The SPCA has been leading the way in animal welfare and protection in Canada for the past 150 years. But the workers who protect the animals are becoming vulnerable themselves according to Humane Canada.
Barbara Cartwright, the CEO of Humane Canada, says staff at shelters and working in animal welfare across the country are suffering from “compassion fatigue,” which is deep emotional exhaustion brought on by working with those who are suffering.
“It comes with sleeplessness, nightmares a general irritability and unhappiness,” says Cartwright.
Staff at the SPCA shelter in Moncton gathered as a group to speak out about their mental health struggles. Many of the employees have experienced symptoms of anxiety and depression as a result of working with animals at risk.
“I have sat in my bathroom for weeks at a time in the middle of the night crying while my partner was asleep and had no idea,” said Heather Smith, an employee at the shelter.
And Smith is not alone. Diane Gallant is a euthanasia technician at the Moncton shelter, where putting an animal down that is sick or aggressive is a last resort. But she says that her job still weighs heavy on her heart.
“It is not easy for me but it is part of my job, and I try to make the animal feel loved until the end,” Gallant said.
It’s so emotionally draining, she’s been on sick leave several times.
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Cartwright says the problem is being exacerbated by a lack of provincial and federal funding for shelters and animal control services right across the country.
“The smaller ones in small communities are operating on shoestring budgets and so they don’t necessarily have the resources to provide employee-assistance programs or to get the training that their front line workers need,” she said.
Cartwright says it’s due in part to that lack of funding that Ontario’s Animal Welfare Agency will no longer investigate and enforce animal cruelty laws.
She says Canada’s animal welfare staff are overworked, and she fears for their well being
“U.S. data that is coming out one in six animal welfare workers consider suicide or have suicide ideation.”