UBC Faculty Research and Publications

The Impact of Caring and Killing on Physiological and Psychometric Measures of Stress in Animal Shelter Employees: A Pilot Study Andrukonis, Allison; Hall, Nathaniel J; Protopopova, Alexandra


Animal shelter employees are in a unique position where they care for, and later kill, the same animals. The aim of our exploratory study was to assess whether “caring” and/or “killing” evokes physiological and psychometric indicators of stress in employees. Experiment 1 compared three careers that kill regularly, but involve varying degrees of husbandry (n = 28). Blood pressure (BP), salivary cortisol, heart rate (HR), and heart rate variability (HRV) were collected; data showed higher HR and lower HRV during the process of killing. Psychometric scales showed that burnout and Impact Event Scale-Revised (IES-R) scores were higher in careers with higher contact with animals. Experiment 2 compared three careers that involve husbandry, but varying exposure to killing (n = 41). BP, cortisol awakening response, HR, and HRV were measured as well as Professional Quality of Life Scale, IES-R, and Moral Injury Event Scale were administered. There were no significant differences across careers in any measures. The data suggest that the process of killing may be physiologically stressful to the person, and higher levels of animal contact in a euthanasia context may be associated with burnout and traumatic stress, but that the act of euthanasia is not a unique predictor of overall occupational distress.

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