There are so many animals that need our help and so few resources. This leads to big-time burnout and compassion fatigue.

Setting boundaries helps us stay healthy, and setting them in all areas of our lives is ideal. Doing so set the guidelines for how you expect to be treated.

Standing up for ourselves is, well, EMPOWERING. And who doesn’t want to feel that they have power and control over their lives?

Pulled in every direction when working to make an animal healthy, to find it a home, to save it from death, to make it happy, requires incredible passion. AND incredible boundaries―or we simply can’t last very long.

What do boundaries look like? Basically, it’s the ability to say no to something you don’t want or can’t do or just don’t feel good about. Maybe it’s learning to say that we can’t rescue another animal until we have another foster in our group. Or we can’t foster another animal until the others we’re caring for have been homed. Or maybe we don’t have the money to donate right now.

Is someone standing too close to you? Or asking personal questions? Do you know someone who won’t take ‘no’ for an answer? We’ve all been there, and getting comfortable with telling people we’re NOT comfortable is pretty darn awesome (and I don’t use that word lightly!).

Maybe we’re just exhausted, and need some time alone or with family.

There are personal boundaries and professional boundaries―here, professional boundaries are your animal welfare, veterinarian work.


Personal boundaries can look like:

  • “You may not yell at me (or speak to me in that tone, or manner). If you continue, I’ll have to leave the room.”
  • “It’s not okay with me for you to comment on my weight.”
  • “I won’t be lending you money anymore. I love you and you need to take responsibility for yourself.”
  • “I never the leave the house after dark.”


Professional boundaries can look like:

  • “I know you just got these dogs from a hoarder case, but my rescue isn’t able to help at this time. Perhaps you could try…”
  • “I wish I could help you with this dangerous dog, but if he hurts someone, we endanger the future of all the dogs we could have saved.”
  • “I’m so very sorry. Our doctors did all they could.”
  • “I’m so very sorry, and I want to help, but our resources are limited in what we can afford to do for your pet.”
  • “You may not yell at me (or speak to me in that tone, or manner). If you continue, I’ll have to leave the room.”


Let’s set some boundaries!

To develop boundaries, we need to be aware of what doesn’t work for us. So being self-aware is checking in with yourself when a situation saps your energy, or just feels wrong.

Maybe the first thing you think is “Oh no!” when someone’s asking, saying or doing something that doesn’t feel good. Notice when it happens and how you feel. Where do you feel it in your body―a tightness in your chest or some other area? Use these times as indicators that we may need to create a boundary for that situation or for that person.

When communicating your boundaries, use a neutral tone of voice, and neutral language. (Keep your facial expressions neutral too.) You want to convey the message without appearing threatening.

Sometimes it’s best to practice what you’ll say with a partner who can be supportive. This is also the time to vent any strong emotions about the situation or person before you have the actual conversation with them.

Guilt is a common problem when we want to create our boundaries. We wonder if we’re making ‘too much’ of a request, or someone’s bullying. Don’t let guilt keep you from creating boundaries. Self-care is the point of boundaries and you can’t continue to do this work without taking care of yourself, so let go of the guilt.

Do not defend, debate your boundaries with anyone. Be firm, be gracious, be direct. If someone asks why, just repeat what you told them. Don’t give in or you lose that boundary.

How are you communicating your boundaries? How is that working for you?

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