Respect your animal professionals.
And I mean, respect the fuck out of them.
That is not a kind request. It is a firm demand.
Because I am tired of being nice at the expense of my own well being.
Honestly, I’m just overall tired.
And I learned recently that I’m not alone.
From kennel techs, to animal control officers, to rescue volunteers/workers, to pet sitters, to veterinary technicians, to veterinarians.
I speak on behalf of all of us when I say – we deserve far more credit than what we’re given.
Don’t get me wrong, we have some wonderful clients that we adore and appreciate. These clients know that we are working our asses off, they know that we have their pets best interest at heart, they know that we are underpaid and overworked.
But the ones that don’t. Phew.
The burnout in our field is real and alive. For me personally, it comes and goes in waves. I am currently in one of those waves. And when I’m in one, I drown.
Is this even for me?
Why am I still doing this?
Maybe I should try something else.
I’m not good at this anymore.
The last few days I have been in a burnout tidal wave. At first I thought maybe it was just me, but after thinking for a little bit, I decided to reach out to some friends who all work in animal care. I asked all of them roughly the same question.
“Why do you think the burnout is so bad in our field?”
What I found most interesting about their answers was that despite what field each individual was in, they all had generally similar responses.
So, I have decided to break down for you what your animal professionals want you to know.
Let’s Talk Money
Since a lot of clients love to start off with this topic:
Dollar signs. We are not the money hungry assholes some of you have demonized us to be. The heavy majority of us are struggling to make ends meet – and in order to make them meet we are working extremely long days, taking very little – if any- days off, working multiple jobs, and are still just scraping by.
If an animal professional is recommending something for your pet, it is not because we’re seeing dollar signs. It’s because with our education and/or training combined with our years of professional experience, we know what’s going to be best for your pet. That’s why you came to us, right?
Coming to my next point. Stop telling us that we’re only in it for the money. If I was only doing a job for the money, then there about 3,893 other careers I could choose that would pay me far more than what I make right now doing what I do (which, fun fact, is two jobs so I can pay all of my bills. I’m a vet tech and I run my own pet sitting business). Stop telling us that if we cared about animals, we would give you something or perform a service for free. That is literally not how life works. We got into this because we are passionate about animals- similar to how a mechanic becomes a mechanic because they have a passion for cars. Does a mechanic do your oil change for free because they love cars? Does a detailer clean and detail your car because they accept payment in self satisfaction? No.
They had a passion for something and they turned it into a career so that they could make money, support and feed themselves and their families and pay their bills, while also doing something they enjoyed.
Animal professionals are absolutely no different.
We have a passion for animals. We love animals.
We also love having a basic livelihood, just like any other human being.
At the end of the day, this is still a business. Businesses cost money to run and operate. Pay roll, electric, gas and water bills, certain special equipment, taxes, etc. If we didn’t make money, we wouldn’t be able to even be here to service you.
Please For The Love of God, Listen To Us!
If your groomer tells you they have to shave your dog down because it’s extremely matted – they do not have some weird, fucked up shaving fetish, they aren’t being lazy, and they don’t have some vendetta against brushing a dog. Your dog is matted to all hell and extremely uncomfortable. Your groomer is trying to fix that.
If your veterinarian tells you that your cat needs a specific amount of medication for its hyperthyroidism – it does not mean to change the dosage or stop the medication all together on your own accord, then six months later tell us about it because you felt like it “wasn’t working”. It means that was the appropriate dose for your cats weight/thyroid levels/diagnosis.
If your local animal or wildlife rescue tells you to leave the nest of bunnies alone – it’s not because they enjoy the idea of orphan bunnies. It’s because the mom will be back and you will disrupt the mother and baby bunnies environment by messing with them – which will likely lead to the babies not surviving.
If your trainer tells and teaches you how to “follow up and continue with training at home”, it’s not because they think you’re lazy and need some exercise. It’s because your dog needs it in order to continue with his/her new appropriate behavior, avoid anxiety, and/or live a mentally stable life; otherwise you’ve just spent a lot of money for absolutely no reason and you’ll be right back to square one.
What I’m getting at here is, we kind of know what we’re talking about.
Please stop fighting us on it.
And if you aren’t going to take our advice: fine. But don’t insinuate that we’re ignorant because you’ve heard something different than what we told you. You asked us for our professional opinion. We’ve given it to you. What you choose to do with that information is. on. you.
We Are Not Just Playing With Animals All Day
Will I admit that this is a fun perk to our jobs? Undoubtedly. However, playing with puppies and kittens all day takes up anywhere from 0-3% of our work day.
The rest of the work day consists of running around like a lunatic, taking phone calls, answering emails, faxing and printing, writing records, changing or editing protocols, drawing blood, placing catheters, cutting nails, expressing anal glands, getting bit, kicked and scratched by animals while simultaneously getting screamed at by their owners (I’ll touch on that one in a second), taking x-rays, sedating anxious pets, doing surgeries, calling clients, relaying lab results, bouncing from one house to another, walking multiple dogs at one time, walking one dog but feeling like you’re walking multiple dogs at one time because you’re being dragged in every other direction, administering medications…the list goes on.
We understand that no one enjoys waiting. And believe me, when we’re running behind, we feel the pressure just as much, if not more, than you do – especially now in Covid-World. But if we’re running late, it’s not because we’re shooting the shit in the break room over a cup of coffee. It’s because we just had to euthanize someone’s pet and the clients are still occupying the room saying goodbye. It’s because we had 3 call outs and no extra staff to cover the shifts. It’s because the turnover rate in our field has an annual average of 29.7% compared to the normal annual average of 12-15% in other careers, and that is a vicious cycle contributed to the high burnout we experience. It’s because a dog who we’re taking care of had a giant accident all over the floor and we’re trying to clean it up. It’s because the client to staff ratio is ungodly, yet we are double, triple, even quadruple booking people so that everyone can be seen when they want to be. We miss our lunch and dinner breaks. We work late almost every night and miss out on dinner with our families, birthday parties, and fun events. We devote most of our free time to work. A friend of mine works at a veterinary emergency room, and has worked ten, 12-hour days in a row and stayed late to help alleviate her co-workers stress. This is not uncommon in our field. We are trying our best.
Be Nice, We’re Sensitive
The thing about animal professionals is that most of us are very empathetic, sensitive humans. That’s how we ended up doing what we do.
That being said, we take a lot of things to heart…and back to our homes.
A doctor I work with told me a story about when she was seven months pregnant with her son. A client got mad at her, and told her she was a horrible human and wished Downs Syndrome on her unborn child. She cried in the bathroom for 30 minutes. What’s worse? She started to question if maybe the client was right. Maybe she was a horrible person.
She is one of the kindest people I have ever met.
Her son is now 5 years old. She still carries that memory.
A wildlife rehabber was called an “asshole” because she wouldn’t take in bunnies that a person had “rescued” and being fed human formula for three days. That was because since they had human formula, their chances of surviving were now next to none.
One time, I had to call a women to discuss a negative review she had made online. She told me that my doctor “didn’t know her asshole from a hole in the ground.”
I have been screamed at, demeaned, threatened, told that I was an idiot, a bitch, stupid, I didn’t know what I was talking about, etc.
My old clinic had a client once tell us “you have to put up with my shit, that’s what you get paid to do.”
HA. I must have missed that one in the employee manual.
We are verbally abused every day by the general public, over things that we usually have no control over. We take this abuse home with us. We take these words to heart, because that’s just how most of us are. We question the accuracy behind the fucked up things clients say to us. We cry. We cry a lot.
Not only do we carry the verbal abuse, we take home the physical abuse from the job, too. Animal care professions beat the shit out of you physically. For instance, today I walked 5.8 miles from 8 am until 1 pm – just from walking dogs. Up, down, over, under, giant dog on top of us, us on top of giant dog who has now bashed us in the nose with his giant dog head. Scratches, bites, bruises stitches, broken bones, fractures, sprains, surgeries.
Our job is mentally, emotionally and physically taxing.
We Have To Turn Our Emotions On and Off
This field is not for the weak hearted.
Abuse and neglect cases. Animals that have been starved and are actual skin and bones. Maggots living in an animals body, eating the poor creature alive. A dog that was hit by a train and dead on arrival. Matting so bad that when it’s finally shaved off and laid on the floor, it looks like a rug. Breaking up dog fights. Hurt animals. Euthanasia.
These things stick with us. We see them every day. They break our hearts.
But the show must go on.
There are other animals that need help. There are other clients that have questions, concerns, and needs. We can’t be an emotional wreck and still provide the most upstanding, professional care to everyone we see. We have to throw on our brave face and keep pushing through the day, no matter how tragic it is.
We Need You To Care Just As Much As We Do
Contrary to what some of you may believe, we do care about animals.
We form bonds with every animal we come in to contact with. Most of us have grown up dreaming of the day that we could work with animals. A lot of us have volunteered our time with no monetary benefits to help animals. We care so much.
But we need you to care, too.
We need you to play your part in taking care of your pet, and we will be able to meet you in the middle so much easier.
Follow up on your dog trainer’s training. Do the best you can to get your pet the proper veterinary care it needs. Brush your dog so that your groomer won’t have to shave it down. Listen to your kennel tech when they tell you your dog is anxious. Do your research. Ask us questions and follow our advice when it’s given to you. We can’t force you to do what we think is best for your animal and that kills us. Because at the end of the day – its not you or even us that’s suffering the most. It’s the animal.
The more you care, the easier it is for us to do our jobs, and the stronger our bond becomes.
We are not out to steal your money. We’re not out to give you false information. We’re not out to make your life harder. We are here because we want nothing more than for your pet to live a happy, healthy life.
But we can’t do it alone. We need your help.
The Last Question
I got far more answers than what I’ve written out, but if I continued, this would become a very lengthy blog post. I’m going to close out with this.
I followed up the burnout question with one other question.
“Why do you stay?”
Here are some direct quote responses:
“I continue to groom for the animals as well as advocate for my colleagues and fellow groomers for us to really make our marks in life doing what we love and what we know, which is providing pet health through standard and safe grooming practices as professionals.”
“Easy. The Animals. Helping even just one animal in a day makes me happy and it makes a difference. Hopefully not just for the animal, but also for the owner. It’s always for the animals.”
“I love animals, I love being involved in their care. I love when the scared dogs warm up to me, I love watching the puppies grow. I love the clients who get it. If I don’t stay the animals lose someone to speak for them, to fight for them.”
“My local Target is offering their cashiers $4/hour more than what I make as a kennel tech but I don’t leave because I have a love for all of these animals.”
“I do it for the dogs. The ones whom have been turned away from other salons because they couldn’t handle the animal. With the knowledge, I can successfully groom just about any dog. I get satisfaction helping the animals.”
“I stay because I love the dogs and I love working with them.”
“…I keep going because I love the dogs so much and it’s sooo worth it for the very few clients who DO listen to me, and I see positive changes in their dogs (usually behaviourally) and some clients massively appreciate and depend on me, which means a lot. Also I couldn’t go back to an office job, when I’m actually with the dogs it often doesn’t feel like work.”
“I keep going because I don’t care what they say about me or my team. I’m there to do everything I can for these animals and I refuse to let a handful of clients stop me.”
So, tell us again how we’re only in it for the money?