Coping With The Emotional Side of Working With Animals

One of the biggest concerns for me when I started thinking about becoming a vet tech was getting too emotionally attached to the animals. In order to keep yourself sane it seems like you need to bring an attitude of professional detachment to every case. Otherwise, the illness, injuries, euthanasia, and distressed owners would break you down quickly.

I wasn’t so sure how I would handle that sort of thing. My own dog, Lacey, died unexpectedly at the age of 7 after contracting lymphoma. Watching her suffer in the final days of her life is something that I don’t think will ever leave me. It was easily one of the most difficult experiences of my life.

Volunteering at Canine Rescue of Central PA has given me the chance to test my ability to cope with the emotional side of working with animals. It’s so easy to get attached to the dogs at the kennel and feel bad for them as they spend day after day waiting for adoption. When dogs finally do find a home, it’s bittersweet.

I went over to the rescue to do my socializing shift this weekend and learned that my favorite pooch, Toby, had found a foster home after spending nearly a year at the kennel. I had tried to foster Toby myself, but the apartment complex I live in has breed restrictions which include pit bull mixes (a whole other story). At first I was caught off guard by the sudden fact that I wouldn’t be able to play with Toby any more, and that I didn’t even have a chance to say goodbye. But those feelings were quickly replaced by happiness. Toby’s finally going to get the attention and healthy lifestyle he deserves.

It’s very easy to focus on the negative when you work with animals. There are plenty of sad stories, and if you feel any sympathy at all it’s tough to not to let these things get to you. What I’m gradually learning is that although there’s always something to feel bad about, it’s not hard to find a silver lining. Deep down I really understand that what I’m doing is helping these animals to feel more comfortable, no matter to how small of a degree, while they wait for a home. A shelter may seem like a prison for dogs, but consider the alternative. Are they really better off fending for themselves, without shelter, consistent meals, vet care, and daily human contact? Obviously not.

I’m sure I’m going to see some extremely difficult cases as a vet tech. That’s why I’m happy that my volunteering experience is helping to create the right attitude and mindset. I might have to witness some pretty awful things (from an animal lover’s perspective), but at the end of the day I know I’m doing this to help. Once you feel that in your bones, it’s hard to beat yourself up over the sad cases.

2 thoughts on “Coping With The Emotional Side of Working With Animals

  1. Trinity

    this is how I feel as im working to become a vet tech I want to help in shelter and my family knows im a softy and will do anything to help animals . but I tell them at least they see that not all humans will treat them badly and the will see even if a little bit of happiness in their last days.

  2. Maricela

    This article was everything! I graduated five years ago and all I could think of doing was any work related to animals. I never really pushed my schooling for vet tech due to the fact that I am a very emotional person when it comes to animals. I cant even hear the song on tv about pets being abused and abandoned because tears instantly form and fall. This has scared me into five years of holding back…. As much as I love animals, I have no clue if im strong enough to deal with all the hurt I will most likely see. Working with animals is all I can see myself doing, its what I love most but my fear is getting in the way.


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