Careers with Animals – Job Descriptions
Being a veterinarian can be very rewarding career and is a wonderful career goal. To become a veterinarian you'll need to:
- Go through 4 years of college taking essentially pre-med courses like biology, physics, chemistry, and mathematics. You'll also need to take some animal related courses like animal biology, animal nutrition, zoology, etc.
- Go through 4 years of veterinary school. Competition for entry is very tough. Schools will look for animal related experience like working with a vet in clinics or research or working on a farm, stable, or animal shelter, as well as very good grades.
- For certain types of veterinary medicine a one-year internship is required, for others an additional 2-3 year residency is required.
- Just as there are medical specialties in human medicine, there are medical specialties in veterinary medicine, as well.
A Veterinary Technician is very much like a nurse. A vet tech helps a veterinarian take care of patients. To become a vet tech you'll need to:
- Graduate from a vet tech program, which is usually an Associates Degree (AA), and pass a state certification exam.
- Vet techs can work wherever veterinarians work- in animal hospitals, shelters, farms, etc.
Another career that involves helping animals heal and recuperate is a wildlife rehabilitator. A wildlife rehabilitator takes in wild animals that are injured, sick, or orphaned and provides medical and supportive care. If the animal is capable of fending for him or herself after recovery, the animal is released back into the "wild". If the animal cannot care for him or herself, feed him or herself, the animal would be taken to a wildlife refuge.
To become a wildlife rehabilitator you will need to:
- Take courses and seminars to learn how to care for injured, sick, or orphaned wildlife
- Complete appropriate coursework established by wildlife rehabilitation associations for certification
- Obtain state and federal permits to handle wildlife.
Wildlife Rehabilitators can work at animal shelters, wildlife refuges, or independently.
Animal Attendant/Kennel Worker
Animal Attendants feed, water, groom, bathe, and exercise animals and clean, disinfect, and repair their cages. They also play with animals, provide companionship, and observe behavioral changes that could indicate illness or injury.
- Animal attendants can work at kennels, shelters, hospitals, stables, aquariums, and zoological parks.
- Most of the training for animal attendants is "on-the-job". In zoos and aquariums, a college degree in biology, animal sciences, or a related field is usually required.
Like animal attendants, much of a groomer's training is on the job, serving as an apprentice. There are also trade schools that teach grooming skills.
- Groomers can work in grooming businesses, pet supply stores, animal shelters, stables, etc., wherever animals are.
- There are no educational standards for groomers and no licensing procedures for groomers.
- There is a national organization for groomers that offers voluntary certification.
Dog Walker/Pet Sitter
Today, many people are out of their homes for nine or more hours a day for work. Dogs don't always like to be left alone for such long periods of time, and they need to go out for walks several times a day.
- Some dog walkers will take out one dog at a time for 15 minutes to an hour. Others will take out many dogs at the same time, sometimes taking them to dog runs and keeping the dogs out, playing for hours.
- A similar career would be in doggie day care…working in or running a facility where people drop off their dogs before work and pick them up when they come home from work.
- Pet Sitters are people who take care of your pets when you go away on vacation or on business trips. Pet Sitters are also, often, in business for themselves.
There are no educational or training requirements for any of these positions, but they do require liability insurance and bonding.
Animal Behaviorist/Animal Trainer
An animal trainer is someone that either trains animals, or teaches a person how to train their own pet to do a variety of things. In this case, the trainer is actually training the person - teaching the person the skills and techniques they need to train their animal.
- An animal trainer can work in a variety of settings - they can work at animal shows, in animal shelters, have their own business, work for the entertainment industry, training animals for movies, television, work training service dogs (e.g.; seeing-eye; hearing-ear).
- There are no educational standards or licensing requirements for animal trainers. There are training programs, internships, and apprenticeships. There are also voluntary certifications.
Animal behaviorists often hold advanced degrees in animal sciences and behavioral principles. Most have Ph.D.'s. An animal behaviorist will often deal with behavior problems in animals (e.g.; separation anxiety, compulsive behaviors, etc).
Humane Educators vary greatly in terms of their educational backgrounds.
To be a humane educator a background in education is certainly helpful, but not necessary. An ability to speak in public, to teach others, and a love for children and animals is also helpful.
Many humane educators are volunteers or employees of humane organizations, like the ASPCA. Some work with other animals, usually small animals or very well trained dogs.
Humane Educators teach others about animals, their needs, their abilities, and try to instill a respect and reverence for all life.
"Therapists" for other animals are usually animal behaviorists. They observe an animal's behavior and their environmental situation, and if necessary, develop a plan to change the animal's problematic behavior - helping the animal develop "normal" behavior patterns.
Animals can also serve as therapists. Many animals are brought into hospitals and nursing homes to make the people in these places happier. Animals sometimes help psychologists reach patients that are socially withdrawn. Interacting with an animal is sometimes offered as a reward for speaking in speech therapy, walking in physical therapy. Brushing an animal can be a physical therapy exercise.
The educational requirements for different types of therapists vary. Many volunteers will go through training alone and with their animals (usually dogs) to have their animals certified as an animal therapist. They will then visit hospitals and nursing homes with their animals. This may be the only "therapeutic" training the person has.
A lobbyist is someone who tries to influence legislators to pass bills in their area of special interest. For example, one of the things the ASPCA Government Affairs Department does is lobby. A bill was recently passed through the assembly and senate in NYS making intentional animal cruelty a felony offense, punishable by up to a $5,000 fine and/or up to 2 years imprisonment. Getting that bill through the senate and assembly took much work by lobbyists whose "special interest" is animal issues.
- Most lobbyists are lawyers.
- To become a lawyer, one must go through four years of college and earn a bachelors degree, go through the three years of law school and earn a law degree (J.D.-jurist doctor).
- After graduating from law school, to practice law is any state you need to be admitted to the bar or licensed in that state. This will require passing a written "bar examination" and in many states a written ethics examination.
Many lawyers work in more traditional ways for animals too. Lawyers can work within or for humane organizations, for individual people, for individual animals. In their work they try to make sure that the laws that the lobbyists worked so hard to get passed are enforced in the courts.
Humane Law Enforcement/Animal Control Officer
Yet another career that involves both the law and animals is Humane Law Enforcement/Animal Control. HLE/AC officers inspect kennels, pet shops, stables, and other places where animals are kept to make sure that animal welfare regulations are being followed. HLE/AC officers respond to reports of animal cruelty, investigate, and if warranted, may make arrests. HLE/AC officers also enforce licensing laws and rescue trapped animals. For example, recently there was a fire in a building in Manhattan and ASPCA HLE officers went into the building with the help of the fire department and rescued the animals that were trapped in the building.
- To become a HLE/AC officer usually requires a H.S. diploma, possibly some courses in criminology and animal sciences, specific job training (may be similar to police training).
- Some states require certification.
Zoology can be both a basic and an applied science. A basic scientist in this case is one who is curious about living things and does not consider whether the information is immediately useful. An applied scientist is one who applies this knowledge for the betterment of humans and other animals. (e.g., interest in the mating habits of fruit flies vs. uses info about panda mating habits to try to increase the likelihood that pandas will mate therefore increasing their numbers.)
If you have not already guessed, becoming a zoologist involves a strong interest in animals and a lot of school. A graduate degree (masters or doctorate) will be required.
Zoologists obviously can work in zoos, but can also work for the government within the agriculture department, in education (teaching future zoologist), and in animal welfare organizations.
Becoming a marine biologist is also a graduate school endeavor. Job competition can be fierce.
- Marine biologists can work in a variety of settings. International, federal, state and local government agencies hire marine scientists for positions in research, education, management, and legal and policy development.
- Industries like oil and gas exploration and fishing companies hire marine biologists.
- Environmental advocacy and animal welfare organizations may also hire marine biologists.
- Also aquariums, zoo, and museums may hire marine biologists.
Office and Support Staff
Almost any office position - administrative or support- can be found within settings where work is done with or for animals.
Education requirements and salaries will vary with the position.
Finally, our last group of careers is within publications. There are numerous books and magazines devoted to animals. Each of these publications requires a writer and editors, some may require a photographer or illustrator and still some may require an art director.
To become a writer or editor, most jobs require a college degree in the liberal arts, with degrees in Communications, Journalism, and English preferred. High School and College publication experience is often valuable experience.
Employers usually seek applicants with a good technical understanding of photography who are also imaginative and creative. Entry-level positions in photojournalism may require a college degree in photography. Basic courses in photography cover equipment, processes and techniques.
Because these careers seem so glamorous and exciting, there are more artists than jobs for the positions, so training and talent are key.
There are many jobs and careers you can consider if you want to work with or for animals. There are many ways for you to pursue your personal career goals whether they are in the sciences, accounting, marketing, office services, publications, and still make a difference for animals if you choose to.
For further information on learning about careers working with animals:
Shorto, Russell. 1992. Careers for Animal Lovers. Choices: The Millbrook Press: Brookfield, Connecticut.
Hurwitz, Jane. 1997. The World of Work: Choosing a Career in Animal Care. The Rosen Publishing Group, Inc.: New York, New York.
Miller, Louise. 1991. Careers for Animal Lovers & Other Zoological Types. VGM Career Horizons, a division NTC Publishing: Lincoln, Illinois.
Barber, Kim. 1996. Career Success with Pets. Howell Book House, A Simon & Schuster/Macmillan Company: New York, New York.
Sirch, Willow Ann. 2000. Careers with Animals, The Humane Society of the United States. Fulcrum Publishing: Golden, Colorado.
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