When sick, injured, emaciated and otherwise suffering animals are seized as the result of cruelty investigations by the BC SPCA, the second-hand details are often shocking to the public. 

But for the staff and volunteers personally responsible for rescuing and caring for those animals, seeing the poor creatures' conditions up close can have a much more serious impact.

"We wake up in the middle of the night with images," said Eileen Drever, senior animal protection officer for the agency.

"I have been doing this for 36 years and I've had to seek counselling on a number of occasions."

The BC SPCA conducts about 8,500 cruelty investigations every year, some more distressing than others. Drever recalled the case of the Langley 66, a puppy mill bust last February that was one of the largest ever conducted in the province.

When staff arrived at the breeder's property to execute a search warrant, they found dogs of all ages suffering from a variety of issues, including infections, abscesses, missing eyes and broken bones.

One officer stepped into an outbuilding that was being used to house some of the animals and immediately had to back out because of the overwhelming smell of urine, Drever said.

"There was no access to natural daylight, dogs were in cages, it was loud. When you think about a dog's senses and having to live like that, it was quite atrocious," she said.

The heartbreaking work doesn't end when the animals are rescued, either. Leiki Salumets, a supervisor in the BC SPCA's department of animal care, said nurturing them through the recovery process can be emotionally challenging as well.

"When we first see them they're actually quite dead to the world, and even depressed, frustrated. We see all these emotional impacts that poor health can have," she said.

"We're here because we have a love for animals, and the empathy and compassion that's involved takes a huge toll. When you're seeing those things it's like experiencing them yourself. "

Fortunately, they are not alone. Staff and volunteers are encouraged to talk about how they're feeling, and the BC SPCA offers what Drever describes as an excellent employee assistance program.

And the work, while difficult, has its own rewards, most notably the pleasure of watching mistreated dogs, cats and other animals regain their personalities as their health improves and they’re exposed to a loving environment.

"When these animals are rehomed into their forever home, it's very touching. It's heart wrenching, but it makes it all worthwhile," Drever said.

With a report from CTV Vancouver's St. John Alexander