As much as rescuing animals is rewarding, it can also lead to exhaustion and stress. So, it is VERY important that you try putting yourself first, otherwise, your mental and physical health could suffer, and you won’t be able to continue helping those critters in need. Trust me, I’ve been there, and I just wish the best for every rescuer out there in the world!
Below are six tips I’ve learned along the way that you can put to use and hopefully prevent burnout from rescuing:
1. Build a Team
Having a team is having peace knowing that there’s always someone else you can count on. Even just a team of one or two other people can be a great help when doing rescue work. It took me a while, but I finally found two people I fully trust and can rely on whenever I need some help with a critter, with supplies, etc. They are also rescuers, so they know what it’s like, and sometimes when one of us can’t take an animal in, the other can or knows someone who can, or one will need supplies that the other has, and so on.
If you can afford it, you may also want to think about finding one or two people that you can call for extra help with cleaning and babysitting when you need some time off. Maybe it’s just a couple of hours of work per week, but it’s enough to help you focus on other things going on in your life or to just take a break.
If paying isn’t really an option, you can also grow a list of volunteers in the community with names, phone numbers, what type of animal they can help with and for how long. I’ve come to understand that when it comes to rescuing and taking actual full responsibility for an animal, there are very few people who will raise their hands, but there are, however, always people out there who want to feel useful, like they’re making a change, and who want to volunteer some time.
So, give it a try, ask for volunteers to help out with chores and other tasks, create a schedule and share it with everyone so that they feel a sense of commitment (even if it just for short periods), and also remember to thank them, preferably via a social media outlet where others can also acknowledge their work and encourage more people to join the cause.
2. Practice Saying No
So, this one, I know is VERY difficult to do, but it is probably one of the most important things you can practice to avoid burnout with rescuing. You have to learn how to say no and how to schedule unavailability. First thing you need to understand is that you cannot save all of them, no matter how little you sleep, no matter how hard you push yourself, no matter how much you want to.
Inevitably, once you’ve rescued your first critter, many people will start seeing it as your job, but you must always let them know that this is something you do as a volunteer. Nobody is paying you, and you are not obligated to do the work, but you do it out of love, and you do it when you can. When you CAN. That is the key word.
Now, there are an endless number of posts that are posted every single day on social media asking for help in rescuing animals. The only way to get away from all of this and avoid sinking into depression and stress is scheduling unavailability. How? Easy, make a post explaining that you are currently at your limit in terms of space, time, and money to rescue or take in any more animals, and that you will temporarily be away from social media to focus on your current rescues.
Then go ahead and log out of all your accounts and take the next few days, or weeks, or however long you need to focus on the critters you already have, to relax, and to reorganize. Try getting some animals adopted, and don’t take in any more until some have gone to good homes and you’ve got finances and everything else under control.
You never want to take more than you can handle because in the end, it’ll not only negatively affect you mentally, physically, and financially, but you will also be doing those animals a disservice by not being able to provide them with the food, veterinary care, and attention that they so desperately need and deserve.
I think a lot of us tend to think that running around picking up and dropping off animals, cleaning after them, medicating, feeding, and so on counts as exercise, but let’s not kid ourselves 😉 Putting aside even 30 minutes every other day to go for a walk, jog, do yoga, swim, etc. will really help keep your mind and body stress-free, relaxed, and fit. Something all rescuers could use in their lives.
4. Let Others Help
Letting others help is another thing a lot of us struggle with. I’ve come to realize that it has to do with fear of not being in control and not being able to sort of mama bear protect our rescued critters. It’s perfectly normal, especially after going through such heartbreaking rescues and promising that you’ll do everything in your power so that they never have to suffer or go through anything bad ever again.
But let me tell you, being a lone wolf in this world of rescuing can get very lonely and very difficult without help. I mean, you don’t have to completely relinquish the reins, but you can let people sign up for volunteer activities or tasks such as: taking hyperactive dogs out for a walk in the mornings so that they’re calmer and better behaved; take animals to vet visits; playtime with cats; do some maintenance (there handymen or handywomen out there with good hearts who also want to help); carry out cleaning tasks; give baths; babysit bottle fed critters (especially helpful when you’ve got litter after litter of orphaned critters), and so on.
5. Go Out
Once you have friends and volunteers that are willing to step up and help you out, don’t just go and do some other rescue-related activities, but really take advantage of the time to take part in other things that you also enjoy. Crafting, sports, picnics, going out to eat with friends, I don’t know, whatever it is, don’t leave it out of your life. You really can’t make rescuing 100% of your life, or you’ll end up experiencing caregiver stress syndrome or compassion fatigue, both of which I believe also applies to people caring for animals.
6. Ask for Help
Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask for help. This can be literally anything from donations to help pay for vet bills to asking for old towels and blankets. It can be embarrassing to directly ask for cash, so to say, but there are ways around this. Instead, you can ask people who wish to donate to do so directly at the vets under your specific account $ or name, and that way, neither you nor donors have to worry about anybody thinking it is fraud or anything like that.
Sometimes people also have stuff just buried in their storage rooms or garages that they no longer need and can donate to you. Flea and tick medication, shampoos, toys, bowls. Even prescription medication is good to collect because you never know when an animal will be prescribed something that you already have from a donation, saving you some money.
I truly hope all rescuers out there take some time for themselves, establish limits, and accept help from the community. It is for your own good as well as for the animals that you rescue and love so dearly!