Whether you want to cuddle them or cure them, caring for animals is a growing field. Some jobs are easy to qualify for (grooming, pet sitting), while others require advanced schooling (exotic animal trainer, veterinarian). Here is a look at three occupations that are all about the animals:
Daycare isn’t just for kids anymore. An increasing number of pet owners are using the service as a guilt-free way to leave their four-legged companions while they are at work.
"I got into this new field in 2002 when I recognized the need for better quality dog care," explains Jason Shine, owner of Fog City Dogs in San Francisco. "I researched ideas from dog walking to grooming and came up with dog daycare. Ours is a place where dogs can play with each other and then go home tired."
Between 7 and 9 in the morning the dogs arrive. The charges are walked twice a day on leashes in groups of four. They return for play time and a chance to run around with other dogs. At noon they get their lunches and medications if needed. Grooming is also offered. Afternoon walks and more play fill the time until owners arrive from 5 to 7 pm. Shine and his staff host 35 to 45 dogs every day.
"I don’t have any special training, but I have attended the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ training courses with my dog and learned about dog-to-dog interaction," he says. "I also belong to the American Boarding and Kennel Association, which provides information about new technical temperament evaluations and illnesses to watch out for."
Shine does not want to admit aggressive dogs, so staffers conduct temperament evaluations by observing a dog’s interaction with other dogs and humans. In addition to having up-to-date vaccinations, each dog must be spayed or neutered.
But it’s the owners who amuse Shine. "We have dogs that come in wearing designer leather jackets, T-shirts or rain slickers, booties and hats on wet days," he remarks. "We have some pretty eccentric owners who sometimes bring in filet mignon and containers of ground beef for their pooch’s lunch. "Some of these dogs eat better than I do."
Big Demand For Vets
Little dogs maybe cuddly and cute, but those looking for a career that offers countless job opportunities should think large – large animals.
"There is a shortage of large-animal veterinarians," observes Bennie Osburn, dean of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. "Most students come from an urban area and don’t have an appreciation of what the large-animal food practice is all about."
Seventy percent of those attending veterinary school want to work with companion animals because that’s what is most familiar. So the school has set out to modify the curriculum and change the way it attracts students. First-year classes visit the research center in Tulare and spend weekends at a dairy. Pharmaceutical companies provide scholarships for up to 20 students who spend a summer working on a dairy between their first and second year. The next year they get a scholarship and work with a veterinarian regarding health issues.
"There are many job opportunities for those who want to follow this career path," Osburn reports. "Best of all they can live in rural settings that offer an excellent lifestyle."
Salaries for large-animal veterinarians are sizable – from $80,000 to $100,000 – compared with a small-animal veterinarian’s annual wage that starts around $75,000.
A dwindling number of veterinarians out in the rural areas are working harder and traveling greater distances. In the Central Valley, with its concentration of livestock, many vets travel 30 to 40 miles for a house call. But in area like Modoc County, such trips could be up to 100 miles.
Veterinarians who were trained 30 years ago are looking to retire and their ranks are not being replenished. The decline in number of vets comes at a time when there is more emphasis on safe food.
Today’s farms are large operations with 1000 to 5000 dairy cows that replaced smaller herds. At some supersized farms in California, where the herd can number 10,000 or more, a veterinarian is a full-time member of the staff.
For residents of the Oakland Zoo, lunch-time means hauling a lot of food to impatient residents.
"Zookeepers are required to lift 50 pounds and move 125 pounds, the weight of a bale of hay," explains Colleen Kinzley, general curator at the zoo. "Many of the animals eat hay, and keepers have to move it from one barn to another."
Experience is definitely a plus for those wanting to get into the zoo field, and the Oakland Zoo has several ways to get started. In addition to volunteering, internships are geared to those in school, and flexible apprenticeships serve those thinking about a career change or other options.
"College is not necessary for entry-level positions," Kinzley notes. "However, it can make you more competitive in this very competitive occupation."
Starting salary is $13.50 an hour. Kinzley says that while a number are hired at that rate, the zoo most often expands its search by posting jobs regionally and nationally in order to find more experienced applicants.
"It’s definitely a competitive field, but if jobseekers are persistent and willing to move to other areas, then they are more likely to get employment," she states. "Jobs in large urban area zoos can be tough to get, while small zoos in rural areas often have more opportunities."
A variety of organizations such as the American Association of Zookeepers and the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums post job listing on their websites.
Zoo inhabitants live in their own customized environment and are quite different from circus and entertainment animals that have human contact.
"These animals are not pets and the keeper’s job is certainly not glamorous," Kinzley advises. "The career is rewarding but there is a lot of hard work and it is not a job for those who require a lot of cuddly reinforcement. Most of the time it’s just the opposite."
For more information on careers working with animals, visit these websites:
MoorparkCollege.edu/zoo – Moorpark Community College is one of the premier places in California to learn about the care and training of animals. A wide range of training is geared to helping students acquire employment working with animals. The website provides excellent links to animal programs across the country.
AVMA.org – Website of the American Veterinary Medical Association offers insights into veterinary and vet technology careers.
BLS.gov – At the bureau of Labor Statistics website, click on ‘Occupational Outlook Handbook.’ Type ‘animal’ in the search box for links to articles about several possible careers.