Compassion Fatigue Strategies for Animal Welfare Workers in Troubled Times

Dr. Lawrence Garcia was ready to get out of the shelter field when he enrolled in Compassion Fatigue Strategies back in 2015.

“I was totally in the gutter when I started the class,” he said bluntly. “By nature of being a veterinarian, we’re in tune to take everyone’s pain. I’m upset when what I do doesn’t work, and it can wear on you. It’s so easy in this field to take on the sadness…but because of this class I have new tools and habits that support me.”

Dr. Sheilah Robertson, who also took the course, shared, “I was personally feeling overwhelmed by responsibilities and began to wonder if I was burned out or exhausted. In class, I was so relieved to find out that I was not alone in feeling overwhelmed. It was very helpful to learn that compassion fatigue is what the instructor called ‘a predictable, normal consequence of working in a helping field.’”

Robertson and Garcia weren’t the only ones who have been helped by the course. 

Since launching in 2015 and being fully updated last year, approximately one thousand students from all types of animal care, welfare, and veterinary settings have enrolled. Many credit the course with helping them to weather the intensity of the past few years since the COVID pandemic began. 

Two coworkers who took the class together right before the pandemic shared, “We took your course based on a recommendation from a colleague and found it really helpful. Some of the skills and insights we gained have really helped us through this tough year of unprecedented challenges at the shelter.”

Amber Lea, a stranding biologist, took CFS in 2022 and shared, “I really appreciated this course and learned a lot of new ways in which to help myself navigate some of the more difficult aspects of my job….I feel like I am back in control of my work life and it’s easier now to remember why I do what I do and focus on the good parts…I feel so much more well-equipped to handle the emotional roller coaster now that I’ve taken this course.”

The strategies and perspective shared in the course were particularly helpful to Dr. Robertson. “It was hard to finally accept I have been ignoring myself for too long,” she said. “This class helped me understand that it is not a sign of failure or weakness to stop, say no, and care for yourself.”

In the course, students learn skills that can help them navigate a variety of work-related challenges, including vicarious trauma, ethical stress, and burnout. By learning to approach these challenges more skillfully, students can minimize the risk of stress injury and increase overall wellbeing. 

Jessica Dolce, compassion fatigue and team wellness expert facilitator

Jessica Dolce, course instructor

“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 hopefulness about the future.”

“The mantra I learned in the course that has stuck with me is: ‘You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf,’” said Dr. Robertson.

Through increasing awareness and learning practical skills the CFS course helps students to feel calmer, more competent, and confident as they continue to meet the increasingly intense demands of animal care and welfare work.

Some may be skeptical if an online class can make a real impact, but students in this most recent Fall 2022 cohort report that what they’re learning is unlike any other training on compassion fatigue they’ve ever been through. The course is affirming their lived experiences, giving them a new perspective, and providing them with beneficial tools to use themselves and to share with their staff.

The course instructor, Jessica Dolce, shared, “In these incredibly challenging times, organizations that want to retain staff will need to increase the support they offer their workers, so that they can continue to meet the intense demands of the work. This course is a concrete way for organizations to offer staff more support and for leaders to care for themselves, so that they can continue to guide their teams through this storm.”

About the Course

This course is eligible for 15 credits of CE for veterinarians in Florida, Certified Animal Welfare Administrator (CAWA), and National Animal Control Association (NACA). The course begins February 6, 2023 and runs through April 20, 2023 (8 weeks).

Students typically spend an average of 2 hours per week (15-20 minutes a day) moving through the 4 learning modules of this course. This equates to about 1 module every 2 weeks, for a total of 8 weeks. Designed for busy professionals, this online course is available 24/7 and self-paced for the flexibility you need. You’ll have access to all of the class materials on day one and then you can do the work at your own speed.

Students will also get together for 4 live calls to practice stress reduction and mindfulness techniques – this is like 4 hours of self-care, built right into the class. Plus, we talk about what we’re learning and experiencing on the discussion boards – so there’s daily support from Jessica!  Calls will be recorded and shared for those unable to attend the live sessions.

Register for the Spring 2023 session now to save! Early Registration Fee: $200 through 12/31/22. Regular Registration Fee: $299 beginning 1/1/23.