ALN spoke with Anneke Keizer, BS, MBA, LATG. Founder and Co-owner of COPEPLUS, to learn more about how to address the issue of compassion fatigue in the vivarium.

ALN: Where in the world do you live?
Anneke Keizer (AK): I live in New Jersey, USA and in Lucerne, Switzerland. I travel between the two countries 3 - 4 times a year, if necessary, more frequently.

ALN:How did you get into laboratory animal science?
AK: Working with animals and sciences was a perfect combination for me. I have been involved in laboratory animal science for 30 plus years. I have worked in all areas, from animal care, cage wash, bio-technician, investigator, and head of an animal facility. That is why I precisely understand what people go through when working with animals and the emotional strain that comes with it. It is the cost of caring.

ALN: What are you currently working on?
AK: Setting up sustainable compassion fatigue programs in laboratory animal facilities. It is well known that people frequently experience grief, sadness and feelings of guilt, both during the term of a study and when a study is completed and the animals need to be euthanized.

Acknowledging that these feelings exist and providing support is very important. If these emotions are addressed appropriately, people will feel validated and their coping mechanism will be strengthened. Their ability to sustain and to form new bonds will be reinforced.  I provide guidance to set up a program that is suitable to that particular facility.

ALN: What are the future implications of your research and findings?
AK: My goal is that every animal facility has a compassion fatigue program that will provide the proper guidance for all staff working directly or indirectly with animals. In addition, I would like to see that this program becomes part of the AAALAC accreditation, in other words, a requirement for each animal facility. It will help people and animals. When people are happy the animals are happy because they can feel the emotional state, you are in.

ALN: What was the most surprising thing you have learned in your career?
AK: How fast laboratory animal sciences are changing with the exception of one thing, the love for the animals. People truly care and give so much to the animals. Management often does not even know how much. I know people who have been sleeping with the animals in their stables, to stay with them all night to comfort them after surgery. 

ALN: If you were in a laboratory animal science music group, what would you call it? Why?
AK: I think I would call it: Bedding & Nesting. When I think of bedding I think of comfort, relaxing, feeling warm and home. When an animal gets a clean cage, it will make its cage his/her home again. Nesting material gives them a safe and warm area.

ALN: Is there anything else you would like to share with the ALN audience?
AK: Know that you are not alone in feeling this way. Make sure you take good care of yourself. Self-care is key. There are many things you can do: music for instance is very good for you. Like singing, dancing or playing an instrument. Learning a new language, walking and exercising. Find someone you can talk to. 

A great method of therapy I saw in one of the universities I worked with: they had a jigsaw puzzle on the table in their break room and during break time they all would work on it and talk with each other. It gave them a chance to talk without looking in each other’s eyes and in the mean time doing something that is relaxing and therapeutic.