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Animal Careers: A Hot Job Market

Animals, of course, are a major part of modern-day life. Cats, gerbils, birds, and fish are all kept as pets. The sound of barking dogs is common in almost any neighborhood. It should come as no surprise, then, that careers in animal care—everything from working as a veterinary assistant to pet sitting—are booming.

Still, just because the jobs are there doesn't mean they're easy to get. “You've got to be willing to get in there and work,” says Jerilee Zezula, an associate professor of applied animal science and the coordinator of the small-animal care program at the Thompson School of Applied Sciences in New Hampshire. “And if you want to move up the ladder, you have to be able to think and reason.” Competition is keen, especially for positions that demand experience. Although some jobs require little more than a high-school diploma and a willingness to work, others are offered only to those with proper training and certification from professional organizations. To make matters more difficult, pay is often low considering the amount of time and effort required, and working conditions can be noisy, dirty, and physically demanding. “That's the problem with animal jobs,” says Zezula, who is also a veterinarian. “A lot of people want to work in the field because they love animals, but they have no idea what they're getting into.”

So what does it take to succeed? Courses in animal science are helpful, as is biology. If you have the opportunity, try volunteering or, even better, working as a paid apprentice. Then again, if science isn't your thing or hands-on animal work sounds too hairy, consider a job where you aren't actually handling the animals—like a receptionist at a clinic, for example.

Most of all, the key to a career in animal care, whether it be as a trainer of search-and-rescue dogs, as a breeder, or as a pet store employee, is remembering just what attracts you to the field in the first place—animals. If you can do that, you'll be happy no matter where you end up.

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