It was one of the worst cases of animal neglect Jack Cooper has ever seen.
“They had been put out in the yard,” said Cooper, director of Bedford County Animal Control. “Food and water had been withheld from them.”
“We found some animals that were still on their chains,” he said. “We found skeletons.”
Dozens of animals were found dead or starving at a home in Bedford County in February.
It’s an image that still haunts Cooper today.
“The smells, the sounds,” Cooper said.
“Some cases really stick with you forever.”
He says the abuse and neglect that he and his officers see in the field are impossible to forget.
“You have seen so much trauma, so much pain in animals that you are sworn to protect that it gets to you,” Cooper said. “It causes depression. It causes fatigue. It can cause suicidal thoughts.”
It’s a condition known to many who work in animal care as Compassion Fatigue Syndrome, similar to PTSD.
“Every one of us has had a break down point,” Cooper said. “Every one of us has had tears.”
The emotional stress often causes high turnover.
Cooper says he’s lost five workers in the past year.
“In the past four years, we’ve only had one year where the same staff was here the entire year,” he said.
To prevent burnout, he’s cut their work week from five days to four, giving his staff an extra day to clear their heads.
“It is a mental health day for the officers,” Cooper said.
And when that day off isn’t enough, Cooper encourages counseling.
“Make sure you talk to someone and get the help you need,” Cooper said.