The animal welfare world is full of folks who "fell into" the field. Today, however, there are distinct career paths for both young people starting out and mature career change professionals. No matter the specialty, there's a rewarding, mission-based assignment which doesn't offer Wall Street profiteer compensation but increasingly offers a respectable salary and benefits along with personal satisfaction. From Administrator to Zoologist, there's a long list of career possibilities to consider.-
Volunteering at an animal shelter opens the door to watching professionals in action while gaining experience. Virtually all positions require good people handling as well as good animal handling skills. Entry level positions require a high school diploma or a GED. The Society of Animal Welfare Administrators recently created the Certified Animal Welfare Administrator designation for top professionals. The latest SAWA survey lists 44 job titles related to animal sheltering and field operations alone.
Career tracks mirror those for any business. Nonprofit organizations are run by chief executive officers and government agencies have directors. College degrees in animals and public policy as well as in animal sciences, business and marketing are preferred. Attorneys find positions with advocacy groups or as lobbyists with large organizations fighting for animal welfare legislation. Support staff includes accountants, IT people, security guards, event producers, fundraisers, writers, artists, facility architects and other positions common to any industry.
Academic careers include teaching, research and public education. A master's degree in humane education was recently developed. Humane educators work with youth and adults to promote humane treatment of animals and each other, and to encourage environmental stewardship.
Law enforcement careers include court-appointed humane officers, cruelty investigators, animal control officers and police and military officers with K-9 partners. Training is formal. Background and mental health evaluations are required.
Animal Handlers include mounted police and military officers, search and rescue teams, and service dog trainers, for which certification is being developed.
Entrepreneurs run urban walking and doggie day care centers, grooming and boarding services. Dog training has evolved into a full-time profession. To raise standards of practice, voluntary certifications are offered by two national associations. The Certified Pet Dog Trainer credential is a widely respected designation. While dog trainers are not regulated or licensed, in some states groomers must be certified.
Animal behaviorists earn advanced academic degrees and the designation Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Associate Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist. They may work in research, sheltering or facilities such as zoos striving to create and maintain a natural habitat for animals. In private practice they act as a counselor to solve behavior issues for individual pet owners and in collaboration with certified animal trainers.
Veterinarians earn a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine after four years of university, four years of veterinary school and an additional one to three years internship and residency in an increased number of specialties. After passing a national test a graduate is eligible to apply for a state license. Veterinary technicians earn an associate degree and are state certified. Vet Techs perform a variety of medical procedures under the supervision of a veterinarian.
Wildlife Rehabilitators have been professionalized with the establishment of national associations which specify training leading to certification. State and federal permits are required to keep or treat wildlife. Zoologists, wildlife and marine biologists work in research, education, management, legal and policy development for government, corporations, advocacy groups, and animal facilities.
Today, almost any talent can be applied to create a career making a difference on behalf of animals.
- Provided by the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to help "Keep Tahoe Kind." Dawn Armstrong is the executive director.