By Peabody Johanson
This week we’re delighted to welcome Peabody Johanson as our guest blogger. Peabody has been an active ambassador for ODH for many years because she has a special place in her heart for old dogs. Peabody and her husband Jason rescue senior/special needs Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and English Toy Spaniels. Peabody is also an incredible fundraiser for ODH; last year she raised over $13,000 for ODH dogs through the Walk for Old Dogs. Please note: When Peabody wrote this article Crissy was still physically with her and Jason, but since that time Crissy’s congestive heart failure caught up with her and Peabody and Jason had to release her from her failing body. All of us at Old Dog Haven send healing thoughts to Peabody and Jason.
If you have been a long time caregiver to a senior dog with special needs, at some point you probably have dealt with Caregiver Burnout or Compassion Fatigue.
My husband and I currently have five spaniels. All three of our cavaliers are seniors with mitral value disease along with a string of many other ailments. We also have two younger special needs English Toy Spaniels. Between them all they take 27 pills a day.
Those of us who have taken on the role of caregiver to senior and special needs dogs have big hearts.
We often put the dogs’ needs ahead of our own and eventually that does catch up with us.
This year due to a variety of circumstances it caught up with me.
First off, in January my husband, who has no risk factors and they still don’t know why, had a near fatal heart attack at age 45. Luckily for him we were playing hockey at the time just down the street from the hospital. He is fine now, but it has been added stress to our life no doubt.
And while I certainly don’t need to be a caregiver for him it did add the stress of making sure he gets all his pills in, gets the recommended exercise in, and eats how the cardiologist wants him to.
Then our dog Mickey was diagnosed with Lymphoma. Then not. Then Cushings. Then not. Finally determined thyroid and that his one lymph node was staying swollen (reactionary to a middle ear infection) and we were finished testing since it didn’t seem to bother him. That roller coast ride started just two weeks after the heart attack and took two months to figure out.
Meanwhile, our dog Crissy is progressing into congestive heart failure. A road we have been down before with our other cavaliers. It is a hard road. A very hard road. It’s a road of wondering if this is the day her heart gives out. Crissy’s gets especially scary because she gets vasovagal syncopes that are caused by her collapsed trachea…she starts to cough and then faints. She usually bounces back quickly y but we have had one dog that never bounced back from one and had to be put down.
We also have the stress of paying for all the vet visits. Our dogs are not Old Dog Haven dogs and therefore all medical expenses for five special needs dogs are covered by us. This is why we fundraise so hard for the Walk for Old Dogs because we know the cost of taking these animals on.
Just when I sort of had it all under control again my husband needed another stent put in and had to go back into the hospital (He is fine).
I hit a wall. I was worried about everyone but myself. It consumed me.
How do you know if you are starting to get burnout or fatigue?
- Some feel physical fatigue and utter exhaustion.
- Some get depressed.
- Some get sick easily from run down immune systems from not taking care of themselves.
- Some are always sad and always on the brink of tears.
- Some get angry. Angry at the world that this is happening to the animal they love.
- Some feel cynical or numb. I personally go numb.
- Some get nightmares or have trouble sleeping. I also have trouble sleeping worrying about Crissy having a syncope during the night.
- Some overeat or drink heavily to cope.
- Some become isolated because they don’t want to leave the animal alone because they would feel horrible if the animal died while they were gone.
It’s good to know ahead of time that compassion fatigue is a possibility so that you know what to look for. But what can you do about it?
Luckily for me one of the side effects of my husband having a heart attack was required daily exercise.
It really does help reduce the stress as well as helping me sleep at night.
This one is hard for me because I’m a light sleeper and I’m a very light sleeper when my dogs are in congestive heart failure. But I do my best to get rest. This sometimes means napping during the day (because my dog only seems to really cough at night). Luckily I work from home so I am able to power nap from time to time.
Again, we tend to make poor food and drink choices when are stressed. My husband and I also changed our diet to plant based after his heart attack and so that also helps with the stress. Though I fully admit to polishing off a pint of vegan ice cream on super stressful days.
JOURNAL OR TALK TO SOMEONE:
Fortunately for me I have a support system of friends who have all sadly dealt with cavaliers going through congestive heart failure. So they are a wonderful support system to lean on when I feel like it’s all overwhelming me. If you are in the rescue world my guess is that there is another volunteer or dog owner who you can reach out to that has gone through something similar and will understand.
If you aren’t into talking, writing a journal is always a good way to get your feelings out as well.
FOCUS ON ALL THE POSITIVES YOU ARE DOING FOR THE DOG/S
Sure, my dogs have limited time on this earth but I’m giving them the best life possible. They are loved and they know it.
Say no to things or people that are adding to the stress of your life. Some stress, like your husband having a heart attack, or your dog’s illness progressing is not avoidable. But negative people or situations you don’t need to be involved in are avoidable. Feel free to say no to both.
DO SOMETHING YOU LOVE:
Yes, taking care of animals is something you love. But what else do you enjoy doing? If you haven’t done it in a while, go out and do it.
Putting yourself first is hard, but if you are not healthy then you will not be able to be there for your dog(s) who depend on you.