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So You Want to Work with Animals?

In these tough economic times, it’s pleasing to talk to people who love their work. Their enthusiasm is contagious. The majority wake up eager to start their work day. In my book, The Everything Guide to Careers with Animals, I interviewed hundreds of professionals who work with animals. Everyone from animal behaviorists to zoologists share stories about their work. They all have similar traits. Obviously, they all love animals. Plus, they have good people skills, and volunteering is a big part of how they got started. If working with animals interests you, read on.

Q. In these tough economic times, does it make sense to switch careers or embark on a new one to work with animals?
A. On a positive note, career opportunities with animals continue to grow and expand, even during hard economic times. Pet owners know that pets are part of the family, which means that the majority of pet owners will dote on their dogs and cats. They will spend money to take them to a doggie daycare center. They will hire pet trainers to tame negative behaviors, dog walkers and pet sitters when they are at work or on vacation, and relocation workers when they move. They buy clothes for their dogs, and will even purchase home baked treats for their pets at pet bakeries and pet stores. The opportunities are numerous and broad in scope. It’s not unusual switching from a position in the corporate world to a career with animals.

Q. How do I make the switch or embark on a career with animals?
A. Before you quit your day job, volunteer at your local shelter, veterinarian’s office, or zoo. Ask a dog trainer if you can tag along to learn the ropes. Everyone I interviewed for my book volunteered either before going to school or while they were in school.  It’s the best way to know if a profession is right for you.

Whether you are a student or professional, most jobs working with animals require people with experience handling animals. That means you might have to clean cages at a shelter, veterinarian’s office, or zoo. This is an excellent way to meet professionals in the career you are interested in, learn about the job, and get your foot in the door for when a better position comes along. By volunteering you will find out if you really are game to work with animals.

Q.Do You Have the Right Temperament?
A. The majority of people who work with animals share one thing in common: they all are passionate about animals. “We don’t go into this profession for the money,” says Kimberly May, DVM, MS, DACVS (Diplomate of American College of Veterinary Surgeons), and assistant director of the Communications Division of the American Veterinary Medical Association. “While the financial rewards can be high, the work itself is rewarding. Healing an animal just makes you feel so good. We get a different kind of positive feedback. The animals don’t tell us in words, but seeing how much better they are is an overwhelmingly good feeling. Pet owners are the ones who express their joy when they see that we are helping their pets. People consider their pets a part of the family.”

The one aspect of working with animals that many people overlook is that you have to have good people skills. Just because you will be working with animals doesn’t mean that you won’t be dealing with people. Practically every job–from dog trainer to veterinarian technician to zoologist–requires good communication skills because there is a lot of person to person interaction.

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