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The Health Implications of Employment in Non-Profit Animal Care In Eastern North Carolina: A Phenomenological Exploration

By Sierra Nicole Fountain

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Given a dearth of literature regarding animal care workers in non-profit settings, all of whom potentially face health-related risks, a need existed to explore these individuals' collective lived experiences and perceptions. The purpose of this study was to describe non-profit animal care workers' lived experiences of and meanings associated with animal care work. The researcher employed a qualitative phenomenological approach that was guided by Moustakas (1994). The researcher used maximum variation purposive sampling to identify ten study participants who had at least one year of employment experience in a non-profit animal care facility located in one of two eastern North Carolina counties. Participants were recruited from non-profit animal care shelters and non-profit spay/neuter clinics. Qualitative data were collected by means of participant drawings of the meaning of animal care followed by in-depth, open-ended interviews that the researcher facilitated using an interview guide. She addressed study rigor by maintaining an audit trail, triangulation, saturation, member checks, and on-going engagement in reflexivity. Data analysis of transcribed interviews revealed the themes of "Making a Difference," and "A Passion for Animals," Animal Care as "All Consuming," and "Stress, Burnout, and Coping". Participants' valued "Making a Difference" in their own lives as well as the lives of animals and communities. Participants perceived their work in animal care as contributing to their personal well-being, in part because they had a "passion" for the work and a love of animals. They viewed their work as both "rewarding" and meaningful but juxtaposed the positive attributes of animal care with emotional and physical "stress" or trauma, primarily due to euthanasia as a possible outcome for animals or witnessing animal suffering, sometimes due to inhumane treatment. Participants described their work in non-profit animal care as highly variable, fast paced, and unpredictable in nature coupled with and sometimes overshadowing routine caretaking duties. Although participants said that the work they performed was immensely rewarding, their work-related responsibilities were described as unrelenting and "all consuming" and, as such, could negatively impact their personal relationships and behaviors. Particularly for those who worked in animal shelters, employment in a low-wage, under-resourced environment resulted in physical, emotional, and self-described mental "burnout." They used various "coping" strategies including supportive interactions, compartmentalizing, physical activity, leave-taking, and spirituality. Findings revealed implications for health education, particularly in the area of stress management and professional development opportunities.


Marcy Wilhelm-South

Purdue University

Date 2015
Pages 152
Publisher East Carolina University
Department Health Education and Promotion
Degree Master's
Language English
University East Carolina University
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal care
  2. Animal roles
  3. Animal shelters
  4. Employees
  5. Health education
  6. Health Promotion
  7. nonprofit organizations
  8. open access
  9. Pets and companion animals
  10. veterinary hospitals
  1. open access