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To Save a Starfish: A Compassion-Fatigue Workbook for the Animal-Welfare Warrior (Book Review)

Several of us who have animals as pets also volunteer or work in the animal welfare field at some point. You might give your time to an animal rescue or shelter, veterinarian clinic or hospital, or even animal control.

Whatever your role, if you intend to stay in the field, you should consider adding “To Save a Starfish” by Jennifer A. Blough to your reading list.

Burnout and Compassion Fatigue

To Save a Starfish: A Compassion-Fatigue Workbook for the Animal-Welfare Warrior is a self-care workbook designed to help its readers recognize the warning signs of burnout and compassion fatigue, and learn how to manage the stress that is often a part of the animal welfare field.

Blough defines burnout as the feeling that there will always be more to do and that one will never be able to do enough. She believes that the feeling of burnout builds gradually and can happen in any job.

Blough defines compassion fatigue as a slow accumulation of traumas. These traumas might be the euthanasia of animals, seeing animals suffer, or even losing your bond with an animal who gets adopted. She believes compassion fatigue can happen suddenly without warning and typically happens in the service field.

Tools for Stress Management

A starfish in the sand next to the water
Blough defines compassion fatigue as a slow accumulation of traumas. (Photo by Pedro Lastra on Unsplash)

Blough’s workbook is divided into three sections:

  • The first section defines burnout and compassion fatigue, describes the warning signs, provides statistics about its impact on animal welfare professionals, and explains why this topic is important.
  • The second section forms the bulk of the workbook, and describes tools for stress management.
  • The final section overviews the basic principles of health care such as nutrition and exercise, talks about why boundaries are crucial, and describes sources of support.

Because no one tool will work for every purpose, it’s good to have many of them at your fingertips. Section two contains 24 tools! Of course, everyone is also different in how they use tools, and so some of Blough’s ideas will work better than others for you. Case in point, I most appreciated her suggestions on how to handle intrusive and obsessive negative thoughts. You might find of most use her techniques for learning to relax or to be active.

If you’ve attended any webinars on the topic of burnout and compassion fatigue, you’ll probably find that some of Blough’s book is redundant. Also, section three missed the mark for me. It focused too much on general principles of health. I also wish that Blough had talked more about the benefits of finding support from friends with a common passion.

These shortcomings aside, I like Blough’s book. It’s easy to read and Blough is an empathetic writer. She’s also knowledgeable about the field, from having experienced both burnout and compassion fatigue, and from running a counseling center. “To Save a Starfish” has been a valuable reference to me and could be to you too.

About the Reviewer

Logo: Allison Helps Cats - Cat Behavior Consultant & Trainer
©Allison Hunter-Frederick

Allison Hunter-Frederick is a Certified Cat Behavior Consultant, Trainer, and Educator. She is also the mother of three fur kids and several revolving foster cats, host mom to international students, and wife of a supportive husband. Through her business Allison Helps Cats LLC, she uses her knowledge of cats to help cat owners and animal shelters with their cat behavior needs. Allison is a member of the Pet Professional Guild Feline Committee, and enjoys reading and reviewing books.

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