Back to Basics: Compassion Fatigue and More on Images

I had some comments on the last post about the quote that is attributed to Johnny Depp that goes like this, ““If you don’t like seeing pictures of violence towards animals, you need to stop the violence, not the pictures.”

A few people disagreed and I’d like to point out some problems, because, after all, this is my blog and if I want to beat this issue into the ground I can do that.

First, to the person who said that we shouldn’t look at them and like on a television “change the channel,” let me point out that this is about Facebook. There are no changing channels. This is like watching your nice safe television show and the worst part of the most gruesome show you never wanted to watch shows up without warning in the middle of your nice safe place. There is no article. There is only the image and it’s on my Facebook feed.

While many of us have unfriended people who share those, Facebook still loves the share. So if I have friends who are willing to do the work of staying informed via Facebook and comment on an image like that, Facebook may decide to see if I want to “like” that page by showing me the gruesome image or just want to share that my friend commented on that image. This isn’t about opening an article and reading it and objecting to the content, this is about Facebook, which I pointed out in the very first paragraph of the last article.

Now, to the person who called me silly (yes this is the same person if you are keeping score from the last section of comments), no it’s not silly. I am writing about Compassion Fatigue. Let’s talk about compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue, as I have said earlier in this series is rather like PTSD except you haven’t experience the trauma. You are working with people or animals who have been traumatized. At one time this was called Secondary PTSD.

One aspect that comes up is that the person keeps working and working and nothing seems to change. The quote implies that anyone complaining about those images does nothing for animal abuse, yet every single person I have had complain about those images is a hard working animal shelter volunteer or veterinary worker, all of whom are at risk for compassion fatigue. The quote completely negates their efforts by telling them that if the problem still exists their efforts are worthless and they need to suck it up.  And by the way, yes the ONLY people I know complaining about those images are those who work closely with abused animals.

That’s the problem with that quote. It does nothing to further the cause of stopping animal abuse and in fact, by increasing the potential for compassion fatigue among those who do, it could actually hinder the cause.

And although according the writer of the comment, the quote was clearly not intended for those people, please point out in the language of the quote where it specifies this. It does not. Therefore, everyone is included.

Now, another person talked about educating people. Several issues. First, people should not have to be educated that setting an animal on fire is wrong. Nor should they have to be educated that cutting them open gruesomely is wrong. Second, there is nothing about those images that educate. They horrify those of us who work in those situations and to a certain sort of abuser, they titilate.

And one last time: I’m talking about images (very little or no text) on Facebook. There were no articles about animal abuse. Only images.

But even if they were “educational” this brings us to the best comment and the one I think deserves the most discussion, Deb Barnes‘ comment here, “The issue is that most of us in our niche already know the problems, so we end up preaching to the choir. It’s not just photos, it’s valuable information and resources on spay/neuter, ending cruelty, etc. – the information keeps getting recycled in our same circles and it wears us out. How do we get the information out to the large masses in the mainstream where it is needed the most?”

I don’t have an answer to that but I think as animal rescuers and workers we need to consider how to get our messaging out there. I also think that we need to consider what the message is. Do we try and horrify people about what can go on or do we try and unify people with the understanding that we are all one, that all creatures desire to live and to have a happy life? Can we try and teach people that compassion for all life means a better life? Can we attempt to heal the wounds of those who are so damaged by the world that they destroy the innocent because that’s the only way they feel powerful?

The last one is the hardest but it’s likely to bring the most lasting change. I do not believe animal abuse is an action taken on it’s own. The steps towards becoming an abuser start long before sn action is ever taken.  That person has been in pain and alone for a very long time before they start abusing animals. And better we help those children who are in that much pain before they start injuring animals.

In other words, yes, we can complain about those images and we won’t stop. Yes, the abuse needs to stop but so does the imagery of it.


  1. We are not on Facebook. Mebbe that’s why we dint unerstand the problem you are describing. We are sorry about that.

  2. I missed this discussion but make it a policy not to post these kinds of images on my Fb page. I’m a HSP and get triggered easily by abuse of any kind. If Fb has policies on porn, why not on photos we would not see in newspaper?

  3. Powerful post. These questions often nag at me. We live in a rural area, that is almost all welfare populated and animal awareness is SEVERELY lacking in our part of the country. Many people here are taught from birth that it is OK to mistreat an animal, because it is JUST an animal. This cycle needs to be stopped and somehow these, ahem, people need education! Imagery does nothing for these people and it disturbs me greatly.


  4. It’s such a difficult subject and with no ready-made solutions. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people out there who don’t even see cruelty as cruel. I live in a country where animals are considered “furniture” by law. I know people who think they are being good to their animals but who just don’t have a clue. There are also, of course, cruel, awful people out there who do unspeakable things. We live in an age where we have so much information and so many images slung at us that we tend to surf through it all. I don’t have an answer but I do know that I will not endlessly look at pictures and videos of cruelty.

  5. We too missed the original post, but we agree that seeing the images, to us, doesn’t stop the problem. Those that abuse others – be it animals or people – are going to do it no matter what. The issue is how to circumvent that – and educating kids we think is the best way. Teaching kids compassion from the start – and that they can break the circle of abuse if they are part of it – helps us all in the end.

  6. We really don’t like those images either and much prefer to show the happiness that comes from loving the critters. Our only hope is that animal abusers meet Karma sooner than later. We thought your post was put together nicely and logically.

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