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Exploring Empathy, Compassion Fatigue, and Burnout among Feral Cat Caregivers

In: Society & Animals
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  • 1 University of Texas at Arlington
  • | 2 Texas Christian University
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Abstract

Based on four years of ethnographic observations, interviews, and full participation, this research elucidates the emotional dynamics and consequences of feral cat caregiving across a variety of interactional settings. Such caregiving is often conducted in the context of a lack of understanding from otherwise sympathetic friends and relatives and opposition and stigmatization from others who are unsympathetic to the work. We find that the ability of caregivers to take the role of the nonhuman other facilitates genuine empathic concern, which allows caregivers to provide relatively successful and ongoing care. Unfortunately, the combination of emotional stress and compassion fatigue, combined with frequent setbacks and a substantial dearth of organizational and economic support of caregivers’ efforts, often leads to disillusionment, cynicism, and burnout. In addition to elucidating the social and emotional problems of our respondents, we also offer a conceptual and theoretical framework to guide further research on this and related topics.

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