A love of animals can lead to a dizzying variety of careers – some of them so specialized that they take years of training to enter; others so simple that they require little more than patience and attention to detail. Whether your passion is for walking dogs, shoeing horses, monitoring fish populations, grooming cats, caring for zoo inhabitants or breeding reptiles, groups and associations are waiting to help you make the leap into your new career – or to take your existing career to the next level. Read on to find out how to track these resources down and make the most of them.
Dig up social-network groups
You already use Facebook to check in with your friends – so why not use it to check up on your own corner of the animal science field? Start with a simple search for your favorite animal or specialty – horses, for example, or veterinary care – and click a result that looks like it has potential. Even if the page isn’t quite what you’re looking for (a lot of pages on Facebook are automatically generated, and don’t include much useful content), the "Related Groups" listing at the bottom of the page can help get you pointed in the right direction.
You can also try clicking "Find all pages named…" and "Find all groups named…" in your search results dropdown, and further refine your results – limiting them to Interest pages only, and/or to pages that have been Liked by your friends. The social networking website LinkedIn includes even more advanced search options, such as the option to limit your search to group pages only, or to pages based in a particular geographical area. Click around for a few minutes and you’re likely to stumble onto a group that catches your interest.
The Facebook community "Dog Obedience Training Tips," for example, collects insights on keeping canine companions well-behaved, and the community "Veterinary Medicine" hosts discussions on a wide variety of animal care topics. The LinkedIn group "Cattle Ranchers," meanwhile, hosts active discussions on bovine care, while the group "Cats Lovers" caters to fanciers of felines.
It’s easy to tell whether a social-network group is worth joining: Are the latest post recent, or weeks old? How many people post in the comment threads? How many members have joined overall? Highly active groups with many members can be great sources of information about your animal care specialty – while active groups with fewer members can introduce you to professionals you’d never have met otherwise. Even if a group is marked "Private," there’s no harm in submitting a request to join – this kind of privacy is often just a formality, and you’ll be accepted into the group before you know it.
Sniff around some associations
No matter what area of animal sciences you specialize in, chances are there’s a professional association designed around it. To give you some idea of the scope of these specializations, the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters (NAPPS) offers business courses for professional pet sitters, the American Farrier’s Association specializes in providing information on certification and education to those who care for horses’ hooves, and the American Fisheries Society hosts an online job board and continuing education center for those who work with sustainable fishery resources.
You can find out which associations cater to your own aspects of animal care by jumping on Google and searching for terms like (for example) "pet grooming association," "dog trainer association" or "horse breeder association" – substituting your own specialty where necessary. And while some associations provide information for free on their websites, you may find that the benefits others promise – such as online certification, continuing education and legal advocacy – are worth the membership dues. The only way to find out for sure is to spend a little time on their websites and see what they can offer you.
Check the (online) classifieds
Whether you’re happily employed in animal care, looking to expand your experience, or just trying to break into a particular area of the field, you can get a sense for what kinds of opportunities are available in your area – and what salary range you can expect – by browsing job listings on websites designed specifically for animal care professionals.
The VetQuest Classifieds, for example, list job openings for positions in the veterinary medicine field, and The Vet Recruiter focuses on similar positions. Other sites, such as OceanCareers.com and HorseJobs.ca, provide detailed salary and certification information for those interested in working with specific species, or in specific ecosystems.
Though you may not immediately find a listing that’s up your alley, sites like these can still help you keep ahead of your competitors, by tipping you off about the latest news on your area of expertise, letting you know if you deserve a higher salary, and making sure you’re up to date in terms of certification and continuing education. And unlike Craigslist, these sites aren’t likely to dilute their useful information with loads of postings about unrelated fields.
Caring for animals isn’t likely to make you a millionaire – but after all, that’s not why you’re here. As long as you’ve got a heart dedicated to preserving and caring for other creatures, you’ll find that it’s easier than you might think to connect with others who share your love, and to turn that love into a profitable career. And much like animal care itself, all it takes to start your search is a little patience and a desire to understand.
American Veterinary Medical Association — A nonprofit association representing more than 75,000 veterinarians, offering industry news and educational opportunities.
American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA) — A nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of zoos and aquariums – including employment listings and certification opportunities for zoo and aquarium workers.
VetQuest Classifieds — Classified ads specifically for people interested in veterinary medicine.