All in a Day's Work: How to Turn a Love of Animals into a Career

Many people have a love for animals, but those looking for work in the humane field need more. They need experience, education, and a whole lot of patience.

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Alice Calabrese was desperate for a change. Eleven years into a successful career in retail banking, the animal lover realized that she wasn't happy in her job.

"I was at a point in my career where every day it was a chore to get out of bed and go to work. I was looking for a new job where I could feel good about what I did every day and know that I was making a difference for the better," she says.

A year after Alice's job search began, that change came in the form of a new position in animal welfare as the Development Director for the Humane Society at Lollypop Farm in Fairport, New York. Now President/CEO, Calabrese is just one of millions of people around the globe who work in the animal protection field.

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Perhaps you, like Alice, are interested in an animal-friendly career as well. But where to begin? The first step is to identify your job interests. The possibilities are endless. From animal control officer to special events planner to animal protection lobbyist, there are hundreds of different career paths to choose from.

"There is a common misconception that if you want to help animals, your only option is to become a veterinarian. And that's just not the case," says Betsy McFarland, director of communications for The HSUS's Companion Animals section. "Just about any skill can be geared toward helping animals. For example, there are lawyers who specialize in animal law. And at The HSUS, we have a full-time art director who designs our publications. We have a full-time accountant, librarian, and many other positions that utilize a variety of skills. You don't have to earn a DVM to help critters."

To learn more about the wide variety of positions available in the animal welfare field, check out the fields of specialization on Humane Society University's web site, search the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Outlook Handbook, or look for books focusing on animal careers at your local library or bookstore. Reading advertised job openings is another great way to learn what types of jobs are available and get a more detailed description of specific opportunities.

Animal Protection 101

After deciding on an area of interest, you'll want to investigate what kind of education is required for your chosen career. Depending on your goals, your length of study could vary greatly. Even if your dream job doesn't require a degree, coursework in your intended area of employment can boost your chances of landing a job. Check out our list of universities that offer coursework in animal ethics, animal rights, or animal welfare, and explore possible college majors at www.princetonreview.com and www.collegeview.com.

Humane Society University is an excellent educational tool for those who are interested in learning more about animal protection as well as those who already work in the field. In partnership with Duquesne University, HSU offers a Bachelor's degree in Humane Leadership and a Graduate Certificate in Organizational Leadership, in addition to non-credit certificate programs and non-credit courses and workshops. For more information on additional HSUS programs check out HSU's list of educational opportunities.

Getting Your Paw in the Door

Whatever your educational background, landing a great job can be a challenge. You'll need more than just a love of animals to beat out the competition┬┐you'll need experience. Volunteering a few hours a week at a humane organization could be your ticket to a new career in animal welfare.

"While having a passion for animals is important, in most cases, animal welfare organizations want to see that you also have some good experience, not just passion," says McFarland, who got her start as a volunteer at a shelter in Texas. "Volunteering can be a great way to gain that experience while helping animals. Most wildlife rehabilitation organizations, local animal shelters, and spay/neuter clinics rely on volunteer assistance."

Dee Fugit, public relations and education director for the Idaho Humane Society, agrees. 'Some of our best employees were some of our best volunteers. Volunteering helps you get your foot in the door and allows you to see the inner workings of an organization so you can decide if working on behalf of animals is something that you would like to do."

To find an organization in your community that needs your help, check out www.pets911.com. Searchable databases like www.volunteermatch.com, www.idealist.org, and www.volunteerabroad.com can connect you with thousands of volunteer opportunities around the nation and around the globe. Check out HSU's list of employment, volunteer, and internship opportunities for opportunities specific to the animal-welfare community.

Sniffing out Employment

Armed with knowledge and experience, you will still need to convince a humane organization that you're the best candidate. But before you hit the pavement, remember that preparation, and patience, are key.

"There are a lot of steps that go into landing your dream job. Networking is extremely important -- just as it is for any field," says McFarland. "It's also important that you take time to write a great resume and work on your interviewing skills."

For pointers on developing an impressive resume and improving interviewing skills, check out Idealist's Resume Writing Tips and Monster.com's Career Advice.

When you're ready to start applying for positions, you can search for openings at HSUS's www.AnimalSheltering.org, www.AmericanHumane.org, and www.AmimalConcerns.org. Check The HSUS web site regularly for job openings at regional offices around the country or in our national offices in Washington, D.C., and suburban Maryland. For more information about animal-welfare organizations and job listings, browse the HSU's list of professional organizations and and associations.

Depending on your willingness to relocate, your salary expectations, and other factors, it could be several months before you find a position that fits your skill and experience level. "You need to be patient. Landing your dream job isn't going to happen overnight┬┐but it's worth the wait," says McFarland.

While working on behalf of animals is not typically glamorous or high-paying, people who have pursued a humane career argue that they gain something more valuable than fame and fortune. "No two days are the same, and at the end of the day I know I've made a difference -- even if it's only for one animal," says Calabrese. Adds Fugit: "The faces of those animals when you befriend them are worth more than any amount of money."

Rebecca Simmons is the Outreach Communications Coordinator for the Companion Animals section of The HSUS.

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