I’ve been lucky enough to be around and work with animals of all kinds for much of my life. This passion and love for animals is a big reason why I started this blog! There are so many ways to work hands on with animals, whether it’s a career, a hobby, or volunteering. If you’re looking for a way to spend more time with animals, here are some potential careers or ways to volunteer!
Over on Instagram, there are so many photos shared every single day and many of these photos include animals of all kinds! There’s really no one right way to start an animal photography career but having some artistic skill is a big must! Some photographers sell prints or other products with their photos (think phone cases, shirts, etc) while others work with different publications to provide photos. Becoming a full time photographer can be difficult but there are many classes and workshops in different community colleges, online, and more. For example, Whatcom Community College regularly does community education classes every quarter and often has classes on the different aspects of photography.
Becoming an animal photographer will take a lot of skill and patience, especially if you’re trying to get a photo of a wild animal. Doing research on cameras and knowing how to best use the one you end up getting will be very helpful and knowing a bit about the animal you want to take a photo of will help too!
There are many shelters and organizations all across the United States and the world that work on finding forever homes for dogs, cats, and other pets. Some people work in shelters to care for animals while they’re waiting on new homes while other organizations have a network of foster homes that they support. Plus, there are organizations like Rescue Road Trips that help to transport pets from one area to another and many of the cat cafes in the Pacific Northwest work with local rescue groups to help adopt out their cats! Catfe in Vancouver, BC, for example, works with BCSPCA and all the cats in their cafe are up for adoption.
If you’re thinking about going into animal rescue of any kind, I definitely recommend reading through Bernard Lima-Chavez’s piece about the five things he learned while working for an animal shelter. Doing animal rescue/welfare can be emotionally and physically taxing work but being able to place a pet into a loving forever home is amazing. As someone who has had rescue dogs, I’m incredibly grateful for all the work that different rescue organizations have done.
A veterinarian is one of the most well known ways animal centered careers. Becoming a veterinarian takes a lot of dedication and education, as you’ll need a Bachelor’s degree and a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M). It is also possible to get a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine (a Ph.D rather than D.V.M) but even just aiming for a D.V.M means at least 8 years of school after high school (4 for undergrad and 4 for the D.V.M). There are only a handful of veterinary schools that are accredited by the American Veterinary Medicine Association around the world and only two are located in the Pacific Northwest (Washington State University and Oregon State University).
While veterinarians are well known, did you know that veterinarian technicians/assistants are also important in this field? Veterinarian technicians are similar to nurses in many ways and assist veterinarians in different settings. They help by observing the behavior and condition of animals, providing nursing care/first aid to animals, administer medicines/treatments prescribed by a vet, collect blood/urine/fecal samples, and so much more. If you’ve ever taken a pet into an actual veterinary hospital, a vet tech/assistant is usually (but not always) the person you first talk to in an exam room!
Becoming a veterinarian technician involves getting an Associate’s Degree from an accredited school and while it’ll be less time intensive than going for a D.V.M or Ph.D, becoming a vet tech will still take time and dedication. There are currently seven AVMA accredited programs in the Pacific Northwest (two in Oregon and five in Washington).
Both veterinarians and veterinarian technicians can work in a variety of settings other than a veterinary hospital. Zoos, for example, will often have a veterinary team on staff to care for their animals.
Recently, I wrote about the best ways to interact with potentially abandoned or injured wildlife and contacting a wildlife rehabilitator is one of the best options. Becoming a wildlife rehabilitator means caring for sick and/or injured wildlife, with the eventual goal of releasing the animal back into the wild!
Federal and state laws make it illegal to rehabilitate wildlife without the right legal permits so in addition to the appropriate training and education, you’ll need to meet some requirements to get a permit. The organization PAWS has some great resources about becoming a wildlife rehabilitator and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife even has a manual on wildlife rehabilitation.
Zoos and aquariums have their own controversies but there are many jobs in any given zoo or aquarium that help keep the animals safe, healthy, and enriched. Some jobs at a zoo include: zoo educator, public relations/marketing, curator of exhibits, education, or horticulture, and conservation biologist/zoologist.
Zookeepers have one of the most hands on work with zoo animals, as their job entails feeding, enriching, and observing all the animals. This job also means cleaning different areas and in many cases, it’s a very physical job that involves being both inside and out all year round. Many zoos will require some sort of relevant formal education (a Bachelor’s in an animal related field for example) to work as a zookeeper.
- So you want to be a zoo keeper, animal trainer, or aquarist? [from the AAZK]
- Careers in Zoos and Aquariums [from the AZA]
These are just some of the many different ways you can work with animals and there are even more ways to volunteer your time if you don’t want to (or aren’t able to) change careers. Different nonprofits like zoos, rescue organizations, or organizations like Animals as Natural Therapy or Pasado’s Safe Haven often need volunteers to help things run smoothly! Working with and being around animals can be so beneficial for you and the animals you’re helping.