A Brief Overview of Considerations and Roles
By Diana Guerrero



Ever wonder how you might become more involved with animals? How about spending your workday caring and working with them? Do you wonder what types of educational background is needed to work with critters? If you need a natural affinity for them? Or where you might start looking for background in order to do that sort of work? If you have wondered about some or all of the above questions then this article is for you. The first question to ask yourself is what type of animal work would you be interested in. Do you like domestic animals like dogs or cats? Perhaps you are more livestock oriented with horses, cows, pigs, goats. Or small livestock animals like guinea pigs, rabbits, or poultry. Then there is work involving wildlife, or perhaps captive wildlife or exotics. Maybe you've dreamed of working with marine animals, or raptors, other birds, or reptiles. How about fish or insects? There are a multitude of species to think about. Once you decide what types of animals you would like to work with, then you have to decide in what capacity you would like to work. Do you like medical things? Psychology? Behavior? Ecology? Education? Showmanship? Behind the scenes work? Construction? Maintenance? Administration? Public Relations? Conservation? Or did you just think animals would be "fun" to work with?

There are numerous careers available with animals. The work involved often covers a variety of skills and roles. Fifteen years ago it did not matter what kind of training or background you had; there were lots of opportunities. Now the competition is very stiff, with hundreds of experienced workers applying for the same jobs, many of whom have degrees.

Many people think that work with wild animals will be fun and exciting. It is, but not in the way you think. It is not all glamour and glory, and many times the animals are not cooperative or friendly. Working with living beings can be extremely demanding. Work often extends past the normal working hours. You can also forget about not getting your hands dirty! The often-encountered stench is less than appealing too! If you have allergies, then being exposed to hair, dander, hay dust, molds and other allergy triggers can be a challenge in this field, and probably will make animal work an unrealistic choice.

Most colleges do not have clear programs for these special types of jobs. The best thing to do is to check out different jobs. Talk to people working in those roles, ask about the job and what they like best or least. Ask about trends and training opportunities, or upward mobility. Don't forget to make a list of things you like and don't like doing! If you can get a volunteer internship, that is one of the best ways to see how things really are and if you will like the job. Some jobs are very methodical, with the same things done every day. Others require that you be unpredictable and adaptable to change. If you do not like blood, dealing with sick or hurt animals, chemistry or highly technical reading, then the role of veterinarian in these more non-traditional fields will not be a good choice.

If you do not like psychology, dealing with people, misbehaved animals or teaching, then the role of an animal behavior consultant or animal psychologist will not be the ticket. If the thought of public speaking or performing in front of live audiences with hundreds or thousands of people does not appeal to you, then an animal training role such as a marine mammal trainer is an unrealistic choice


Animal care positions are more suited for people who like predictable schedules or routines. Animal training positions need people who are more unpredictable and creative and can react well in a crisis or take proactive steps to prevent one. Both animal behavior and veterinary positions require people who can be detail-oriented, diagnostic and who can communicate well with both animals and humans. Some career roles will require close hands-on work with the animals and perhaps a close relationship with them, such as training. Other roles will require minimum interaction and more emotional distance from them such as in wildlife rehabilitation or breeding. Some career roles will have a broader base of skills that are needed. Generally, the requirements of people who want to work with animals will include the following:

Contrary to popular belief, you should be a good "people person" since many of the animal-related jobs require public interaction, educations, and good skills for dealing with people. In the past, many people who wanted to work with animals did not want to or did not have to work with the public or closely with other people. This has changed considerably and is an important job function now. There are other things that are difficult for some people to deal with when they work for other people who own animals.

One of the other factors to remember about working with animals is that they do not belong to you. Sometimes this is very disturbing or frustrating. Globally this can get complicated if you are dealing with other countries and cultures. They often have different views toward animals and the environment.

Another important consideration is the risk factors to your physical health or the limits of your emotional tolerance. Many people have contacted me regarding training big cats, for example, and most have unrealistic views of what would be involved. They usually have an unrealistic view of the animals and no real experience around wild ones. Wild animals are strong and dangerous, which means they can serious maim or kill an individual, and all it takes is one mistake. Several of my friends in the industry have been injured severely or have died this way, and I personally have seen numerous attacks on others due to mistakes.

In other careers, the euthanasia for sick or surplus animals is not a comfortable topic or experience for most people. Fighting animal abuse and neglect is another hard career for some people. If you are looking at career choices with animals, you will have to think about these things. Exposure to zoonotic diseases, animal bites, parasites and unpleasant things such as medicating uncooperative animals, cleaning up fecal and urine matter, are a few more considerations.

Next, there are some questions to ask about the actual training process or schooling. This requires that you define in what areas you are interested. Once you narrow that down, you can ask a few more questions: Is there a college program that will help me reach my career goal? Is there a related business (veterinarian, zoo, oceanarium, wildlife rehabilitation center, pet store, etc.) close by the school or my home where I can volunteer or work and gain practical experience? Will I be required to move to benefit from the career training and education for this field? How is the placement record into the field from this program or school? Is it an accredited program? Are there internship or externship possibilities while in school? Then, after choosing a program, ask yourself: What are some other career possibilities if I cannot find a job, get hurt or lose interest in animal work? More questions to ask include expectations for your future with animals.

Look closely at what you do and enjoy. Many people think they want to work at something, but without the right aptitude it may not be a realistic goal!

All the options cannot be listed in this article; the goal is to introduce you to some ideas and to get you thinking and searching in the right direction. You must really take the time to investigate. The effort will be worth it!

This year my website will be dealing with this topic in-depth, so come by for a look at the various jobs, training programs and related information at http://www.ni.net/brook-house.com/DGHome.html.

Diana Guerrero has achieved international recognition for her work with both wild and domesticated animals. Working with some of the most endangered species in the world, she is known for her unique training methods using trust, respect and understanding as a foundation. Diana can be reached through Ark Animals Behavior Consulting and Training at (619) 599-3697 or (800) 818-7387, or you can e-mail her at arkabc@ix.netcom.com .

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