Mental Health in the Workplace: Beyond Compassion Fatigue

Room: St-Laurent 7
Simultaneous English-to-French interpretation available for this session.

Carrie Fritz, Executive Director, Calgary Humane Society
Melaina Slater, Manager, Human Resources, Calgary Humane Society

Everyone who works in an animal shelter has heard the term “compassion fatigue”, which is described as intense emotional exhaustion brought about by the stress of caring for those who are traumatized or suffering.  But what happens when the issues are far beyond compassion fatigue?

Eric Gentry, a psychotherapist from Florida, has described animal care workers as “some of the most pain-saturated people I have ever worked with,” and studies done throughout the US and Canada have put forward some alarming statistics:

  • One in six animal welfare workers has contemplated suicide.
  • Animal rescue workers have the highest suicide rate among American workers – shared with firefighters and police officers – 3.5 times higher than the national average.
  • Veterinarians experiencing psychological distress are double the national average and thoughts of suicide in the profession are 1.5 times greater than the national average.

As leaders of humane organizations, we are aware of the stress and burnout that exists among our sector; we are also aware that there is a much higher rate of mental illness within our workforce compared to other industries, but what are we doing about it?

There is no end to the work that must be done at an animal shelter.  Some of it can be incredibly rewarding but then there are the gut-wrenching days where, at any given moment, someone can decide they have had enough.  By providing a psychologically safe workplace, educating our team on mental health issues, identifying some of the key warning signs and providing access to the help an individual may need, the opportunity to reshape the path an employee takes and the possibility of a more resilient team is created. 


  1. Identify strategies to educate your team on the realities of mental health issues in the animal welfare sector and the impact these issues have on individuals, teams and the organization.
  2. Acknowledge the early signs of compassion fatigue and mental illness in your team members.
  3. Recognize the barriers to people accessing help and support.
  4. Create an action plan on how to get an individual the help they need should you be the person they confide in.
  5. Develop and implement a successful return-to-work plan for employees who take a leave of absence to seek treatment and recuperate, understanding this will likely be the hardest day of an individual’s professional career.


Carrie Fritz is the Executive Director of the Calgary Humane Society, a position she has held since 2014 when she was promoted from the position of Controller. Carrie is a CGA-CPA, who attended the University of Calgary and Mount Royal University, obtaining her accounting designation in 1996. She worked at a public accounting firm focusing on audit, assurance and business advisory services before making the leap from public practice to the not-for-profit sector, and finally landing at Calgary Humane Society, in 2007. This was the perfect role for Carrie; one where she could bring her lifelong love of animals, along with her extensive not-for-profit experience, to an animal welfare organization she already had a long relationship with in a community she had grown up in. Since taking on the role of Executive Director, Carrie has focused on reshaping the culture to one that embodies an open, inclusive and supportive environment to aid in the Society’s mission of helping as many animals as we can.  She has worked to build a highly professional, highly-skilled team, capable of successfully supporting staff, volunteers and other key stakeholders through a period of transition and organizational change in order to better meet the needs of the animals in our care and the community we serve. Carrie lives just south of Calgary where she shares her home with her daughter, her three dogs (Daisy, Lacey and Buddy) as well as her two rescue rabbits (Winter and Autumn).

Melaina Slater is a Chartered Professional in Human Resources (CPHR) who has been involved in the animal welfare industry for over fifteen years. She started her career at Calgary Humane Society in 2006 and holds a certificate in Human Resource Management through the University of Calgary. She is a firm believer in lifelong personal and professional development with a keen interest in human rights, leadership development, employment legislation, and psychological health and safety in the workplace. Outside of work, she enjoys spending time with her spouse, their two dogs, two birds, and two cats.