#54 - Valerie Bogie:
Your Self-Care is Enrichment

[00:00:00] Valerie: So, to me, self-care is anything that is helping to bring you back down to your baseline or back to your equilibrium. It is an intentional action taken to increase your well-being.

Self-care is enrichment for humans. It is about building resiliency so you can cope with stress and changes in your environment. It is about identifying how you are feeling and taking steps towards getting back to your equilibrium.

[00:00:26] Allie: Welcome to Enrichment for the Real World, the podcast devoted to improving the quality of life of pets and their people through enrichment. We are your hosts, Allie Bender…

[00:00:44] Emily:  …and I’m Emily Strong…

[00:00:45] Allie: …and we are here to challenge and expand your view of what enrichment is, what enrichment can be and what enrichment can do for you and the animals in your lives. Let’s get started.

 Thank you for joining us for today’s episode of Enrichment for the Real World, and I want to thank you for rating, reviewing, and subscribing wherever you listen to podcasts.

The voice you heard at the beginning of today’s episode was Valerie Bogie. After a 16 plus year career caring for animals in zoos and aquariums, those experiences led Valerie to her current focus on human behavior and support. She is a behavior consultant and the Administrative Manager of Insight Animal Behavior Services in Chicago, a veterinary behavior specialty practice.

Valerie started and continues to lead Insight’s free virtual support group, Living with and Loving Pets With Behavioral Challenges, as well as creating and continuing to co facilitate a free virtual support group for current and former Zoo and Aquarium staff with GRAZE, Growing Resiliency in Aquarium and Zoo Employees.

Valerie is currently pursuing her Master of Science in Social Work, MSSW, with a veterinary social work focus through the university of Tennessee, Knoxville, where she completed their Veterinary Human Support Certificate in 2022. Valerie is also an educator with emotional CPR, which teaches the skills of helping others through active listening. For questions or information about having Valerie lead a workshop for your team or other human support services, please reach out via email, [email protected]. We’ll make sure to put that in the show notes for you.

While this episode is definitely geared more towards our pet professionals listening out there, I think what Valerie talks about in this episode when it comes to grief and quality of life is something that pet parents will absolutely be able to relate to.

The worst part of pet parenthood is that we live longer than they do, which means that we all experience the grief that comes with having pets in our lives, regardless of whether that’s part of our job or not. So, I think this episode is so important and necessary for all of our listeners and that Valerie is an amazing person to talk on the subject of self-care.

In this episode, you’re going to hear Emily and Valerie talk about the difference between a counselor, therapist, and social worker, toxic positivity, exhaustion, burnout, and compassion fatigue and types of grief.

All right, here it is. Today’s episode, Valerie Bogie Your Self Care is Enrichment.

[00:03:28] Emily:  All right, tell us your name, your pronouns, and your pets.

[00:03:31] Valerie: My name is Valerie Bogie. My pronouns are she, her. My pets, I have three dogs. I have Wiley, Mona, and Noodles.

[00:03:39] Emily:  Super cute. I love your, your dog naming game is strong, is strong. All right, so tell us your story and how you got to where you are.

[00:03:47] Valerie: It’s hard to know where to start because I don’t want to bore everyone with the details. I will start, so I went to Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin. I knew going there that I wanted to work with animals and be an animal trainer. So, I was told that you need a degree in science, and you need to do a lot of unpaid internships.

So, that is what I did. I graduated with a double major of environmental science and geography with a biology minor. And after that, then started my animal caretaking career. So, zoos and aquariums for over 16 years, and that ranged from Racine Zoo in Wisconsin to all three facilities in Chicago. So, Shedd Aquarium, Brookfield Zoo, Lincoln Park Zoo, San Antonio SeaWorld, Tennessee Aquarium, and you know, a lot of other things in between.

So, outside of those super cool animal caretaking jobs where I was working with polar bears, or walruses, or penguins, or rhinos and amazing animals, I always had to have a second job because they never paid enough. So, um, on the side, I worked at animal hospitals.

I worked at an animal shelter. I was dog training. I was pet sitting server in a restaurant, all of those things to kind of make ends meet. So, throughout the course of those 16 years and moving facilities, I kept noticing a trend. It didn’t matter what animals I was working with. It didn’t matter what state I happened to be in, there was a lot of underlying trends that just kept showing up. And some of those trends were being overworked. Long hours, little pay to where you have to split your time between another job or have too many roommates that an adult really shouldn’t need to have, and high expectations of perfection.

So, there were bullies, there were cliques, grief without time and space to process it, and a lot more. In many cases, the high level of care we gave to the animals was not given to us. And so, in February of 2021, I walked away from the dream career I had worked so hard for.

I didn’t know what was next, but I knew something needed to change for my own wellbeing. So, fast forward to May 2021, I only got to be unemployed for maybe three months before I was linked up with Dr. Kelly Ballantyne of Insight Animal Behavior Services, started as a part time worker remotely with her, which was an amazing opportunity and kind of fit what we needed to do my husband and I at that time in our lives.

Later that year, I was looking into professional development opportunities and came across the University of Tennessee’s veterinary social work program. And that was it. I found that they had a certificate program. So, it’s veterinary human support, which was geared for veterinarians, vet techs, people in the vet community.

But it was also open to other people like myself that had animal experience in a different realm of that. And I applied, I got in, and that was a yearlong certificate. There was online modules, there was live coursework together, and then we had a project. I was very excited for a project, and uh, the project You could do anything.

And so, I had previous experience with leading support groups. So, my mom who passed in October, had a frontal lobe brain disease called CBD. And I was leading support groups for an organization called CurePSP, and it was for adult children of parents with PSP, MSA, CBD, so they’re all similar presenting frontal lobe brain diseases. And in that community, it was just amazing to me how we, as a group of strangers, sometimes eight people, sometimes 15, decided to click on a Zoom link, show up, never knowing who was going to be there, where they were from, and you could tell things to those people that you wouldn’t tell your own friends and family. It was just amazing to me how safe of a space we could create with such little resources. Um, where it really was a peer led support group. None of us were officially trained therapists or counselors, but just showing up authentically was enough, and the power of that is what I wanted to use for my project.

And that is where I… found GRAZE. So, they are Growing Resiliency in Aquarium and Zoo Employees. So, they are working on mental health things and really the purveyors of that in the zoo and aquarium industry. And so, they’re already doing a lot of really great mental health awareness things, critical response, but also proactive services as well.

And so, I approached them. They’re on board, still leading that support group and co facilitating that with them to this day. And then also wanted to start a support group for Insight as well. So, for the pet owners that have the pets with the extreme behavior challenges of fear, anxiety, stress, and aggression.

That is also still current and ongoing as of today as well. So, I’m very thankful for those virtual communities and the people that just click, “I’m going to show up today. I don’t know exactly what this is.” Cause there’s some people that have never been to a support group ever, and then I have people now that, you know, have been to almost every pet owner group that we’ve had, which is amazing.

So, it’s just a really great experience. And so, after all that, I got the certificate. I knew I needed more, so then I applied and was accepted for the Master’s program at University of Tennessee with the Veterinary Social Work Certificate, which I start next month. So, yeah, that’s, that’s it.

[00:09:37] Emily:  I love your whole story and I also deeply connect with it because I started when I was 11 and I have not had, being a part of Pet Harmony is the first time in my life that I haven’t had at least two jobs. And yeah, have not being paid enough and working so much that you don’t have work life balance is my life story.

So, getting to a place where that’s no longer true feels like not only a triumph for me, but now a passion for like helping other people in the animal welfare world figure out how to not live that life. And that just because you love animals and you want to work with them doesn’t mean you need to live below the poverty line, like that’s, that’s hugely important. So, thank you for bringing that up.

I just want to say thank you so much for doing the work that you do. The world needs more people who are providing mental health support specifically for people in animal welfare professions, but also people who have pets with special needs because I don’t think anybody realizes how challenging that is if you haven’t been through it yourself.

And I think a part of that is because people think of pets as as like lesser, right? Like, “Oh, it’s just a dog or it’s just a cat.” And whether or not you agree with that sentiment, the bottom line is that when you are living it every day and you’re the one who’s responsible for taking care of that animal, and paying for the medical expenses and everything, caregiver burden is caregiver burden, regardless.

So, I, I just, I just had to start the interview by saying, thank you for doing this because it is such important work and, and more people I hope get into this field. You spoke already about how you got here, but what drew you to veterinary social work specifically? In regards to like, their other ways or other modalities for helping people in this job.

So, for instance, I think some people like DogTech and Pet Harmony, we focus on like meeting needs through like financial health, financial wellbeing. So, what was it specifically about veterinary social work that really spoke to you?

[00:11:55] Valerie: So first I had to understand the difference between a social worker, and a counselor or a therapist. A counselor or therapist is a licensed mental health professional that focuses on helping clients directly with the problems that they face as an individual. But social work is so much more.

So, a social worker can be a clinician, essentially, and a therapist or a counselor, and that was what we called the micro, right? Where we’re just really helping smaller groups of people or that one on one support. The macro side of things is everything else, which is very interesting to me.

So, the macro can be helping on a community level. It can be working towards policy change to help vulnerable populations. So, the expansiveness and the flexibility of social work on its own is what drew me in and then realizing that need of people that understand more in depth that human animal bond. Because essentially, veterinary social work is supporting the needs of the human anywhere there is a human animal bond. And so that is my past profession when I needed this so badly for the past 16 plus years. That’s my current profession where we are dealing with, like you said, pet owners that have a very high caregiver burden score, shelter workers, people that are using dogs for therapy, for therapy sessions, equine therapy, cattle rancher, anyone that has a bond with an animal can be helped by veterinary social work.

[00:13:27] Emily:  I love that so much. I am so glad that that field exists because, we were talking about this a little bit before we started recording today, but it’s only been, I’m in my mid-forties and it’s only been recently in the past couple of years that I’m realizing maybe it wasn’t the best strategy to start an animal welfare when I was 11. Because when you’re a kid, you don’t know what’s normal or, or what’s common, or what’s healthy. Like what is just like living life and what is like, no, this isn’t okay, and this isn’t how it has to be, and it isn’t how it should be. And so, I think what happens, at least my lived experience and what probably happens with a lot of people who start when they’re still children, is you just kind of internalize a lot of your, your emotional responses to things and also internalized as being normal, these sort of social structures that are actually really harmful, not just to, to the non-humans, but the humans who are involved in animal welfare.

And so, I’m kind of having to like work backwards and go, wow, my reactions to some of these things, when I say them out loud and realize how traumatizing those things are, but my reaction to it is like, welcome to Tuesday, that’s probably not okay. Right? And that’s probably because I started too young, and your profession did not exist when I was a kid doing, going through all of this stuff. I’m so happy for future and present kids who, who want to enter the animal welfare world really early on and want to learn and get in and do which I think is great and wonderful and exciting, but now they have the support systems necessary to process trauma as it happens so that they don’t carry it with them into adulthood. And maybe, you know, make better life choices, advocate for themselves a little better than I learned to do, right?

So yeah, we are privileged to live in a time when we’re learning more about the importance of mental health, and mental health support, and it is beginning to be de stigmatized. And obviously we still have a long way to go. People still say things like you need therapy as an insult instead of an expression of care and things like that, but I think it’s a good problem to have that mental health professionals are so booked up because what that means is that mental health care is gaining more widespread acceptance, right?

However, one really common trope that I find myself somehow still being surprised to encounter is that there still seems to be a belief or an expectation that any kind of therapy, or any kind of mental health support, any mental health work, is about always being happy, or about fixing yourself, or about getting to a place where you never have any problems. And I find that really sad. Because it sets people up to have really unrealistic expectations, and then feel disillusioned or disappointed when that isn’t at all how it pans out, right?

So, for example, when Allie and I were, this was pre-Pet Harmony, pre-Ellen being a business partner, we’re, it was back in the olden days when we were both like, we had our own businesses, we’re working, running our own businesses as behavior consultants. And we’re doing all this research and writing the book, which was a ton of labor. And we’re building all of these programs that, you know, we now have, are, are in their actualized evolved states. At, you know, at that time we both were very passionate about what we did and we believed in it.

And also, we had no work life balance. We weren’t taking care of ourselves. We were so exhausted that we did kind of hit a state of burnout where we were like old married couples squabbling with each other, and we’re irritable, and we were like, “Why don’t we just quit? Why did we choose to do this profession?”

And I would tell people all the time, like, you know, the people are like, “How do you do it?”

And I’m like, “Well, the only thing that’s worse than doing the thing is not doing the thing.”

And I’m like, is that the healthiest? Is that the healthiest reason to do what you do, Emily? That’s how we, that’s how we got to where we are, not the most, graceful, elegant, like path to be on, but, but yeah.

So, I was talking to somebody who I care very much about and I was telling them, you know, ” Allie and I are a little burned out right now.”

And their response was, “But I thought your whole thing was teaching dog trainers to not get burned out?”

And I was kind of stunned, by how big of a conversation that would have to be to completely shift their paradigm about what mental health means and what mental health care should look like.

So, can you speak to that? How do you help to frame people’s expectations for what mental health care looks like, and what it doesn’t look like, and what, what we’re actually, what our goals actually are in doing this, this work?

[00:18:30] Valerie: That would definitely be a big conversation. And I think it echoes what a lot of people still think about mental health. If I take a walk or I go pay a hundred dollars for a massage, I will be cured. And I think the bottom line is to understand, from a very basic animal level, we can never remove all the stress from the environment, right?

We talk about that with our clients all the time. And it is more about managing the stress, and coming up with ways to work through if they are, they’re over threshold, right? And things like that. So, to me, you can kind of parallel that to what mental health is, right? So, we can never avoid the stress.

And there is now the catchphrase of toxic positivity, but it’s a real thing because it sounds cliche, but without the bad days, how good are the good days? And so, it, to me, is more about finding and coming back to an equal your equilibrium or finding your, your baseline, because that’s different for everyone.

So, as far as kind of framing mental health and, you know, self-care and all the, you know, people just, “Oh, it’s just a bubble bath and I’ll be cured.” And it’s more about the intentions and being intentional with what you’re doing and what choices you are making when you are under stress. And those choices should be working towards coming back to that baseline or that equilibrium. And so, that can be a walk. That can, it can still be a massage, but you also need to recognize your feelings, first. And I think that’s the uncomfortable, itchy part for a lot of people like, “Oh, I have to think about my feelings?” And then you, but that helps you to better decide what you need in that moment.

Because there’s moments, for example, in dog training, let’s say we have a dog that a trigger is coming, you know, so we’re either going to do a U turn, we’re going to do a treat scatter, we have all these tools in place to help that animal through that situation, but what about you? What kind of tools do you have? And there are those times where we just want to go shut ourselves in a room and we don’t want to talk to anyone. There’s those times we do want to kind of cuddle up to someone on the couch and just be. And so, I think a lot of it is just trying to find the tools that are going to work for you. And it’s not everyday sunshine and rainbows, because that’s not realistic for any species on this planet.

So, recognizing that and really the, the self-care and the mental health awareness is to just help you kind of recalibrate and kind of get back to, you know, that equilibrium or that balance when things go a little south.

[00:21:19] Emily:  Yeah, that’s beautiful. Yes. And I think, you know, there are a lot of parallels. I think there’s a lot of similarities between what we do with pets and how we help pets, and how we need to show up for ourselves. Because, you know, we talk a lot about how, at Pet Harmony, when I say we, in this context, I mean Pet Harmony, we talk a lot about how where we don’t do, we don’t promise rehabilitation, and we don’t promise people that we’re going to fix their pets because their pets aren’t broken, right?

So, this isn’t about fixing it, and it’s not this static position where you’re either broken or you’re fixed, like a light switch, you’re on or you’re off. It’s like, how can we help them? Okay, yes, they have been traumatized, they’ve been damaged, or they just don’t have skills yet. You know, it doesn’t have to be some big deep dark, tragic thing either, right? Some, some animals just have some sensory processing issues, and don’t have the skills to handle them, right? But regardless, they’re not broken.

We just need to help them have the tools to navigate the world, and like, that’s also what I’m hearing you saying about us is. We’re, we’re really, it’s about giving us tools to, to navigate the world.

So, I think one of those tools that has been enormously helpful for me is understanding my experience. Because you can have an experience and not really know what’s going on, or not being able to really understand what emotions you’re feeling, or why you’re reacting the way you are, and so I think one of the things that’s really helpful is defining terms.

Because when you understand what something means you can connect to it and be like, ” Oh, that’s what I’m experiencing. Okay. There’s nothing wrong with me. I’m not a monster. I’m not broken. It’s just X, Y, Z thing, right?” So, in that vein, along that vein, can you talk about the difference between burnout and compassion fatigue?

Maybe actually exhaustion, burnout, and compassion fatigue?

[00:23:13] Valerie: Yes. And I, I think that is, is so true. And especially with so many kind of buzzwords like the toxic positivity, and self-care, and burnout, and compassion fatigue, I think it’s always helpful to come back to the basics and define those terms just to make sure we’re all using them in the right context.

So as far as compassion fatigue, compassion fatigue defined by Dr. Strand over at UT, says that it is the result of caring very much, and working very hard, and not recognizing and caring for your own needs. You can also call that the cost of caring.

As far as burnout, burnout is when you no longer have the desire to do your job. It’s usually related to the job environment, you don’t feel like you’re making an impact. There could be some, you know, toxicity in the workplace. And it’s, you’re exhausted. And so, exhaustion is kind of part of, it can be part of burnout, but it can also be its own thing. So, with burnout, that is not necessarily tied to being a caregiver. So, anyone can experience burnout.

If you’re in a helping role, you can experience compassion fatigue and burnout.

Anyone can experience exhaustion, and to your story you were sharing earlier about having so many tasks, and so much work, and we have so much on our plate, that could have been a little bit of everything, right?

Because the compassion fatigue side is your business where you’re still helping clients, you’re writing this book for the masses to help, right? Then you have the burnout side of things where I don’t know if I want to do this anymore. And then the exhaustion of, you know, there’s times that you probably just fell asleep in the middle of the day or, you know, forgot to feed yourself and, and things like that, right?

So, there can be a lot of these components moving around, and a lot of overlap as well. So I think that’s one of the harder things too, is that with a lot of these terms, there is the overlap and a lot of them aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.

In my case, with my previous career path, I feel like it was a little bit of both, right? I cared so much, so I was willing to work the holidays, work the late hours, clock out and keep working, so I didn’t get in trouble for overtime, skipping lunches, you know, volunteering for extra shifts because I needed extra money, because the pay wasn’t good, but then I’m working more hours, right?

So, all of that, because I loved the animals so much that I wasn’t thinking about, “Well, I’ll be really tired after a six-day stretch, or maybe a 12 hour day isn’t a great idea.” You don’t think about those things because you are thinking so much about the things that you were caring for. And then the burnout side of things comes in when, “Okay, I’m already exhausted because I didn’t get enough sleep cause I was working the extra hours.” And then also coming to a workplace that didn’t hold space for any emotions that I was going through. And not being recognized when there might be a coworker that is specifically bullying me, or when an animal dies and you do the entire necropsy as a group, and you come back and have pizza for lunch, and then you don’t talk about it. So yeah, I think there, to answer your question, hopefully that helps define those terms, but, you know, it can be a little bit of, of all of it.

[00:26:37] Emily:  So, I want to actually touch on something that you just said that has big implications for me and, and myself looking back at the three plus decades of my work in animal welfare, and kind of reflecting on it. Is that these emotional, kind of roller coasters that we go on in animal welfare, I experienced that most acutely in the vet clinic, because as you said, you have to do something incredibly sad and heartbreaking. I feel like I experienced that most acutely in the veterinary setting because there are these sort of like emotional roller coasters that happen at breakneck speed where you go into one exam room and you have to do this incredibly sad thing where you have to be present for people, and then you have to like, put yourself together, shake it off, walk into the next room and be all bubbly for the next like new puppy exam, right?

And so, you don’t really, I think it’s true in all of animal welfare, but I, I, I at least experienced it most acutely in the veterinary setting. You don’t get the chance to process your emotions because you don’t have time to process your emotions when you’re jumping back and forth between different types of jobs like that. And that’s something that I’m, I’m really starting to realize, sort of, I don’t know if taking the toll is the right word, but I’m realizing that how I process emotional experiences is, has been very much informed by growing up in a vet clinic. Because when an emergency happens, I’m very matter of fact about it, even if like it’s tearing me up. I’m like, “This is what we got to do.” Bop, bop, bop, bop, bop, and then like later on, it catches up with me and I just fall apart at like really sometimes inconvenient times.

 So, there’s that there’s that aspect of animal welfare where like, you don’t really get time to process your grief because you’re bouncing back and forth between all these different types of emotional or emotional experiences.

And then there’s this other side of it where you start grieving before you need to because you know the grief is coming, right? Like, we both have older dogs, we know the grief is coming, I’m currently living with a geriatric bird who probably has dementia. That’s a whole different type of grieving.

And I love that there is more support now for like, you know, pet loss, you know, grief therapy and stuff like that, and that’s great. And also, it’s in short supply. And some people don’t have financial access to it, right? So, what can you talk through like how you help people process grief in these professions, especially when, as we’ve talked about, a lot of people in this professions can’t afford to get the help and support that they need, right?

[00:29:32] Valerie: Yeah. Thank you for sharing all that. So, I think even just being able to verbalize it again and then recognizing that, “Hey, that stuff wasn’t normal and I didn’t have the support I needed at that time.” Shows that you’re doing some work over there, so I just want to give you a shout out for that. And you also were touching on multiple types of grief.

So, let’s define that first. Um, so part of it is what you’re just describing is the anticipatory grief, right? Where we know the end is coming, which essentially is all the time because life ends. No matter, again, the species, life will end.

Um, but especially in those shorter timeframes where, okay, I got, I know this dog isn’t going to live till 25. I, you know, and me, you know, or I know a loved one is, is near the end and things like that. So, that’s that anticipatory grief, or you’re already sad now, even though the being is still alive. Which can be hard, too, because then that can make you remove yourself from wanting to spend time with them because it’s going to be too hard. Just seeing them reminds you that, “Oh, they’re not going to be here forever.” So, sometimes we distance ourselves as like a safety mechanism in those situations.

The other thing you touched on was the, like you said, the shake it off, right? We got to go into one room, do this, and then the next room. And you can see that also in your dog training clients as well, right? You might have a rehoming, or behavioral euthanasia conversation, and then your next appointment is that new springy puppy that we got to smile and be excited for. And we don’t always have the time and space to process those things. And so, some of that could just be kind of regular grief, but also there’s disenfranchised grief, which when I learned what that was, I was like, “That’s my whole career, oh my, God.” So, disenfranchised grief is basically where the general public is not supportive of that type of grief.

So, for me, that’s the times when, oh, we lost the polar bear, it’s on the Facebook, it’s on the Instagram, it’s all the things and the whole world is grieving for this polar bear, but what about the meerkat that lived in the troop of meerkats? And we don’t post that because it’s not the big name species. How does that make the keeper staff feel about that loss? They feel less than they feel like that animal’s life was less than because they didn’t get publicized in the same way.

The times when you know, yeah, with your working in the dog training industry and you are so upset, and people go, “Oh, well, that wasn’t your pet. Why are you so upset?” Or “Don’t you do this all the time?” You know, some of those kind of quick, quick things that people might say to you, but so maybe the world doesn’t quite understand, and you can even say that just as a regular pet owner, when your, your animal passes and people don’t understand necessarily the depth of that loss. You have been caring for and providing for this being for a long time, and now we have to say goodbye.

So, I think just having these conversations and bringing all of it to light is going to hopefully make the general population a little bit more accepting of these other types of grief, especially in these situations when we’re talking about this human animal bond.

[00:32:48] Emily:  Yeah, I’m not gonna lie. You’re blowing my mind right now that there is a name for the experience of grief that gets trivialized by other people like, “Why are you so upset? It’s just a bird?” And I’m like, “The, what? That bird was my child. I raised her from an egg. She was my beloved companion, how could you be that cavalier about it?”

Or like, you know, people say it’s just a dog, or it’s just a cat, or it’s just a hamster, whatever. There’s no just about it. You spend more time with your pets than you do with most people. And so that, yeah, I, that I, I know that grief intimately. So, thank you for giving me a name for it. Yeah. So, what do we do about it?

That’s the next step. And I know, I’m not expecting you to be all, you know, the, the social worker for everybody who’s listening to our podcast, but what are some things that we can do while we’re in the process of, of trying to get more individualized support?

[00:33:42] Valerie: Yes, so there are more resources out there than you might realize. So, pet loss support groups have come leaps and bounds as far as how many there are and who is offering them.

So, some clinics are actually having their own support groups, a lot of times that’s led by a veterinary social worker. Because the purpose of a veterinary social worker in a vet clinic situation is to support not only the clients, but also support the staff too. So, they’re working with both sides of the animal, right? And that’s in that sense.

Um, Lap of Love has really expanded a lot of their support groups. So, they have some for pet loss, some for behavioral euthanasia, some for families with children as well.

There’s also Not One More Vets and they have resources for veterinarians, but also other vet clinic staff.

And I recently. I have been working with Veterinary Hope Foundation and they are going to be offering for the first time ever a shelter specific vet med support group. So, the resources are out there, sometimes it’s just the connecting the community that needs it to the resources that exist.

There’s also apps out there that can help with mental health. One’s called 29K and that’s on average how many days in a human life there is, there are, and another one called White Flag, which is a peer support app. And you can raise your white flag, and anyone else on the app at that time that sees what you’re… challenges are, can have a conversation with you over the app. It’s totally anonymous, and that one’s pretty cool.

I also offer one on one support sessions through Insight, and those are open to anyone. You don’t have to be an Insight client to participate in that. At this current time, I am still not a mental health professional, so we call those support sessions, and it’s 30 bucks for 30 minutes.

And so, we tried to keep that cost really low because we identified the need for the service, and really anyone that would be listening to this podcast could be eligible for that just because you, you know, you’ve been either have been dealing with animal bonds or you currently are in any capacity. So, anyone is welcome to utilize that.

The other thing I want to touch on is that anyone listening to this podcast can help someone else because you do not have to be a licensed mental health professional to listen to someone else that is going through a tough time.

So, something else that was a part of the Veterinary Human Support Certificate was something called Emotional CPR. And so, in the same way that when a heart stops and it needs to be restarted, everyone knows CPR, people are running to go help, you call 9 1 1, we know all of the steps.

Emotional CPR is for the heart, but in a different way, right? So, that emotional side of things and that is really focusing on the C for connection. The P is for empowerment. We cheat a little bit with that one. And then the R is that revitalization. And so, basically, with Emotional CPR, we are just training people how to listen because that is only a skill you have if it was modeled for you. And it is not typically modeled for us, so the good news is it is something that anyone can work on, and anyone can listen.

And it is much more impactful to give someone a safe space to share and help them through a tough time, and help them realize that they have the power to change the situation, or come up with a solution, or make it through the day, whatever the situation might be, versus just spewing solutions at them.

I am a self-proclaimed helper. So, when I learned about Emotional CPR, that was earth shattering for me because I had to then think about all the conversations where instead of just being present and listening, I was immediately triaging in my brain that person’s five step plan after they were done talking. So, when that happens, then we end up almost discounting that person’s experience, because number one, we’re not resonating and really listening and feeling in our body what they are sharing with us. But then by offering them solutions, sometimes they, that might be taken as, “Oh, you don’t think I can do this on my own.”

[00:38:14] Emily:  Or I think another thing that happens is, at least for me with like chronic illness that I’ve experienced is people are like, “Oh, have you tried yoga?”

And I’m like, “Oh my God, I never thought of that. Thank you.”

So, it’s so frustrating for people to give these like really basic solutions. And it’s like, this is, I’ve been grappling with this my whole life with multiple professionals, I’ve tried so many different modalities, and you’re sitting here like, I’m on step Y and you’re like, “Have you tried, have you thought about step A yet?”

And I’m just like, “I don’t need your input. Thanks.”

So, I think that’s the other thing, but you know what? I say that not to make anybody feel shame because even though that was my experience, that was also me until, I had to learn not to do that. over the past few years. Really, behavior consulting is what taught me how to be an active listener. So, yeah, I, I say that with all the love in my heart because it comes from a good place and also, it’s, it doesn’t, it doesn’t always land like that. Like, it doesn’t always land like it was intended, right?

[00:39:15] Valerie: Well, and I think that’s a great point because in most cases, your heart’s in the right place. Someone is in distress, they’re sharing some tough times, difficult things that they’re going through, and you want to help them feel better. Or sometimes we want to make us feel better because we don’t like being around someone in distress, so we’re just going to give you these solutions so you could just zip it and we’ll, we’ll all move on and not talk about our feelings. It could go either way.

But with taking that time to really zip it, be present and listen, and it is hard to be present these days. We have so many screens, we have, you know, life and just so many things going on, but just really sitting with someone, having eye contact with them, whether it is via Zoom or you’re in the same room, but just really taking a step back and listening to them.

And the thing I like about Emotional CPR is that it almost took a weight off my shoulders because I was like, “Oh my gosh, I don’t have to solve everyone’s problems? That’s an option? I didn’t know that!” Um, so being able to take that step back, have that space for that person and then saying, “All right, I got you. All right. What have you done when you’ve dealt with hard things in other situations, or what do you need right now? What can I do for you right now?” Rather than offering solutions one of the things we talk about is WAIT Why Am I Talking? So, a lot of times, also, again, with the best intentions, someone tells you a story, and you’re like, “Oh yeah, yeah, I know exactly how you’re feeling. That happened to my aunt’s cousin three years ago. That was the exact same thing. I know exactly how you’re feeling.”

So, we’re, again, trying in a very human way to say, “Oh, I, I, me too. I understand.” But again, that’s another way to kind of discount that person’s experience. Cause they’re like, well, that wasn’t. You know, even if we go through the same things, doesn’t mean necessarily that how we’re absorbing and processing that is the same.

So, kind of reframing that to, “Wow, that sounds really hard. Tell me more.” because in those moments, it’s our experience doesn’t really matter to that person in crisis or that person that is having a difficult time. So, really just learning that skill, because the other thing then people will say, “Well, well, I, they’re hiring me to do X, Y, and Z. How am I just supposed to listen the whole time? Like, they’re paying me for my advice.”

Well, that’s great. But guess what? They’re not going to follow your advice if they don’t trust you. So, one of the best ways to build trust is by listening, right? Because if we come in guns blazing, I’m here to train your dog! And we have our little superhero cape on, and we just go whoosh right past the human. Well, guess what? The quality of life for that animal directly correlates to the quality of life of that human. So, if we try to skip over the human, it’s not going to go well. So, by, again, kind of just focusing on the human element of that team, right? That dog human team is going to pay off in leaps and bounds because they’re going to feel heard, they’re going to feel seen. And now you have the intel when you are making their homework and when you are making that plan for what they’re doing when you’re not there for the next couple of weeks, because that is something that I think gets overlooked a lot.

Because again, we come in guns blazing. We are so excited. We’re, oh, we’re here to help you, you know, we’re so excited. And then, they can’t handle your 15 steps on your report. They stopped at step three, and then when you get back there in three weeks, and you’re like, “Well, what happened?” Because we overlooked everything else, because that dog is just part of their world, so when we ignore everything else, we’re doing a disservice to that animal. Because we need to make things manageable for the human to set them up for success just as much as we work on trying to set the dog up for success. So, I think that is something that we continue to work on at Insight.

You mentioned caregiver burden. So, on our intake questionnaire for every single client, we have our caregiver burden score. And we then can almost quantify the level of stress and burden that that client has. And that helps us navigate how much homework we are giving them. That helps us navigate how many steps is even on that homework. And it also helps us navigate and prioritize that list, however long that list might be, because we know, okay, it’s, it’s a higher number. They can’t handle much more. So, I’m making this a three-step plan, and really number one is all they need to do. Two and three are bonus things, right? And really fine tuning it because less is more. Because if you think about it percentage wise, if you give me three things to do and I do all three things, I’m at a hundred percent.

If you give me a list of fifteen things… and I only do three… My math is horrible, so I don’t know what percentage that is. It’s, you know, you’re not going to feel that same sense of accomplishment, right? Because you’re like, “Oh my gosh, I had to, I had to watch all these videos. I had to click off the report ten times and, you know, all of these things that add stress to their already stressful existence.”

[00:44:49] Emily:  Yeah. 20% is the answer.

[00:44:51] Valerie: Thank you.

[00:44:52] Emily:  But, but, yes, I love how we’re talking about this really serious thing, and then I just come in with like, a useless math fact, that I wasn’t even sure was correct, but, but I do take this seriously. And there’s a reason that Pet Harmony and Insight Veterinary Behavior are BFFs because, like, we have identical philosophies to how to approach client care, right? And that is exactly, I mean, I don’t know if you could see, the whole time you’re talking, Allie and I are just like, yeah, yeah, like, nodding and throwing, like, our hands in the air. Because like, yes, exactly right. We have to care about the client’s experience, not just their emotional experience, but their learning experience.

And what it feels like to say, I nailed those three tasks versus I only got 20% of my homework done, which then can lead to feelings of shame, and avoidance, and maybe hiding from your consultant. Not because you didn’t like your consultant, but because you feel like you failed them.

And so, like all, everything that you just said, I’m here for it, super support it. Thank you again for being you and doing everything that you do. So, I think the, the big, the big question, no pressure. The big question is what are our observable goals and actionable items that people can take away from this discussion? What do you want people to do about it?

[00:46:17] Valerie: Spread the word about veterinary social work. You now know what it is, and I hope it got you a little excited that there is that type of specific support out there for you. So, I really hope that you can start talking about it more. So, like I said before, the primary implication is right now in just vet clinics, some are hiring a full-time vet social worker, which is, wow, that’s top notch.

There’s others that are having some as consultants, you know, at least dipping their toe in the water, and there’s some that have no idea that it exists or why their staff would need that. The more that we start asking for these things from our pet caretakers, our animal caretakers, I think that that’s going to again, just bring it to light that it exists and that it’s something that people want and need.

Something else I just also want to make sure that people understand that it is okay not to be okay. I think we had a lot of examples of that today, and I think that being positive all the time isn’t realistic, and also being stressed out all the time isn’t realistic, so we got to find that middle ground, and self-care doesn’t have to be expensive.

Self-care is not one size fits all. So, just in the same way that a treatment plan or a training plan for an animal is not one size fits all, you are catering it to that specific individual, it is going to be the same for you. So, just because I feel relaxed after I take a bubble bath, that may not work for you, and you’d rather go do something else, and that’s okay.

But exploring that and giving yourself the time to do that, because I think one of the other stigmas is that self-care is selfish. But it’s really not because when you think about it, you cannot pour from an empty cup. You go to the airline, and they say, “Put your air mask on first before the person next to you.”

All of those things are true. So, if you are in a helper field, you are no good to anybody if you’re exhausted. You are no good to anyone if you aren’t sleeping because you’re working too much. You’re no good to anyone if you’re not giving yourself some time to process some of those harder conversations or harder sessions you might have had.

So, you know, just bring a little bit more self-awareness that will lead you down your self-care journey of where you are learning a little bit more about yourself, and what might work for you.

Other key points. Anyone can listen. Resist the urge to fix. Um, Like I said, I am still a work in progress. ECPR is considered a practice, because it’s never perfect. So, I really like that part of it, too. Because, as long as you’re being mindful and you’re trying, you’re doing it. No one’s perfect. So, if you’re showing up for someone authentically in the best way that you know how, that’s amazing, and that person’s lucky that you’re there for them.

And I think also just to kind of touch on what we were just talking about is just meet your clients where they’re at. Um, and just be really mindful of what you are giving them. Sometimes we’ll even ask at the end, “Okay, we talked about all of these things. What do you think you can get accomplished in two weeks?” And let them help choose what their homework is. We, it, it can be a little bit more of a group participation, right? Because then they might really be excited about something and you would have cut that otherwise if you didn’t have that conversation, so you want to give them something fun in there too, right? So, just working more collaboratively um, through some of those conversations, I think it’s going to benefit you, your clients, and your animals.

[00:49:54] Emily:  All of that. Yeah. I think one thing that you said that really was a hard journey for me and was one of the reasons it took me so long to like get to a point where I was comfortable making a living wage in this field was this idea that self-care is classism and that it’s only something for like people of privilege or the wealthy.

And so, participating in that to me felt, it was difficult for me to, to take care of myself because I felt like doing so was participating in an inequitable system, right? And it took a lot of time and learning and listening to different people who, you know, have expertise in different fields to realize that, first of all, uh, meeting your own needs does not necessarily have to be a classist enterprise that yes, it’s certainly easier for people of privilege to meet their needs, when you understand what your goals are and not think of it as like, can I afford to go on a cruise and or go to the spa every week? Suddenly the goals become much more realistic for people everywhere.

 But also taking care of yourself, it better enables you to fight inequitable systems, right? One of my favorite books that was one, like a turning point for me is Rest is Resistance. We’ll make sure to have the link to that in our show notes, along with all of the resources that you provided, because that was one of the biggest influences in me changing my perspective of why it’s important to take care of yourself. So, thank you for, for saying that. Cause it’s huge. Yeah.

[00:51:29] Valerie: I can’t help but also touch on that because I think that is huge. And I think there’s also a misconception that vacation equals self-care. And that’s not always true because I know some really great people that might have a lot of money and take a lot of vacations, but they are miserable day to day. So, I think they’re, they’re looking at it from the flip side of, okay, well, you have to do the work. You have to understand why you’re feeling certain ways. You have to identify your feelings, give yourself that time to process versus just kind of escaping reality to a vacation, or that cruise, or whatever it might be because I think that can be a misconception as well because it’s like, yeah, you could go on a bunch of vacations, but if you’re not fixing what’s broken day to day, you’re coming back to the same mess when you get home from vacation.

[00:52:18] Emily:  Yes, exactly. Yeah. It’s more about, like, we talk about physical, behavioral, and emotional health, that it is like adventures and fun and treat yourself. I mean, although those things can certainly be a part of that, a piece of the puzzle, but like, yeah, no, it’s, we’re, we’re taking care of ourselves, not, which doesn’t necessarily mean entertaining ourselves. Essentially, self-care is enrichment is, is what I’m getting at here.

All right. So, moving on, we ask our, the members of our PETPro program to submit questions for our podcast guests, so, this member was curious about, when you’re working in these support groups, what do you find is the difficulty that people who live with pets with behavioral special needs struggle with most often? Like, what’s the thing that is most frequently the biggest pain people for people in that position?

[00:53:13] Valerie: There are a lot of underlying themes in these groups. And we’re coming up on a year for the pet loss one. So, it’s interesting because no matter who shows up, like I was saying earlier, there’s still a lot of same, similar underlying themes. One of those is that no one in their life understands their situation.

And a lot of times it’s the unsolicited advice, “Oh, have you tried a prong collar? Oh, have you tried a board and train? Oh, have you walked your dog for six miles a day?” Like the unsolicited advice from people that are not professionals, and that also leads to them feeling alone because they feel like no one in their circle, no one in their world gets it.

And that can be exacerbated by some clients that have separation anxiety as a diagnosis for their pet because they can’t really leave their house. So, they don’t get to see their friends and family as often. Or let’s say they might have some aggression or reactivity issues and people can’t come to their house.

So, they are being removed from their social support system in several different ways. And the other thing is the too much homework, or just reports that are, are so long and you know, feeling like they have failed because they haven’t been able to get all of the things, or the report was too long, or too confusing and, and things like that. Those are some of the underlying themes of the pet owner support group.

[00:54:46] Emily:  I’m not even a little bit surprised to hear that, because that is also my experience with clients is the isolation and the overwhelm of, you know, what previous trainers or, or veterinary staff, or whatever, whoever has given them is way too much. So, yeah. Okay. So, at the end of every interview, I like to ask the same set of questions. The first one being, what is one thing you wish people knew about either this topic, your profession, or enrichment? Your choice.

[00:55:15] Valerie: I’ll say profession. So, veterinary social work is a growing and much needed field. By spreading the word, we can bring understanding, and hopefully utilization of veterinary social workers in more ways. I will share the UTK website that has a place where you can find your nearest veterinary social worker. So currently with social work, you still have to be licensed in a specific state that hopefully will be changing in the next couple of years where there’ll be a national level certification. But at this time, you’d still need to find someone specific to at least your state and uh, potentially have virtual assistance and sessions that way. But I will share that resource.

[00:55:56] Emily:  Excellent. That makes me happy. All right. What is one thing you’d love to see improved in your field?

[00:56:01] Valerie: We need more of us. Please come, come join me. I would say probably most of the people listening to this podcast would qualify to do that veterinary human support certificate. So, if you want to learn more about that, I will share that resource and that. link. But really that’s just a really great way to have a better understanding of what social work is, what veterinary social work is, and just how to be a better human, whether it is to your clients or, you know, friends and family, or just the general population. So, I think anyone would benefit from that. And if you don’t want to do that, you can still listen and support people that way.

[00:56:40] Emily:  Excellent. I mean, you’ve pretty much talked me into going and getting my certificate. I’m, I’m pretty excited to look into that. It’s not going to be this year, but future project. Definitely. Okay. What do you love about what you do?

[00:56:53] Valerie: I think there’s too many things to choose about what I love about what I do. I think the virtual communities that I’ve helped built in the support groups has been much bigger than I would have ever dreamed. And that also shows how much of a need there is when things blow up like that. So, I think that has been just awesome.

And just being able to be there for someone and again, on that very, like, I got you, I don’t know much about you, but we have some shared experiences and now you trust me enough to share your deepest, darkest secrets, or struggles, or whatever that is, and then getting those emails later, like, thank you so much. That made me feel so much better. just to talk to you. And that is where it’s at for me because I love behavior. I’ve worked with animal behavior for so long, and now I’ve just transitioned over to human, and there’s a lot of parallels. I think you know, just getting that. You know, being that part in anyone’s journey, I think is honor.

[00:57:55] Emily:  What are you currently working on? If people want to work more with or learn from you, where can they find you?

[00:58:02] Valerie: Our human support services from Insight are open to anyone. You don’t have to be a client. So, that is the monthly support group for Living with and Loving Pets with Behavior Challenges. That is the one-on-one support sessions, I also lead some intro to emotional CPR, interactive virtual workshops. The full training is 12 hours, and that’s usually pretty difficult. So, I do anywhere from like a 90 minute to a little bit longer workshop where we can still share the content, learn the skills um, and get out there and start practicing, right?

So, those have been really great. I also offer individualized virtual workshops for your team, about topics that are most important or interesting to your team. So, the Emotional CPR can be a component of that, but we can talk a little bit more about things like, how do you deal with difficult clients? How do you go about those challenging conversations about rehoming or behavioral euthanasia? And you know, compassion, fatigue, burnout, a lot of the things that we’ve talked about today, but in that more intimate setting and that can be virtually or depending on where you’re at in person, but those are available as well. So, I’ll share our Insight website as well as my Insight email address as well.

[00:59:21] Emily:  Well, thank you so much for joining us today, it has been so amazing to talk to you, and hear more about what you do. And yeah, thank you for sharing all of that because I think it is, it’s really valuable information that people need to hear, and need to hear with the compassion and knowledge that you have. So, thank you for being here.

[00:59:44] Valerie: Thank you for having me. Thank you for being vulnerable and sharing some of your experiences with me today as well. I think that just is a great example of that, you know, no matter the venue, anyone can show up authentically. So, I thank you for that too.

[01:00:00] Emily:  Yeah. Well, I have no filter, so it’s not really a virtue. I just kind of like say whatever, whatever’s in my head comes out of my mouth, but thank you for saying that anyway, very, very kind of you. All right. Well, have a good, have a good day and we will see you around.

[01:00:17] Allie: This is absolutely going to be an interview that stays with me for a long time and one that I will likely revisit over and over again. Even since recording it, this interview has helped me navigate difficulties in my life, so I just want to thank Valerie again for the amazing work that she’s doing and for spreading this message with such care and compassion. Next week, we’ll be talking about your own enrichment as a human.

Thank you for listening. You can find us at petharmonytraining.com and @petharmonytraining on Facebook and Instagram, and also @petharmonypro on Instagram for those of you who are behavioral professionals. As always links to everything we discussed in this episode are in the show notes and a reminder to please rate, review and subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts a special thank you to Ellen Yoakum for editing this episode, our intro music is from Penguin Music on Pixabay.

Thank you for listening and happy training.

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