By Ashley Dale
I have written this post not to put you off wildlife care but to remind you that if you are aware of how you feel and how you are making others feel, then you can both create a haven for wildlife and for yourself. Remember it is okay to not be okay and if you need help, if you yourself need the rescuing then reach out and your friends, the SWR team and myself will help and support you. This post is also written from my own personal views and experiences and may not be true to every animal carer or wildlife carer.
I have been a wildlife carer for over two years, and I must say I love wildlife care and rescue; it is something that I want to do for the rest of my life. However, being a wildlife carer is not always easy and being aware of this is key when starting your wildlife care training.
Having met and worked with many carers, and being one myself, I have noticed that there are several feelings, such as guilt and stress, that people often feel when caring for wildlife. These factors do not need to have the impact that they have when you are doing such an amazing job such as doing animal or wildlife rescue.
Mindset can be the biggest setback to wildlife rescue and can in fact cause more harm than good to both wildlife and to the people around you.
This is a common feeling and can, if not kept in check, become overwhelming.
Often the guilt in animal care is over an animal that you were not able to collect or one suddenly dying. You will not be able to rescue every animal and not all will survive and that is okay, the sooner you remind yourself of this the better. The Bat Conservation Trust has carers across the country, if you are not available someone else will be. We also say that if a carer is unable to collect an animal that the finder takes the animal to a local vet or an RSPCA. This way the animal, if in a bad state, will get the care it needs no matter what. It is not on YOU to collect that animal, especially if you are not in a good mindset to do so. Your health comes first, and it is highly vital you remember this, especially when driving long distances or working long hours in your day job.
Social life is also important, often carers will feel guilty that they turned down going out to rescue a animal because they were out with friends or family. Being with people, living your life is also what gives you the right mentality and drive to go out and rescue wildlife.
Life also gets in the way, if you are unavailable then that’s ok, accept that, and do not dwell on the fact that you ‘could have’ gotten the animal. It does no favours for anyone and especially not you.
Stress and Anxiety
Life although beautiful can cause many of us stress and anxiety. This can also be reflected in animal care, through feeling stressed over the fact you are not able to get a animal or anxiety over a animal education talk or event that you may be about to do. If you need to talk about how you feel, to feel present and heard then make sure you speak to others. Whether that be your family, friends or other volunteers. If your home life is causing you stress then it is important to remember it is okay to take a break from animal care, to get your head in order and focus.
If you are like me, you love wildlife and want to dedicate yourself to only them. However, life does have a habit of getting in the way and when it does do not resist it. It will be okay, accept what is happening and you will feel a lot better for it. The main source of our stress and anxiety is from the thoughts we have about the situation, rather than the situation itself.
When we can accept things as they are, it frees us from the thoughts. We still care for the animals but in a way that is not harmful to ourselves.
Tiredness and Illness
Many of us during the summer end up taking on way too many animals, which is neither fair for us nor the animals. Along with our daily lives, social lives and workload, it can all contribute to tiredness and eventually illness. If you are ill and/or tired and need to rest do not feel like you cannot ask for help or feel like you have failed in some way. Pass the animals onto other carers.
Your health and well-being are what enables animals to be rescued and cared for. Animals are vulnerable creatures and totally reliant on you, if you are unable to care for
yourself then what use are you to another creature? That is also where mistakes can be made that are avoidable.
Take some time out if you need it and take some ‘you’ time. Sometimes you need to be selfish in order to be selfless and remember that this is totally acceptable behaviour.
Wildlife rescue is amazing there is no doubt about it, what you are doing for wildlife is awesome and many people would not consider taking the time out of their busy lives to go out and rescue, rehabilitate and release a animal back into the wild. Or they would consider it but do not know how they would find the time.
The issue with wildlife rescue is when it becomes a chore, when you see it as a task which you must complete as no one else will, instead of being something that you love and enjoy, you see it as a burden. Where the martyrdom comes in is when you complain about conducting a certain task, for example let’s say you offer to make someone tea, but complain about doing it and then demand a certain amount of gratitude for doing it. It is not healthy for you or for those around you, because the perpetrators of this type of attitude will project negative thoughts and feelings on to loved ones. Yes, there are always animals in need of rescue, but if it becomes a choice between your own and your loved one’s health and the health of the animal then you need to reconsider and find another animal carer to take over.
To reiterate, if animal care becomes a burden to you then I would suggest taking a break from all involvement, even if there are aspects that you still love. You need to take time out and not be reflecting on how you used to enjoy it or how you no longer enjoy it. It is unproductive and does not benefit anyone around you, least of all the animals. Does this make you a bad person? NO! It makes you a practical and rational person, it does not do anyone any good to be doing something if they feel like they must do it.
The death of any animal can be difficult and is sadly something that all wildlife rescuers/rehabilitators experience. At least 50% of the wildlife we rescue will be put down or will die in the first day/days or weeks of their rehabilitation. The first animal I rescued suddenly died out of nowhere, the tiny little pipistrelle I had been rehabilitating for months took his last breath and of course I was devastated.
Now over two years later, having rescued countless animals and have had many die or have to be put to sleep, I still feel sad but it no longer cripples me like it did the first few times. I have not become numb or heartless to it, but merely accepting of it.
Death is part of life, and if the animal that you were caring for or rescued is to die then it is simply his or her time.
This does not make their time with you or on this earth any more or less important, it simply is. The sooner you remember that you are rescuing animals to give them a second chance at life but not to avoid death entirely, the more accepting you are when a animal dies in your care.
Reflecting on your Actions
This is a trait that I have noticed many wildlife carers, including myself, do a lot and not always in a positive way. When an animal dies or is not rescued in time, questions arise in the mind of the carer:
- Did I do everything I could have done?
- Would the animal have died if I had gone to get it?
- If only I had administered this medication…
- If only I hadn’t done that/or this…
These questions and statements are in themselves useless to us and to the animals. If used productively they can be helpful. For example; if there was miscommunication between animal carers and a animal wasn’t collected in time and died, although this is sad, you can discuss how to improve the system and prevent it from happening again.
However, if you use the same situation to blame yourself and/or others and use that blame to project onto others around you, you are not improving the system but causing further issues. You are simply living in past events and this negativity can overwhelm and even become your identity. The way to avoid this is to focus on the present time, what you are doing for the animals in your care now, in this moment rather than what you could have done for a animal in the past. If you think ‘right so that happened but I will make sure not to do that again’.
The best way to explain this an extract from Erkhart Tolle’s book The Power of Now ‘If you make a mistake in the past and learn from it now, you are using clock time. On the other hand, if you dwell on it mentally, self-criticism, remorse and guilt come up, then you are making the mistake into ‘me’ and ‘mine’ you make it part of your sense of self, and it has become psychological time. Which is always linked to a false sense of identity. Non forgiveness necessarily implies a heavy burden of psychological time.’
It can be difficult to forgive yourself and it is easier said than done, but forgiveness is key. Remember all the other things you have achieved and all the animals that you have saved and weigh that up in your mind. Be practical about it, you will not be able to save every single animal and it is an impossible feat to even attempt.
I myself notice my mind being drawn to more negative thoughts about what I have done or rather what I haven’t done, and this can cause an array of emotions. Feel these emotions, observe them but do not let them consume you, you are forgetting the positive things you are doing now, like feeding or medicating that animal in your hand right now, or driving to go rescue a animal in need.
Those moments can be completely consumed by negative thoughts and memories from the past and can take away from the brilliant actions you are doing in the moment.
‘I cannot believe that I will ever reach a point where I am completely free of my problems. You are right. You can never reach that point because you are at that point now. There is no salvation in time. You cannot be free in the future. Presence is key to freedom, so you can only be completely free now.’ – E Tolle.
You may think you cannot let go of a situation that happened during animal care that was negative or upsetting to you, but you can if you focus on what you are doing for the animals at this current moment.
To be the best that we can be we need to make sure we do not eat ourselves up with guilt over what we could have done, to try to focus on ourselves to avoid stress and anxiety. Remember that it is okay to ask for help and to take a break when needed especially when tired or ill. To be aware that you are not doing animal care for gratification from others but because you love wildlife and to be careful that if it ever becomes a burden, to know when to stop. To accept loss as a way of life, that death is and always will be completely out of your hands.
And finally to reflect on your actions in a constructive way, to not dwell on what has happened and focus in its entirety in what is and what is happening now.
I hope this is useful to some of you, it really has helped me in realising that although we say we are wildlife superheroes we are not superhuman.