s situation wasn’t improving; if anything, it was getting worse.  He had given up on life and had decided he had fought enough and that his time had come.  He was put to sleep.

Little Tom probably lived a miserable life, but he was loved and received affection for the last four hours of his life.  However, this is not enough.  There is no reason why Little Tom shouldn’t have received a bit more compassion during his life.  He didn’t deserve it.

Please people, look around you and don’t ignore your ferals.  Offer them a bit of food, a warm shelter and whatever love you have to spare.

The look of hope

Shona was saved, Little Tom didn’t have her chance.  How many more like Little Tom will die this winter?

Their lives depend on you.
Animal stories Animal Welfare

Questions??? (guest post)

After months of having lieutenant Dan in my care and after all the poor cat has been through – he is a true fighter, always scratching and biting at every chance – he stills hangs on to his feral background to the best of his ability.  This morning while having my coffee and smoke, Dan came to me and sat by my shoes.  For the first time in many months I could finally pick him up without him trying to run away, scratch or bite me, it was one of the most rewarding experiences that I could have ever been given.

As I set out to drive to work, just 500 yards from our house I found the mangled body of one of our oldest feral cats that was killed on the road.  Her poor body was just dumped there like it never had any meaning.  Its days like this that I find it very hard to see the reason in doing what we do.  MooMoo our feral was with us for more than 7 years, every morning she was waiting for her food and back again in the evening.  The numerous attempts at socialising her went in vain as she was a true spirit.  Only a few weeks ago she finally relinquished her pride and moved into one of our feral homes.  The only time I ever got to hold her was to carry her mangled body off the road.

RIP Moo Cat