For Your Love of Animals, What Will You Do?

Have you always loved animals? Do you seem to connect with them somehow, to bond with them in a special way?

An animal's eyes have the power to speak an great language.--- Martin Buber

Maybe you’ve dreamed of working in a zoo? Running a Water World? Managing a humane shelter for abandoned dogs and cats? Opening a rescue center for animal victims of disasters such as tornadoes, oil spills, hurricanes, earthquakes? Or work in a government authority, protecting endangered species?

If you are an animal lover, and so many of us all are, and you want satisfaction in your occupation, animal care could be a perfect fit for you.

The work can be exciting, unpleasant, sometimes dangerous, yet deeply rewarding for many. Most workers are trained on the job, and better jobs require a bachelor’s degree in biology, animal science, or a related field. Growth can be seen in government job projection data—

Projections data from the National Employment Matrix, USGOV data

Projections data from the National Employment Matrix, USGOV data

Expect high competition for jobs as zookeepers and marine mammal trainers. And earnings can be relatively low, unless you want a higher responsibility— a degree is obtained for higher placements. For example, marine mammal trainers usually need a bachelor’s degree in biology, marine biology, animal science, psychology, or a related field. An animal health technician degree also may qualify trainers for some jobs.

Most equine trainers learn their trade by working as a groom at a stable. Some get ahead by seeking a degree, or study at an accredited private training school. Because large animals are involved, most horse-training jobs have minimum weight requirements for candidates.

Many zoos require their caretakers to have a bachelor’s degree in biology, animal science, or a related field.

With experience and additional training, caretakers in animal shelters may become adoption coordinators, animal control officers, emergency rescue drivers, assistant shelter managers, or shelter directors.

Many dog trainers attend workshops and courses at community colleges and vocational schools. Topics include basic study of canines, learning theory of animals, teaching obedience cues, problem solving methods, and safety. Many also offer business training.

Animal specialists may manage service workers— animal caretakers and animal trainers— who train, feed, water, groom, bathe, and exercise animals and clean, disinfect, and repair their cages. They also play with the animals, provide companionship, and observe behavioral changes that could indicate illness or injury. Boarding kennels, pet stores, animal shelters, veterinary hospitals and clinics, stables, laboratories, aquariums and natural aquatic habitats, and zoological parks all house animals and employ animal care and service workers. A wide base of education might be necessary for such a management challenge.

zoo keeper

Depending on the zoo, keepers may be assigned to work with a broad group of animals such as mammals, birds, or reptiles, or they may work with a limited collection of animals such as primates, large cats, or small mammals. A degree in Zoology might be the fastest way into this field, beginning at mid-level, and working upward.

Working with veterinarians involves familiarity with animal lab work, such as the collection of blood samples; physical, x-ray, ultrasonic, and dental exams; physical therapy; and the administration of medicines and replacement fluids. A lab degree or training would be required.

Most pet groomers learn their trade by completing an informal apprenticeship, usually lasting 6 to 10 weeks, under the guidance of an experienced groomer. Prospective groomers also may attend one of the 52 State-licensed grooming schools throughout the country, with programs varying in length from 2 to 18 weeks.

Certifications are available in many animal service occupations. For dog trainers, certification by a professional association or one of the hundreds of private vocational or State-approved trade schools can be advantageous. The National Dog Groomers Association of America offers certification for master status as a groomer. The American Boarding Kennels Association offers a three-stage, home-study program for individuals interested in pet care. Those who complete the third stage and pass oral and written examinations become Certified Kennel Operators (CKO).

Gov data shows that, without a degree, animal care earnings can be relatively low. Median hourly earnings of nonfarm animal caretakers were $8.72 in May 2006. The middle 50 percent earned between $7.50 and $10.95. The bottom 10 percent earned less than $6.56, and the top 10 percent earned more than $14.64.

Median hourly earnings in the industries employing the largest numbers of nonfarm animal caretakers in May 2006 were:

  • Spectator sports $9.38
  • Other personal services 8.78
  • Social advocacy organizations 8.31
  • Other professional, scientific, and technical services 8.23
  • Veterinary services 8.23
  • Other miscellaneous store retailers 8.22

All animal caretakers and service workers need patience, sensitivity, and problem solving ability. They also need tact and communication skills. This is particularly true for those in shelters, who often deal with individuals who abandon their pets. The ability to handle emotional people is vital for workers at shelters.

Advancement for kennel caretakers takes the form of promotion to kennel supervisor, assistant manager, and manager; those with enough capital and experience may open up their own kennels. Zookeepers may advance to senior keeper, assistant head keeper, head keeper, and assistant curator.

Demand for animal care and service workers in animal shelters is expected to grow as communities increasingly recognize the connection between animal abuse and abuse toward humans, and continue to commit private funds to animal shelters, many of which are working hand-in-hand with social service agencies and law enforcement teams.

If you love animals, and wish to devote your life to their care, get the degree that empowers you most. Get the knowledge that helps you put your energy to work.

Educate yourself for the kind of life you want. The more education you have, the more choices you have, to help animals. to protect animals.

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