Sunday, April 19, 2009
Guarding Against Burnout
Observation: The Shelter receives an endless parade of abandoned, unwanted, surrendered, forgotten, left-over dogs.
I place one in foster here, adopt-to-foster another, see the finalization of the adoption of a third dog, and take another foster home. Four, eight, 10, 25, 32 dogs—maybe a few more—so far this year have come into my advocacy as a volunteer for my county Animal Shelter. I have lost one foster dog to distemper (Queeny, a heeler mix who I nursed for more than a week), returned one foster back to the Shelter (Darla, who bit my own dog) and have seen at least three of my “adoptions” return to the Shelter.
What am I doing wrong? That’s the question that arises—and it is one of the first symptoms of burnout.
For the past two weekends, I’ve not done Off-Site Adoptions, and my team leader coordinator is frustrated with me. Last week, I wanted to celebrate my daughter’s 15th birthday on April 11th, and I had church obligations Friday and Sunday. Plus I had an emergency vet visit.
Yesterday, we had our second day of extremely wet weather—we recorded more than five inches of rain at our house between Friday and Saturday. Many of our Off-Sites were cancelled due to the weather. I could have helped or led one, but didn’t.
This morning, I declined to run an Off-Site because of church obligations. My church services let out at 12:15 p.m. By the time I come home, change and get to the Shelter it is after 1:00 p.m. Getting animals and getting to the local PetsMart can take up to an hour. If I don’t pack up and leave the PetsMart by 3:00 p.m., the Shelter staff leaves before I arrive back at the Shelter. Unloading animals and finishing paperwork takes at least 30 to 45 minutes, and generally consumes an hour. By now it is 4:45 p.m. I’m exhausted, the dogs have missed the feeding time, and in the brief time I was at the PetsMart, I may not have completed any adoptions.
Frustration builds. This is another symptom of burnout.
It was not easy to tell my Team Leader I will not be volunteering Off-Site today. She is frustrated, too. She sees PetsMart locations without our presence. She sees dogs that languish in the Adoption Room. She tries to be five places at once. I don’t want to see her burnout. But the danger is there.
I want to volunteer. I will continue to volunteer. However, I can’t do it around the clock, every weekend. I don’t like to haul six dogs to a PetsMart and do all the set-up and take-down by myself. And on the days there are no adoptions, it is depressing. No matter how many hours we invest, the dogs keep coming into the Shelter.
Our volunteers are awesome and dedicated beyond belief. However, when we crash in burnout, it hurts us and our families. And it hurts the dogs. Succumbing to guilt when we can’t staff every event does nothing to help to the dogs. There will always be more dogs. We have to focus our energy, and pace ourselves for the long haul.
How do you guard against burnout? What works with your group? Please leave me your thoughts.