When it comes to caring for our furry, feathered, scaled and shelled beloveds, the vast majority of us pet parents go way beyond the call.
Who among us hasn’t exhaustively researched how to lay out an enticing litter box or clean out an aquarium? How about that date night that was cut short because we were more concerned about Buster’s tummy than our possibly soiled rug? We even contort our bodies into unnatural positions to fish that soggy rawhide chip (along with a few dust bunnies) from behind the stove.
Okay, it doesn’t take a Rhodes Scholar to figure out that we’ll do just about anything for our pets. Unfortunately, far too many of us pet parents don’t go out of our way to do for ourselves.
Some of us may want to believe we are selfless, eternal givers with inexhaustible charity for all. But that is not realistic, tenable or healthy. In some people, lavish exhibitions of selflessness belie more of a taste for self-aggrandizement than for service: “Look, everybody, at how much I care!”
Even when our hearts are in the right place, the act of relentless caregiving can extract a physical and emotional toll that saps our reserves. Fatigue can breed resentment which in turn can beget guilt. Ironically, ceaseless giving makes us less able to give.
Sadly, I’ve witnessed this many times in the hospital setting, especially with terminally-ill patients. Spouses and families work in shifts, filling their loved-one’s every need that over-stretched staff cannot meet moment to moment. Many are either not aware of support services or do not seek them because they cling to their firm belief that God will see them through.
But, as more than one scripture reveals, even God needs a rest now and then.
So why shouldn’t we?
Caring for sick or dying people or pets is an extreme example, but the core principle is the same. We all need to take a “break” from our loved ones now and then. And that includes out pets, who are among the most dependent on us. That doesn’t mean we’re derelict of duty or “bad” people. We are simply made of the perishable stuff of this earth.
Think of being good to yourself as tending to a wellspring. Without proper care, that “wellspring” will dry up, leaving you and your entire family parched - and blanched of of the very fun-loving energy that togetherness can bring.
So, how do we tend to our “wellspring?”
We can start by giving little gifts to ourselves. From there, we might even allow others to give back to us - to love us. That is what completes the circle of giving.
So let’s go out and spend an extra hour at the bookstore. Sip a cold one with a good buddy. We need to trust that our pets are in good hands with that trusted friend or family member. Or even by themselves.
Think of how much sweeter that reunion will be when we come home.
Click here to learn more about the effects of compassion fatigue on animal care providers.