The animal services sector is a diverse space, encompassing animal shelters, animal protection and enforcement, municipal bylaw enforcement, on-reserve animal by-law officials or portfolio holders, SPCAs, humane societies, animal sanctuaries, rescues, and veterinary services. A challenging feature of the Canadian animal protection and welfare sector is that many organizations are nonprofits, meaning that they rely primarily on charitable donations to fund their operations [1
]. As with other non-profit sectors, animal protection and welfare organizations rely on a mix of paid staff and volunteers to fulfill their mandates. There is overlap in mandates and activities within the animal protection and welfare sector. Animal protection typically includes peace officers and investigators whose mandates involve the investigation of complaints and enforcement of animal-related legislation. This protection and investigation work rests largely on the shoulders of non-profit animal welfare organizations that also engage in sheltering and rescuing activities [1
While recognizing the diversity of roles and organizations within the animal protection and welfare sector, our research focuses on paid workers in animal shelters, animal protection and enforcement, and animal welfare and rescue organizations. We refer to animal protection and welfare (APW) together in this paper to acknowledge the voices of our participants from these overlapping spaces.
We recognize there is a larger literature on the performance of emotions in workplaces, what is known as emotional labour. Professions that involve caring for others, whether it be animals or humans, inherently encounter emotionally challenging situations. Those who work in helping roles are seen as being at a greater risk of developing “stress-related conditions such as depression, anxiety, and compassion fatigue” [2
] (p. 1). Compassion fatigue is the emotional exhaustion and reduced compassion that can result from chronically using empathy when helping those who are suffering [3
Compassion fatigue has been documented in helping professions such as nursing, counselling, social work, family services, and policing. In the nursing sector, for example, workers are at risk of compassion fatigue due to their consistent proximity to tragedy, exposure to suffering and stress, lack of support, and lack of self-care, amongst other challenges [5
]. Correctional workers, firefighters, and paramedics, along with support personnel such as dispatchers, report high exposure to traumatic experiences as part of their daily job, and such exposures have negative impacts on mental health [6
]. Police officers also witness trauma and victimization as part of their day-to-day work, ranging from automobile accidents to victims of interpersonal violence [8
]. Research has illustrated that the stress of the job added to the “costs of caring” for victims increases compassion fatigue among police officers [8
]. Those in the social work sector have similar risk factors for developing compassion fatigue, including providing support to those who have experienced abuse and violence, experiencing emotionally challenging situations, and the general stressful nature of the profession coupled with a deep connection to and passion for the work [13
Similarly, workers in the APW sector are often exposed to animal suffering when caring for sick or injured animals [14
]. Workers may also provide services to human guardians who are emotionally distressed, or grieve with guardians who experience trauma, often on-going, in their lives. Removal of animals (seizure) and surrender are two aspects of APW work where workers observe both animal and human suffering. Animal seizures are typically the result of neglect or violence against the animal, and the animal is legally removed from the owner or guardian. Animal surrenders occur when the guardian can no longer care for the animal and surrenders legal ownership of the animal to an APW organization. Surrenders are always voluntary—some are freely chosen by the guardian, while others are a more difficult decision driven by changing life circumstances or via coaching by APW workers.
Both seizure and surrender can take an emotional toll on the worker and result in negative effects on their well-being. In the personal context, workers in the APW sector have reported “high levels of exhaustion, relationship conflict, poor well-being, sadness, sleep difficulties, and feelings of guilt and anger resulting from their work” [2
] (p. 1), [14
]. In the organizational context, experiencing compassion fatigue can result in “increased absenteeism, reduced well-being, poor work satisfaction, and poor staff turnover” [2
] (p. 1).
In addition to compassion fatigue, the nature of APW work means that workers are also at risk of experiencing burnout, which results from chronic work-related stress. Work related-stresses can be differentiated into organizational stress (e.g., limited resources, heavy caseloads, long hours, and shift work) and operational stress (stress and trauma from conducting the work) [9
]. The main symptoms of burnout are emotional and physical exhaustion, cynicism or feeling detached from one’s job, a reduced sense of accomplishment, and feeling inadequate [17
]. Burnout has been explored in the context of helping and caring professions, including law enforcement [11
]. Organizational difficulties that APW workers face in their line of work increase stress and contribute to burnout, such as difficult working conditions and coworker dynamics, a lack of training and support, poor management, and challenges related to external conditions such as a lack of funding, local legislation, and public apathy [15
]. Animal protection officers have reported how others underestimate, undervalue, and demean the work of APW, viewing APW workers as either glorified ‘dogcatchers’ or ‘unreasonable extremists’ [15
]. Both of these conceptualizations were in contrast with how APW workers viewed themselves, and were discouraging to those already performing a difficult job [15
]. Rault and colleagues document several emotional challenges in APW work, such as witnessing cases of extreme cruelty and threats of violence and actual physical harm to APW workers [16
]. The emotional situations and suffering that APW workers are involved in and exposed to, paired with workplace stressors such as large caseloads, emergency calls, aggressive animals, challenging interactions with people requiring animal services, and environmental hazards [15
], place APW workers at risk for experiencing both compassion fatigue and burnout [23
Though compassion fatigue and burnout have been explored in the context of other caring professions [19
], only recently has research begun to explore the prevalence of compassion fatigue among animal service workers [2
]. Furthering this line of inquiry is essential as findings have shown that APW workers “face consequences related to their jobs, encompassing a variety of mental and physical health problems” such as high blood pressure, depression, and substance use [28
] (p. 96).
Experiencing compassion fatigue, burnout, and their related effects is not only difficult for the individual, but can also have impacts beyond the individual. Compassion fatigue and burnout may negatively impact how a worker interacts with people accessing services, which can “interfere with a worker’s ability to provide an emotionally safe environment, increasing the risk of the person accessing services being further traumatized and compromising animal safety” [18
] (p. 22). As such, this topic is worthy of further exploration, in order to help create more emotionally safe work environments for animal service workers and, in turn, better outcomes for animals and their guardians.
The concept of One Welfare acknowledges these many interconnections between animal and human well-being and the environment [30
]. The well-being of one affects the other, and is affected by the other. It is a “collaborative approach for integrating animal welfare, human well-being and the environment” [31
] (p. 12). Relevant to the current study, the One Welfare framework also acknowledges the links between animal and human abuse and neglect, that poor well-being in one sphere contributes to poor well-being in other spheres. Seizures and surrenders are directly related to the poor well-being of the animal as a result of abuse or neglect, but often include the poor well-being of the guardian [32
]. The One Welfare framework includes the APW workers as well, in recognizing the secondary and compounding trauma of witnessing abuse and neglect.
Providing trauma-informed services is a method within the One Welfare framework that increases well-being for all. At its core, a trauma-informed approach acknowledges that trauma is a common experience; embracing this approach is a way to avoid causing more harm and more trauma to others, and to prioritize well-being for everyone involved. Wilson, Fauci, and Goodman clarify that trauma-informed practice (TIP) is not focused on treatment for the individual trauma, as this is often beyond the scope of human (and animal) service organizations [34
]. TIP is instead centred on delivering services to clients in a way that is appropriate and sensitive to the unique needs of trauma survivors. Increasingly, the benefits of adopting a trauma-informed approach for service providers are being recognized [24
], particularly in the fields of child welfare and protective services [20
] and domestic violence services [34
], as these are two fields in which secondary trauma for service providers is common. Research has begun to show that trauma-informed service settings achieve better outcomes, and show positive impacts on staff [24
]. Hales and colleagues explored the impact of TIP on staff at a non-profit agency providing supports for mental health and substance use issues [36
]. The study assessed agency staff before and after the implementation of TIP, finding that TIP increased staff satisfaction in almost all areas, including direction of the organization and agency values, relationships with colleagues and management, and their connection to the organization [36
]. Key to these positive results was the active role that the organization took in implementing TIP.
TIP includes two elements: the individual, and the organization [34
]. Trauma-informed systems and organizations “provide for everyone within that system or organization by having a basic understanding of the psychological, neurological, biological, social and spiritual impact that trauma and violence can have on individuals seeking support”, and further, “recognize that the core of any service is genuine, authentic and compassionate relationships” [38
] (p. 16). A trauma-informed service provider, system, or organization also realizes the widespread impact of trauma and understands potential ways for healing, recognizes the signs and symptoms of trauma in staff, persons accessing services, and others involved in the system, and responds by incorporating knowledge about trauma into their policies, procedures, practices, and settings [38
]. This underscores the comprehensive nature of TIP, and the depth to which both organizations and individuals must embrace trauma-informed principles.
There are six key principles of TIP:
trustworthiness and transparency;
collaboration and mutuality;
empowerment, voice and choice; and
cultural, historical, and gender issues” [37
] (p. 10).
We address the fifth and sixth principles of empowerment, voice and choice, and cultural, historical, and gender issues comprehensively in a separate publication (see [18
]). For this article, we will focus on the first four key principles.
Understanding that APW workers experience trauma in their work, it is important to consider how trauma-informed practices can be beneficial for workers involved in instances of animal seizure, surrender, and abuse. In their professional roles, APW workers provide support to people who have experienced severe trauma in their lives [39
], and this can trigger feelings of helplessness, sadness, and anger. APW workers may also be confronted with threats or violence in their work or have their own histories of trauma, as has been noted in other human service sectors [19
], and/or be impacted by intergenerational trauma [39
An important aspect of trauma-informed practices is ensuring worker wellness and safety, both physical and emotional. Physical safety is widely governed by federal and provincial regulations. Canada’s Occupational Health and Safety Regulations
focuses on physical hazards, such as exposure to hazardous materials and building safety. Provincial workplace regulations, such as in Ontario and British Columbia, have sections that address violence in the workplace with the onus on the employers to have policies in place to eliminate the risk of violence. However, as with the federal regulations, physical safety is the focus in the provincial regulations without mention of emotional safety. Trauma-informed approaches attend to both physical and emotional safety throughout an organization, with an awareness of the stress and trauma that workers may experience. TIP incorporates strong policies supporting comprehensive well-being, utilizes staff education and coaching, and models activities that support workers’ self-care [24
]; in essence, it builds resilience to dealing with trauma. It is important to note the difference between resilience and coping, as this difference is integral to a true trauma-informed approach. Resilience is conceptualized as the positive solutions-based response to negative circumstances using problem-solving skills, supportive resources, and healthy coping practices [41
]. Coping, on the other hand, is a component of resilience, but is limited to managing the emotions and stresses of the circumstance and may include unhealthy strategies [41
]. An organization that embraces TIP prioritizes the more fulsome practice of building resilience among employees with policy and practice, rather than merely providing options for coping with job-related stresses.
Under the One Welfare framework, the use of trauma-informed practice benefits all involved in the animal welfare and protection sector, including front-line staff, animal guardians, and animals themselves. This article focuses on the humans working in APW by sharing their lived experiences and challenges, and highlights the necessity of implementing trauma-informed practice in APW work by demonstrating how trauma-informed approaches can mitigate and prevent these challenges.
2. Materials and Methods
This qualitative study employed an exploratory approach in order to understand the challenges APW workers face when engaging in surrender and seizure processes, and explore how a trauma-informed approach can be implemented in the APW sector to help mitigate these challenges. This study is a component of a larger project conducted by the Vancouver Humane Society [18
], which comprised 28 interviews with individuals with lived experience of surrender or seizure of their animal companions, staff in non-animal-related organizations who incorporated trauma-informed practices, and workers in the APW sector. The study received ethical clearance from Thompson Rivers University (File #102608). This article focuses on the experiences of a subset of 11 participants: those who identified as workers in animal protection and welfare who have experience with the surrender and/or seizure of animals.
Purposive sampling was used as a technique to recruit interview participants. The interview participants for this study were found through Facebook ads, related social media posts, word-of-mouth, and existing personal and professional networks. All promotional communications invited potential participants to contact the research team if they were interested in participating. Within these communications directed at the animal services sector, we asked that potential participants meet the inclusion criteria of experience working in the APW field in Canada, with a minimum of 6 months of experience providing services related to the surrender or seizure of animals, either directly with seizure or surrender situations or with organizational policy related to seizure and surrender situations. The first ten participants to respond to the promotional communications who met the inclusion criterion were selected to participate in the study. One additional participant was included at a later date.
Participants came from an array of animal protection and welfare organizations from across Canada, and included animal investigation officers, front desk and support staff at animal shelters, non-profit rescue agency staff, and animal welfare agency leadership. All participants were paid staff, either currently employed in the APW sector or retired. At the outset of the interviews, the participants were asked about the race/ethnicity and gender with which they identified as a way to gain a better understanding of our participant sample. We share this demographic information as a means to provide transparency and context to the participants and their lived experiences. No further demographic information is shared in order to protect the participants’ confidentiality and identity, and participants are referred to with codes (e.g., P1). Throughout this paper, we use the language that the participants used to describe themselves. The participant group primarily identified as White (n = 10) with one person identifying as Mixed. Regarding gender identities, the APW group were mainly female identifying (n = 9) with one male and one non-binary participant.
All of the interviews were conducted over the phone, with the interviewer calling the participant at a scheduled time. All participants provided free and informed consent before the interview began, and were told that they could withdraw from the interview at any time during the interview, and up to 15 days after the interview. No participants withdrew from the study. As part of the informed consent process, participants were promised confidentiality, given that some of the questions could have resulted in critiques of the APW sector, or their workplace.
Each participant received a gift card valued at $50 CAD for their participation. Participants were given the option to review the transcript of their interview to decide whether they would like to remove or add any information. No participants changed or revised the transcripts. Participants were also provided with information about the research project before the interview began, were given the opportunity to ask questions or address concerns, and were told at the outset of the interview that they were welcome to skip questions and take breaks throughout the interview given the nature of the topics of discussion. At the end of the interview, participants were given the option to receive a list of mental health resources, which included culturally appropriate resources, in the event that the interview brought up any difficult emotions and feelings.
The interview questions were of a semi-structured and open-ended nature, and interviews lasted between one and three hours, with an average interview length of 86 min. The semi-structured nature of the interviews allowed for consistency in terms of the themes covered within the interviews, but also allowed flexibility and freedom for participants to discuss issues of concern or aspects of their work that they felt important. For an overview of the questions that were used to guide the interviews, please see Appendix A
(also see [18
The interviews were fully transcribed using the Wreally digital transcription website, and were confirmed by the two principal investigators and a research assistant. A thematic analysis approach was employed to analyze the interview transcripts, drawing on the process proposed by Braun and Clarke [42
]. The transcripts were analyzed for themes derived from the research literature (e.g., symptoms of compassion fatigue and burnout, and trauma-informed practices), themes suggested by the research questions (e.g., work stresses and ideas for change from participants), and those that arose organically from multiple and iterative readings (e.g., feeling unprepared). While the two themes discussed below encompass varied experiences of the participants, they do reflect shared meanings of participants in the challenges of their jobs and the possibilities of TIP.
The benefits of trauma-informed practices (TIP) have been documented in a variety of fields for service users, and increasingly for personnel in the social services sector [19
]. The current study explored the challenges experienced by workers in the field of animal protection and welfare services, specifically related to the circumstances of seizures and surrenders. Importantly, the challenges, and the necessary changes to address the challenges raised by participants, are mirrored in other service sectors.
Participants in the current study felt unprepared for the realities of their day-to-day work, including the level of human and animal trauma witnessed, the emotional impact of witnessing such trauma, the overwhelming workload, and the structural elements such as lack of individual or community resources. These are also challenges seen in the support services and emergency services sectors [6
Police-focused research into compassion fatigue, burnout, and work related stresses tends to focus on sworn officers and the trauma that they encounter through the course of their regular duties [8
]; however, similar impacts are felt by civilian employees as well [11
]. Burnett, Sheard, and St Clair-Thompson surveyed 605 police officers, staff, and volunteers from a police force in the UK, observing that there were high levels of stress, burnout, and compassion fatigue across the sample, though they did not analyze differences based on job roles [12
]. McCarty and Skogan examined the difference between civilian and sworn officers in a sample of US police agencies, finding that there was a not a significant difference in burnout between the two police roles [11
]. Arluke also included both front line APW workers and dispatchers in his ethnography of animal protection services, finding that both groups experienced cynicism and frustration [15
]. Relevant to the current study, which includes animal protection and welfare workers, these three studies did not limit their sample to law enforcers, but included a diversity of job roles within the policing and APW sectors. This is reflective of the role makeup of the current sample of participants, and the APW sector at large, in which multiple roles encounter stressful events, including surrenders and situations that may lead to seizures. TIP is important to mitigate trauma for all workers in APW regardless of role.
Ezell pointed to the secondary trauma experienced by family service workers and the high caseloads as reasons why TIP was critical for both staff and clients [20
]. Similarly to the subjects of the current study, family service workers also deal with effects of compassion fatigue and stress due to feeling overworked [20
], and the symptoms (taking work home, crying, and emotional outbursts) were similar to the APW participants. High caseloads and their negative effects were also documented in interviews with APW workers in Ontario [23
]. One of the recommendations from the resulting report was an increase in labour resources together with a decreased workload as a means to support both AP workers and animals [23
]. Recommending a relative reduction in workload is not unique to APW, but is a consistent policy suggestion across sectors with high rates of burnout and compassion fatigue [11
]. An adoption of TIP includes a realistic assessment of workload, understanding the trauma that can compound from overwork and lack of time or energy for self-care practices. Given that the AP sector is consistently under-resourced, increasing staff levels represents an organizational-level factor that is a foundational part of adopting TIP. This embodies the key TIP principle of safety grounded in the emotional and mental safety of staff [37
Family service workers also recognize the lack of resources connected to both individual and community socioeconomic status, and convey frustration over the reduced ability to support clients in what they need [20
]. However, there is a key difference in resourcing of APW organizations in that nearly all are non-profit organizations operating with a reliance on charitable donations [1
], as opposed to government-funded family services. While a lack of resources may be a barrier to the full adoption of a trauma-informed approach [20
], within the APW sector, this can be viewed as a space where embracing TIP can help to mitigate the impacts of an under-resourced community and an overworked staff. Under a One Welfare and trauma-informed approach, collaboration between human and animal service organizations is a way to better support human guardians and their companion animals even with limited resources, creating a network of supports rather than relying on a single support. This addresses another of the key principles of TIP, that of collaboration and mutuality [37
The lack of resources and feeling overworked contributed to the forced emotional strength of the participants in the current study. This idea of forced strength has appeared in other studies of the APW sector in relation to high caseloads and lack of labour resources [46
]. Arluke introduces the concept of humane realism [15
], wherein APW workers embrace a realistic understanding of what they can and cannot accomplish within the bounds of their roles. Humane realism is one way in which the forced strength can be managed, through the acknowledgement of the shared end goal of assisting animals in need and working within constraints, such as limited resources and lack of understanding of the difficulty of the job, to accomplish this goal [15
]. However, Arluke is also cognizant of the ways in which humane realism is counterproductive, specifically in how “efforts to manage the problems by becoming humanely realistic, [APW workers] end up reproducing and perhaps furthering them” [15
] (p. 162). This is akin to how participants in this study navigated feelings of forced strength related to overwork; for example, in rationalizing the inability to take time off because the animals may suffer. In essence, this reproduced the problems they identified by forcing a strength in dealing with the challenges of the job. TIP would be beneficial in identifying and addressing the foundation of these problems, such as high caseloads and limited resources that lead to forced strength, and compromised mental health. TIP would also support building resiliency among APW workers in establishing clear policies and practices that support mental health, which would also be connected to the positive aspects of a humane realism.
One reality of the APW sector is the gendered nature of the work, as care work is predominately performed by women [21
], and this is reflected in the sample in the current study. Coulter and Fitzgerald observe how the gendered composition of animal cruelty investigators complicated their jobs and increased work-related stresses. Similar to the participants in our study, the participants in Coulter and Fitzgerald’s research spoke of being unable to show emotion at difficult calls. Such forced strength served a protective function, as showing emotion undermined their authority with involved humans, and forced strength was a way to cope during the difficult and potentially dangerous situation [46
]. However, this added the stress of managing not only the physical and emotional safety concerns at a given call, but also the interpersonal dynamic in which insults or threats were directly related to gender-established conditions for compassion fatigue and burnout [46
]. This is similar to the current study where participants, mostly female, were subjected to threats and insults. While our sample in the current study is not large enough to perform a gendered analysis, the experiences of participants are reflected in existing research. Other studies have also noted the gendered nature of APW work [21
]. In her study of animal shelter workers, Taylor observed that anger and hostility towards individuals who abused, neglected, or surrendered their animals were generally not well masked in interactions with the public, and empathy and compassion were reserved for the animals [47
]. Taylor noted that these emotional displays contradicted the ‘softer emotions’ expected from women, but served a purpose in managing the challenges of APW work. An implementation of TIP should hold space for APW workers to express the range of emotions, acknowledge the unique gendered experiences of staff, and establish processes to support emotional and physical safety.
Training and education are necessary components of a trauma-informed approach [19
]. The need for increased training was a recommendation from all AP participants, both in the context of increased skills to handle conflict as well as tools to support positive mental health. Training and education in preventing compassion fatigue and burnout is echoed both in other works looking at the APW sector [14
] and human services in general [19
]. Civilian police personnel report inadequate training when compared with their colleagues who are sworn officers, and such inadequate training leads to burnout [11
]. Butler and colleagues were surprised that specific training on how to deal with the trauma was needed for students in a Masters of Social Work program, having expected students to be better able to cope given they were drawn to the field [19
]. The assumption of being able to cope with the trauma of APW work was also evidenced in the voices of animal protection officers and the perception of others that “only a hardened person, or one that never cared about animals, could do their work” [15
] (p. 16). In Schabram and Maitlis’ study, animal shelter workers framed their work as a ‘calling’, with many positioning themselves as “uniquely able to bear the burden of shelter work” and describing themselves as becoming numbed or desensitized to the work as a method of coping [21
] (p. 597). This is similar to the forced strength in the current study, with the expectation that because participants chose the APW field, they were able to handle the various challenges of their work. Rault et al. highlight the need for comprehensive and ongoing training for APW, which “include hard skills such as CPR and first aid, while acknowledging the officers’ mental health by offering training and support relating to compassion, fatigue, officer safety, and stress management” [16
] (p. 28). While not specifically named as TIP, the inclusion of mental health-focused training and supports related to job stress are components of a trauma-informed approach. The success of implementing TIP in an organization supporting people with mental health and substance use issues was largely attributed to the comprehensive training program, which targeted not only the principles of TIP, but how these principles related to the lived realities of the job [36
Training and education addresses several of the key TIP principles. Firstly, training in communication and recognizing trauma is connected to the key TIP principle of collaboration and mutuality. This can include collaborating with the human guardian on solutions or needed resources, as well as meeting the guardian where they are at without judgement. Collaboration and communication have been shown to be a fundamental part of implementing TIP in domestic violence service settings for both client and worker satisfaction [34
]. Training and education around communication also addresses the key principle of safety for the guardians, in establishing skills to “promote emotional safety” [34
] (p. 593), through non-judgemental communication and an understanding of trauma. This also serves the TIP principle of trustworthiness and transparency. Building trust through open and honest conversation with guardians about the situation, identifying the strengths and needs of the guardian and animal, and collaborating with the guardian to address the situation all lead to more trust. Transparency is an essential aspect of building and maintaining trust with animal guardians, and can be incorporated as a practice by, for example, being open and honest about processes, procedures, and options in a situation. This built trust can serve to reduce conflict. Such skills also increase APW staff safety as stronger communication skills (along with trust building and transparency) reduces the chance of conflict and stressful interactions with guardians.
A component of trauma-informed training and education is to recognize and destigmatize the symptoms of compassion fatigue and burnout in both one’s self and others, and this includes leadership. Aligned with this recommendation is the establishment of organization-level resources and supports for positive mental health. This meets the two key TIP principles of peer support and safety. Some of the ideas raised by participants in the current study are held as best practice in trauma-informed approaches. For example, debriefing with peers and establishing regular check-ins are two practices that are advocated in implementing TIP for those in social service work [35
]. Police also report the support of peers as being a welcome resource to deal with difficult situations [10
]. For the APW sector, peers could be coworkers or even retired colleagues with a wealth of experience to share. Critically, “organizational trauma-informed structures could include strategies like mental health days, places to exercise or meditate in the work environment, lunch periods that are honored and encouraged, workshops on self-care strategies, or expectations for the workday to conclude once the person leaves the work environment” [35
] (p. 6). It is crucial to the success of TIP that the burden for mitigating burnout and compassion fatigue not be placed solely on the workers. For instance, Tuttle et al. suggest organizational change through incorporating clinical mental health workers into a police force (in trainings, routine check-ins, and staff meetings) as a way to destigmatize seeking mental health support [9
]. APW organizations could establish consistent resources such as social workers or counsellors with specialized training in compassion fatigue and burnout alongside a grounded understanding of APW work. The key is a commitment on the part of the organization to implement TIP in a fulsome manner, which includes policies and resources. Successful implementations of TIP have substantial organizational change as a foundation [36
In the context of veterinary practice, the importance of social support in reducing occupational stresses has been noted [50
], and a supportive team environment has been observed as crucial in mitigating stress and burnout [51
]. A supportive environment can mean different things to different people, and look differently across organizations. For social workers in Kapoulitsas and Corcoran’s research, having an ‘open door’ to debrief with supervisors was an important aspect of a supportive environment [13
]. In the context of the current study, support was defined by the participants as the ability to debrief, support for mental health, open communication about secondary trauma, and generally feeling able to share their emotions. The recommendations from the existing literature together with those from participants in the current study speak directly to the key principles of peer support and safety, in creating an organizational environment where coworkers support each other, leadership models positive mental health practices, and everyone feels safe and empowered in embracing a healthy version of strength.
It is vital to understand that TIP is not a ‘one and done’ approach, nor is it a single coping strategy. Rather, it is a multi-pronged approach with resilience and well-being at the core. In order to create a more trauma-informed organization, multiple polices need to be implemented and work in conjunction. This includes the necessity of a fair workload to reduce and prevent burnout [23
], alongside mental health supports, practices that recognize and mitigate secondary trauma [7
], and positive modelling by leadership [9
]. Similar to the process of building and sustaining resilience, embracing TIP in animal protection and welfare work requires sustained and reflective practice with attention to the myriad spaces that trauma can originate from, and reflection on what strategies are, and are not, effective for the staff, guardians, animals, and organization as a whole.
As with all research, there are limitations with the current study. The sample of APW staff was small at only 11 participants. Given the in-depth nature of the interviews, smaller samples are appropriate for this methodological approach. With a small sample, there is the possibility that different perspectives of others in the APW sector have been missed. However, many of the challenges raised by the participants, such as overwork, lack of resources, inability to take time off, masking feelings of burnout, and compassion fatigue have been documented by other researchers [23
]. This illustrates that though small in number, the participants voiced common concerns in the APW sector.
The lack of diversity in the sample is another limitation of the project, as the participant sample self-identified as primarily White and female. Given that the majority of workers in APW identify as female [23
], our sample is representative of the gender distribution in the field. We believe this limitation is related to two factors: First, the sampling technique that was utilized, in which social media posts and targeted emails were used to seek APW and trauma-informed workers, and potential participants were invited to contact us if they were interested in the study. These techniques pose the limitation of barriers to access, including Internet access, media literacy, and social capital. Second, evidence suggests that in the APW field, workers are predominantly White [52
]. A diverse sector is important to better serve a diverse society, and we can accomplish more through including different perspectives [52
]. This points to the broader importance of addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion in the APW sector. Future research should keep in mind the need for diversity, and employ sampling strategies that better capture the existing diversity within the field.
Activities leading from this study include a document analysis and development of TIP-related training modules. We had initially planned a content analysis of surrender and seizure policies, documents (e.g., surrender forms and information provided to guardians), and standard operating procedures; however, given the small sample, we were unable to obtain sufficient material for analysis. A documentary analysis is planned as the follow up to the current study. We have also developed three training modules for TIP for the APW sector: one on self-care and recognizing and preventing compassion fatigue and burnout, one on implementing a trauma-informed and culturally safe approach in an organization, and one specifically for leadership on implementing TIP grounded in organizational change. A follow up survey and evaluation processes to assess the success of the training are being planned.