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.
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
[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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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?
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?
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
And I’m like,
“Well, the only thing that’s worse than doing the thing is not doing the
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
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?
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.
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.
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
exhaustion, burnout, and compassion fatigue?
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
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.
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?
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?
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
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
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
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
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
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
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?
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.”
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.
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
[00:44:49] Emily: Yeah. 20% is the answer.
[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?
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
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
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.
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.
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
[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
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
[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.
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?
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?
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
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?
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,
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.
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.