I recently decided to take a step back from cat rescue. I am burnt out. I was an active part of a rescue group based here in Chicago. I have been volunteering with shelters and rescues since 2004 or 2005 and it simply breaks my heart to step away. However, I realized it was taking a toll on my life in general. I was stressed, I was always feeling guilty that I couldn’t help one more cat, or save one more life. There are thousands of cats who need rescue in this country and I can’t help even a fraction of them. I would see dozens of postings a day on cats who are “urgent” or “desperate” at the kill shelters across the country. Looking into their faces in the pictures posted and I saw the fear and the sadness plastered there. I couldn’t help but think of the stories and individual personalities of each of those poor feline souls and how horrible the experience of shelter life must be for them. I thought of the kitties I have saved over the years and how happy they were. Of course I thought of my own kitties, and the kitties I have saved over the years. And I cried. I cried so hard. Maybe not physical tears all the time, but I cried on the inside. I was sick of having people say “oh, I have a cat. Do you want it?” when I mentioned I worked with animal rescue groups. Tired of having people seek me out just to find someplace for their cat (flattered, but tired. Just because I work with a group doesn’t mean we have room for your cat!)
Aside from the emotional exhaustion and compassion fatigue, I was exhausted from the stress of volunteering. I signed on with a small rescue organization two or three years back, just after I left the large shelter I worked for. I became one of the core team very quickly. It was an honor to be involved and to be such an integral part of a wonderful organization. However, it was also exhausting. There were so many hours that needed to be put in and the work never ends. I do best when I can compartamentalize my life-work is here, cats are over here, friends are over there and so on. Being a core member didn’t give me the ability to do that. It also started to take up more time than I was willing to give. I am trying to market the book I published last winter, make Tails from the Street bigger and write more. With a full time job, five cats (3 inside, 2 outside), I just don’t have time to dedicate to both writing and rescue work.
After much deliberation and many hours waging an internal debate I decided to step back from rescue work. It was a huge decision, and even after I made it I wavered. However, I am sure it is the right decision for me. I can’t save the cats on my own, and it won’t do anyone good if I break myself trying to do good. I am officially stepping away from the rescue group I work with after our large event in October (which I will write about soon). In the mean time I have stepped back from all other duties with them.
In the past few weeks since I actually gave my resignation, I have felt much more relaxed. I don’t have to come home to emails or pending projects for the rescue group. I have one job now instead of two and I can focus on moving myself forward. Once I move forward I will be able to get back to helping even more cats. Yet, last week when I stopped by the shelter I worked for and the vet clinic associated with the small rescue group I volunteered with, I was sad. Sad to not be a part of that life anymore. Saving lives, making a difference in both feline and human lives was so wonderful. But I need a break to build my life away from the rescue scene.
However, not being a core part of an organization doesn’t mean I am done with cat rescue for good. Cat rescue is in my blood. I have been marked by the cats and so, the cats will continue to find me. Perhaps that is why Tuesday, despite being “done” with cat rescue, I paid my first visit to an elderly couple who have six kittens in their yard who need a little bit of TNR. I shared this story with a friend and former co-worker today and her response “so much for taking a break from cat rescue!” Like I said, it’s in my blood; I will never completely be gone from the cat rescue community. Just taking a step back