The Cost of Caring: A Visual Exploration of Compassion Fatigue in Animal Shelter Workers
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For the past five years I have been involved in the animal shelter community, but this past year I began exploring the concept of compassion fatigue and its connection to animal shelter workers at Animal Care Services in San Antonio, Texas. Animal shelters are often overlooked when discussing strenuous work environments. However, kennel attendants have one of the highest burnout rates in America and had one of the top three highest suicide rates of American workers as of 2015. I used research article, personal anecdotes, and photographs to explore how shelter work impacts the physical, emotional, and mental state of their workers as well as the animals they house. This profession is often deemed “dirty” and looked down on by society due to its labor-intensive nature, or demonized due to the involvement of euthanasia.
I chose to research this topic visually using photographs. My choice to involve the use of 35mm film, which dictates that I develop and process by my own hands, is in tribute to the work that those in this field contribute every day. A large portion of animals that come into shelters are from cruel and abusive conditions, and the shelter staff are the ones that must face this dark reality head on. Workers are confronted with a variety of situations including animals who are undernourished and severely emaciated to the point of being ‘walking skeletons’, embedded collars and lacerations, and even gunshot wounds. Through this research process I gained a better understanding of what these employees must shoulder every day, and through my images created a dialogue to further explore humanizing these unseen individuals.