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The toll of working at an animal rescue

Shelter workers are generous people, but sometimes, that generosity is stretched, which takes its toll.

D’Arcy Johnson offers staff a package that includes monthly therapy sessions to help them cope with the stress of the job.

Metro File

D’Arcy Johnson offers staff a package that includes monthly therapy sessions to help them cope with the stress of the job.

Many dive into the animal rescue community in Manitoba expecting it to be filled with big-hearted people, then find the humans involved are not treated well at all.

Robin Smyth was one of these people, and she’s had to take a step back from animal rescue. As a vegan, she wants to protect and help all animals in need, but she doesn’t want to have to do that at the expense of her own happiness.

Smyth says she started off by volunteering for a rescue a few years ago, but later left for another rescue because she didn’t feel her time was valued.

“This last episode I had was with a local rescue where I offered to foster, and the dog had a contagious mite. And they placed it in my home without being vetted, and they promised they would vet the puppy before they dropped it off. But they didn’t,” Smyth says.

It turned out to be sarcoptic mange, which set Smyth back more than $100 when her dog caught it.

“(The director) fought back so hard against me, saying, ‘I’m not doing anything to help you out. It’s not my fault,’” Smyth says. 

D’Arcy Johnston opened D’Arcy’s Animal Rescue Centre (A.R.C.) 17 years ago, so he’s seen a lot of the bad. He tries to hide that from the public in the back of his shelter, but volunteers quickly get a look at the worst.

“Up front, you see all the good things, the happy animals that are up for adoption,” Johnston says. “Then you go to the back and you see the animals that just arrived, the ones that were hit by cars, the ones that are having seizures, the ones that people have dumped at our front door.”

He has an insurance package for staff that includes coverage of a therapist session each month, and he holds debriefing sessions after particularly upsetting situations arise at the shelter.

He says if there were more rules and regulations around animal rescue and more co-operation between the rescues, the overpopulation issue would get under control.

Rebecca Norman started Manitoba Mutts in 2011, because there wasn’t an all-breed rescue in the province at that time. She thinks another part of the issue is the lack of stringent laws on spaying and neutering dogs in rural communities.

She says rescues attract people who have been hurt in some way in the past who want to be able to help animals, but they’re not equipped to handle it, which can lead to hoarding situations.

To anyone who wants to help, Norman says do your research to find an existing rescue with a good reputation. 

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