Career World, April, 2001, by Anne Austin
Did you know that stroking Dan animal's fur can significantly reduce blood pressure and stress? Maybe that's why so many people reach out to pet animals. If you'd like to turn that pleasure into part of your workday, consider the following hot careers in animal care.
Keeping Animals Healthy
Veterinarians provide medical care for animals. More than 65,000 licensed veterinarians in this country treat animal health problems and injuries. The demand for veterinarians is growing faster than average, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, because as incomes rise, more people are willing to pay for nonemergency medical care for theirpets.
Veterinarians can choose where to work and with what type of animal. The majority choose private practice. The American Veterinary Medical Association estimates that 58 percent of those who specialize in small animals treat the nation's 52.9 million dogs, 59.1 million cats, 12.6 million birds, and 7 million other pets. Other veterinarians in private practice specialize in large animals such as horses or farm animals like cattle or pigs. On farms, doctors often work outdoors where many of the animals are.
Some veterinarians spend their time doing laboratory research. Doctors working in regulatory medicine study zoonoses, which are diseases that can be passed between animals and humans. Veterinarians also work with physicians and other scientists to discover new ways of preventing and treating human diseases. Some work in the pharmaceutical industry, developing better medicines for animals and humans alike.
Other doctors practice in special settings such as aquariums or zoos. Although zoos provide entertainment, they also play an important role in conservation and education. Zoo veterinarians play a major role in the understanding of how endangered animals can be bred in captivity in order to reintroduce species into the wild.
It takes a lot of schooling to become a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM). The education begins with a bachelor's degree, usually in a pre-veterinary curriculum that emphasizes science, and then the student attends four years of veterinary school. There are 27 colleges of veterinary medicine in the United States, and only one in three students who applies is accepted. Good grades are essential, but the schools also look for students who have had experience working with animals.
You don't have to be a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine to work with animals. Veterinary technicians work in veterinary offices and support the veterinarian, including assisting in surgery, laboratory work, patient care, nursing, and client education. Veterinary technicians are trained in two-year associate-degree programs. Like veterinarians, the demand for veterinary technicians has increased at an above-average rate.
Even when they aren't sick, animals need lots of care and attention. Pet groomers bathe, clip, and style the fur of dogs and cats. Sometimes this is done for shows, but often the owners just want their pets to look nice. Some groomers specialize in big animals like cattle. A well-groomed animal stands a better chance of getting a blue ribbon at the county fair.
As more people own pets and at the same time work longer and longer hours, they worry that their pets will be unhappy at home by themselves. So they take their pets to day care every day, the same way they would a child. Pet daycare providers feed the animals and make sure they get lots of attention and exercise. Profit Magazine rates pet day care as one of the top 10 best business opportunities. It costs a minimum of $50,000 to get started, but a successful center could generate annual revenues of up to $200,000. In addition to some business training, a strong work ethic and good customer service skills are key.
Visitors to zoos expect to see well-cared-for animals. Zookeepers are specialized animal caretakers. They are in charge of feeding and watering the animals and cleaning their enclosures. Pete Mohan, curator of fishes at Sea World of Ohio, says his job includes more elbow grease than he expected. "There's so much basic cleaning," he says.
An even more important part of the zookeeper's job is to learn the habits and behavior of the zoo animals. Unusual behavior is sometimes the first clue that an animal might be sick Zookeepers also help design, build, and repair enclosures. Some work with zoo managers on breeding and reproduction programs and on research projects.
Zookeeping is a tough field to break into. There are fewer than 5,000 zookeepers in the United States. Not only do most positions pay minimum wage to start, but most zookeepers work weekends and holidays. Unlike other caretaker jobs that might only require a high school education, zoos prefer applicants with a college degree in biology or zoology.
Teaching Animals to Sit, Fetch, Stay
Animal trainers teach animals to behave in appropriate ways at the appropriate times. Trainers use their knowledge of animal habits and the animals' abilities to learn to teach them to respond to direction. Dogs are commonly trained for many helpful roles: as guides for the blind; for rescue work; or in detecting drugs, bombs, and even contraband fruits and vegetables.
The U.S. Customs Service employs canine enforcement officers, special agents who handle drug detector dogs. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has its Beagle Brigade, beagles trained to detect fruit and meat in people's luggage.
Sometimes trainers focus on changing an animal's inappropriate behavior. Dr. David Spiegel, a veterinarian, focuses entirely on treating behavior problems. He works with the animal and the owner to understand why a dog bites or a cat shreds the sofa, and then helps change that behavior.
Trainers also work with animals in the entertainment industry. Diana Guerrero, who has trained animals for 20 years, comments that although it seems like this would be exciting work, the days on a movie set are long and tedious. Her day starts before dawn, when she takes the animals and their gear to the set. Then she waits around for the scene with the animals. At the end of the day, sometimes 14 hours later, she takes the animals home. And then she still has to cleanup. "Usually the animal gets paid more than you do!" she comments.
Animal trainers are not required to have specialized training. Most trainers learn the ropes through on-the-job apprenticeships at organizations like Sea World, at circuses, or at some zoos. After working for someone else to gain experience, many trainers start their own businesses.
It takes more than just a love of animals to create a successful career in these fields. Guerrero recommends that first you need to think about what kinds of animals you want to work with. Then you need to think about what sort of work you'd like to do.
To start with, most people in the field recommend that you get hands-on experience early. Sea World says it's more interested in a job applicant with experience than someone who just "loves animals." Pet-sit for neighbors or volunteer at the zoo or local animal shelter. Also look for a job on a farm, in a vet's office, or in a pet store.
No matter what career path you choose, your job will make a difference both to the animals and to their owners.
Jobs and Minimum
diagnose and treat sick animals. Doctor of
Veterinary Medicine (DVM)
with animal care. Associate Degree
wash, trim, style pet hair; clip nails. Apprenticeship
Pet Day-Care Owners
provide food, exercise, and play Experience taking
for pets on a daily basis. care of animals
feed animals, clean enclosures, Bachelor's degree
observe behavior. in biology or zoology
train animals to respond in Apprenticeship
prepare displays, lead tours. Bachelor's degree
Jobs and Salary [*]
Responsibilities Starting Average
diagnose and treat sick animals. $41,800 $66,000
with animal care. $18,755 $21,860
wash, trim, style pet hair; clip nails. N/A $24,000
Pet Day-Care Owners
provide food, exercise, and play $40,000 $70,000
for pets on a daily basis.
feed animals, clean enclosures, $15,600 $24,267
train animals to respond in $23,000 $35,000
prepare displays, lead tours. $22,000 $37,600
(*.)Salaries are approximate and may
vary depending on level of experience
and place of employment.
Sources: American Veterinary Medical Association,
American Zoo and Aquarium Association, The Humane
Society of the United States
Do You Have What It Takes?
Read the questions and answers below to see if you have the personal traits for a good career match in the animal world.
Q: I love animals. What more do I need?
A: Lots of patience and training. Working with animals can be frustrating because they can't communicate with you directly. Training an animal requires repeating the same moves over and over again.
Q: I'm in good physical shape. Is that important?
A: Very. Zookeepers might have to lift big bales of feed. Aquatic trainers spend hours swimming. Vets have to restrain scared, hurt animals.
Q: You get to spend all day with wonderful animals. That sounds like fun.
A: It is, but a lot of animal work is just plain messy, hard work. So if you don't mind going home smelling like a fish or getting your hands, your shoes, and your clothes dirty, you'll do OK.
Q: I've always been good at science. What else should I study?
A: You should sharpen your communication skills. Sure, you have to get along with the animals, but you also have to get along with their owners and the other people you work with.
COPYRIGHT 2001 Weekly Reader Corp. in association with The Gale Group and LookSmart.
COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group