Many people who work in animal shelters are assigned the difficult task of euthanizing unwanted or unadoptable cats and dogs. The HSUS estimates that 3 to 4 million cats and dogs are euthanized at animal shelters in the United States each year.1 Euthanasia technicians often experience guilt,2 grief, and frustration3 as a result of their job. They are also at risk of experiencing a unique type of stress that is not typical to other workplaces.4,5 At the same time, workers with euthanasia-related responsibilities often feel stigmatized for the work they do, despite the fact that they perform work that is often necessitated by pet-owner irresponsibility and negligence.6
Qualitative research such as employee observation and interviews has provided valuable information about the experience of animal shelter workers. In a study5 of euthanasia-related strain, attendees were surveyed at the annual HSUS Animal Care Expo educational conferences in 2001 and 2002. Of the 491 attendees who completed the survey, 220 (44.8%) reported direct involvement in euthanasia. Euthanasia-related strain (independent from general job strain) was prevalent among animal shelter euthanasia technicians in particular and was associated with higher degrees of overall job strain, work-related conflict with family members, somatic complaints (eg, headaches or poor appetite), and substance abuse and a lower degree of job satisfaction than in other shelter employees. These findings were consistent with those of other qualitative studies2,3 of euthanasia-related stress and strain and with findings7 regarding the negative consequences of job-related stress on health and well-being.
Coping refers to the mental and behavioral changes that people exert to manage specific stressful burdens or circumstances.8 In other words, coping is the manner in which people respond to or otherwise make sense of stressors. This definition implies a thought process; part of coping with stressors involves actually thinking about the problem and its effect on the people and circumstances it involves. In addition, people may change the way they cope over time as they continually reassess their environment.9 Researchers of occupational stress can use several approaches to evaluate coping strategies. Some investigators have examined relationships between personality traits and chosen coping strategies,10 influences of control versus avoidance coping techniques on stress outcomes,11 coping strategies used by new employees,12 and influences of various perceptions of stressors on a worker's choice of coping strategy.13 The purpose of the study reported here was to qualitatively analyze suggestions from experienced euthanasia technicians to new euthanasia technicians regarding strategies for dealing with euthanasia-related stress.
Humane Society of the United States
SPSS, version 16, SPSS Inc, Chicago, Ill.
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AVMA Web site. Available at: www.avma.org/animal_health/brochures/euthanasia/equine/equine_euth_brochure.asp. Accessed Apr 8, 2009.
US Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Library. Animal Welfare Information Center Web site. Available at: www.nal.usda.gov/awic/pubs/Euthanasia07/animal_euthanasia.shtml. Accessed Apr 8, 2009.
Animal Sheltering. Animal sheltering, a program of The Humane Society of the United States. Available at: www.animalsheltering.org/resource_library/magazine_articles/jan_feb_2001/euthanasia_decisions.html. Accessed Apr 8, 2009.
Rogelberg SG, DiGiacomo N, Reeve CL, et al.What shelters can do about euthanasia-related stress: an examination of recommendations from those on the front line. J Appl Anim Welf Sci 2007;10:331–347.
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