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Managing Your Rescue .... And Keeping Your Sanity

The following article was contributed by Gotcavies. Thanks for putting this together!

So, you want to become a rescuer or a rescue volunteer? Guidelines on how to help prevent burnout in yourself and fellow volunteers.

Burnout. What is burnout? It means many things. It is becoming depressed over not being able to save them all. It's the attitude you get when you no longer see the good in people. It's a blue feeling that you can't shake. It's deciding to stop rescuing or volunteering. Everyone who rescues experiences burnout. It's a normal part of rescuing. Some get through it and come back to rescuing, some simply are not able to deal with the pain, so they walk away forever.

The number one rule of being a rescuer is you must keep your eye on the bigger picture. Rescuing is not just saving pets. It's not just being a "Saint". It is hard work, and when the reality sets in, many new rescuers and volunteers are not prepared.

The hardest part of rescue is saying NO. No is the most important word in rescue. You are going to say it many, many times. No, to people wanting to give you pets. No to the pets at the shelter you know will die if you do not take into your rescue. No to people seeking to adopt who are going to yell at you and call you names. It is hearing other people around you having to say No and not understanding. You are going to go to bed with a broken heart. You are going to sob yourself to sleep. But if you don't learn that word, you are letting down the pigs already in your house. You will lose your family, your pets, your friends, and your sanity. Crying because you say no is not burnout if you understand that it's all right to grieve for those you could not help, but you can still move forward.

You could your house if you over extend your finances. Take a look at your finances right now and ask yourself honestly. Are you living week to week? Do you have anything in reserve? Do you find yourself having to beg for donations to survive? Life happens. Once in a while, you might run over a rough spot and need to ask, but it should not be every month. If you have to beg for cages to house these pigs, and beg for money for basic care, you need to reevaluate the number you have or even if you should be rescuing at this time. There are going to be many times when you are going to have to pay for these pets out of your own pocket, especially when you are just starting out.

Take Care of Yourself. There is a rule in any type of rescue, be it a car accident or taking in a cavy who needs help. Take care of yourself first. Survey the scene. If it isn't safe, don't enter the scene. Just as you would make sure a car accident scene was safe for you to approach, you must evaluate every rescue situation where you take in a pet. If you take on too much, there will be two in need of rescue, you and the pet. By being safe, I mean being honest.

Before saying yes, ask yourself a few questions. Can you take on another guinea pig with an illness? Even a healthy seeming pet can be harboring disease. Can you afford it and can you take the time to care for this pet properly? Did you recently put out a plea for help with money or do you owe over $100 at the vet? Do you have time to give all of your guinea pigs sufficient floor time? Just the time to clean the cage could be a stressor, are you already feeling overwhelmed by the number of cages you have to clean? Be honest with yourself. If you are already stressed, reevaluate saying yes. Once in a while, we all say yes first and evaluate later. As long as it's only once in a while and we are not overwhelmed already, it's okay. If you are saying yes often with no real of idea of how to care for the guinea pig properly after taking them in, you need to be honest with yourself. You most likely are not taking care of all of your charges as you should be. It's time to relearn the word NO.

Speaking of taking care of yourself first, think about your emotional well being. Are you finding that you are more stressed than usual? Do you feel blue and can't shake the feeling? You need to figure out what needs to change before you get to the point where you are too depressed to try.

When was the last time you stopped and did something fun, for yourself? Just stopped everything and took time for a movie or to go to a park to swing on the swings, or to a baseball game? What were your hobbies before the cavies? Do you do them anymore? Set aside an hour or two a week. If you need a day, that is okay. Just simply TAKE it. You do not need to make excuses, it is time you need to be able to continue volunteering. If the time isn't there or anyone is pushing you to give up that time, it's time to reevaluate because you are in danger of burnout. Burn out doesn't do anyone any favors.

While you are doing your evaluation, evaluate your fellow volunteers. Do you notice that a certain volunteer is becoming more grumpy than usual? Perhaps they seem quieter or sadder than normal? You might notice clues that indicate they are becoming overwhelmed. Please pay attention and bring this up to them, ask them how they are. Often, volunteers will not mention problems at home because they do not want to burden anyone. They might need a few days or a few months off. Make sure they know the "Golden Rule", take care of you first. If there is a volunteer coordinator, bring the problem discreetly to their attention. Please do not gossip about the person behind their back to other volunteers, this can cause more harm than good. Tell someone in charge.

Volunteers. Good volunteers are worth their weight in gold and are hard to replace. You will go through 10-20 volunteers for every good volunteer you get. Take care of them. Try to speak with your volunteers over the phone or by email. Encourage everyone to let you know what's bugging them. Don't assume that someone will "just get over" being upset over something that seemed petty to you. Discuss your reasoning if you made a decision they didn't like. They might not understand why you did what you did, but at least they will know you cared enough to explain your reasoning.

If you are in charge and someone mentions that another volunteer seems stressed, reevaluate the "stressed" volunteer's situation. Don't put it off, this is an emergency situation, deal with it the same day if possible. If you need to, make them take a day or even a month or two off. The people who are in charge of answering the phones and returning calls, caring for ill pets, or visiting the shelters are the at the highest risk of burnout but other volunteers can be just as stressed.

If you don't have floater or multiple volunteers to relieve the people answering the phones and returning calls, turn on an answering machine that says "X day is the only day our phone volunteers get off, as a result, only emergency calls will be returned on this day. All other calls will be returned the following day. Thank you for understanding that our volunteers do this out of love for the pets, everyone needs a day off." You might decide to simply not return the dump calls if you realize that it is too stressful, many rescues do. Say on your message that people needing to place pets can leave an address and you will mail them information on placing their pet, or they can look at the X website for more information.

If you are a rescuer in charge of volunteers, be sure that your foster parents don't have too much on their plate. Burnt fosters are more likely to dump pets back on you. Take every pet in the household into account when you place fosters into new homes, including the personal ones. If a family takes on a new personal pet, reevaluate their load. Did they have a new baby? Are they having problems with finances? It is important that as the "leaders" we stay in touch and make sure that we do not cause burnout in our foster homes by not staying aware of their personal issues. By staying aware, we can help prevent burnout, and help keep problems from happening.

Summer time means more vacations, are you prepared for foster homes to need help while they go on vacation? Encourage your foster parents to try to give you at least a month in advance so that the rescue can make arrangements for the care of those pets.

Holiday months cause people to be more stressed. Families who have large parties at their houses can cause stress in shyer pets. Plan ahead. You might need to find a few more foster parents a month or two before the holidays, or redistribute some of those foster pets a little better so one house is not holding so many or so the shy pets go to "camp" at a quieter foster home for a month or two. YOUR house is part of that foster chain, evaluate your own also. Foster homes are nearly impossible to find in the middle of the holidays, so plan ahead, plan ahead, and plan ahead.

Emergency Plans. Pre-plan an emergency situation and be sure you have the answers. Once a month, think over this scenario, two of your foster homes need the pets taken back within 2 weeks. Do you have a way to work out the snags or are you going to have a problem? If you can't place all those pets safely in other foster homes without overloading anyone, reevaluate the numbers in your foster chain. Say no to any new pets until you are at a more reasonable level.

Pick a day and treat the volunteers. A potluck in the park with a game of softball or volleyball or relay races. Taking everyone to a movie, or just giving out tickets. Maybe just sitting talking about their lives outside of rescue. We forget sometimes to ask about lives outside of rescue.

If you don't do all of the above, you will find yourselves stressed out and unhappy. Unhappy people are not able to interact with the public or with the pets in an appropriate manner, and they make poor judgment calls.

Help is Here. New (and long time) rescuers may find some of the forms, letters, and ideas presented in this section helpful. If you have feedback or ideas to share, please post on Guinea Lynx Forums.

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