Compassion Fatigue Strategies for Animal Welfare Workers in Troubled Times

Young man in t shirt holding a cat.“The past 19 months have been outrageously challenging, and not just because of COVID. In the States we’ve also been coping with political unrest, racial and gender-based violence, and catastrophic weather events. What I want folks to know is that it’s okay if they’re not okay right now. If they feel exhausted, if they’re having trouble staying focused or motivated, that’s a normal response to everything they’ve been coping with for the last year and half.”

Those are the words of certified compassion fatigue educator Jessica Dolce, instructor for the Maddie’s® Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Florida Compassion Fatigue Strategies online course, which has been updated to include new research and resources on empathic strain, moral distress, and vicarious-trauma informed organizational practices. The refreshed course will also include resources to help students cope with pandemic-related stress, such as Stress First Aid skills.

“COVID has significantly exacerbated the workplace conditions that lead to burnout,” said Dolce. “Workloads are up, resources are down, change is constant, and uncertainty remains high. Right now, organizations are either significantly understaffed or are staffed by new, inexperienced workers who have not yet had time to build their competence. This puts an enormous strain on their remaining, more experienced staff, as well as managers and leaders. But when individuals and teams have the resources and tools they need to cope with stress and distress it can reduce the harmful impacts of stress, even when those stressors are long-lasting.”

In the course, students will learn skills that can help them navigate a variety of work-related challenges, including vicarious trauma, ethics strain, and burnout. By learning to navigate these challenges more skillfully, students can minimize the risk of injury and increase overall wellbeing. Increasing awareness and learning practical skills in the CFS course will help students to feel calmer, more competent, and confident as they continue to meet the intense demands of animal care and welfare work.

If organizations want to retain their high achieving staff, they’ll need to increase the available resources to help them meet intense demands,” Dolce said. “This course is a concrete way to offer staff more support. It’s also a way for supervisors to learn how to better support their staff in order to mitigate the impacts of ongoing stress and distress.

The fall course is now full, but the spring course begins Feb. 21, 2022, and runs for 8 weeks. Registration is open now to anyone who works with animals; it is eligible for 15 CE credits and  has also been approved for Certified Animal Welfare Administrator CE. The cost is $200, which is just $25 a week. It is a self-paced course with the exception of four live calls with Dolce. All the calls are recorded for those who cannot attend live.

“This is a chance to get 8 weeks of support and to learn new approaches to coping with stress, so they can keep doing the work they’re passionate about, without causing harm to themselves in the process,” Dolce said. “The world needs skilled, courageous, compassionate animal welfare and vet med professionals now more than ever. My hope is that the people who take this course will leave feeling like they’re not in this alone, that they have practical resources and choices to help them navigate ongoing challenges, and a sense of realistic optimism about the future.”

Interested students can learn more and register at Online Compassion Fatigue Strategies PLUS.