Animal Caretakers

by Brenda Turner

January 4, 2017

Health care occupations have certainly been in the news. And childcare is often a common topic of conversation, with an ongoing emphasis on the need for quality, affordable childcare. But people are not the only ones who need care. What about Fifi, Fido, and Spot? They need quality, affordable care, too!

Animal caretakers help care for our pets. They feed, water, groom, exercise, or otherwise care for small or large animals, fish, and birds. Animal caretakers work in many settings including zoos, circuses, pounds, laboratories, animal hospitals, aquariums, kennels, and stables.

Job Duties

Caretaker job duties vary depending on the work environment. An individual working at an animal shelter will perform different tasks than someone working at an aquarium. Not only are they working with animals that have special, individual needs, but they also have different living environments.

How would you like someone to give you a shave and a haircut, clip your toenails and put a big bow in your hair? Okay, maybe you don't need that, but does Fluffy? Like humans, pets benefit from grooming, and sometimes it is much easier to let someone else do the dirty work. Pet groomers groom all kinds of animals, from dogs and cats to pot-bellied pigs and horses.

We all know that child day care facilities exist, but did you know that a pet day care industry has sprouted in Oregon? Business entrepreneurs all over the state have opened pet day care businesses either out of their homes or in a formal business setting. Worried that your pooch is getting lonely while you are at work? Wondering what your cat does without you all day? Take your pet to an animal day care center while you are away and you won't worry or wonder anymore.

Or, if you are away from home for an extended period of time, a pet sitter will come to your house to care for your pets, including dogs, cats, birds, guinea pigs, pot-bellied pigs, horses or other farm animals, turtles, and fish. A pet sitter will feed and water your pets and even exercise them if you would like. This is a great part-time job for someone looking to earn a little extra money or can even be a full-time job for an energetic individual.

Animal caretakers employed by amusement attractions get to work with a variety of animals that most of us have never had the privilege to see up close. Whether they are cleaning elephant pens or feeding snakes, they certainly must have some interesting days, as animals can be unpredictable. Obviously, this occupation is not for everyone!

Like people, animals sometimes get sick. Whether they are working for a veterinarian, in a laboratory, or at a stable, caretakers may find themselves helping to care for sick animals. These duties are not always pleasant, thus caretakers are a special breed of worker themselves.

One of those special people is Charlene Mundt, an animal technician and receptionist at the Aumsville Animal Clinic. Although she was working in retail at the time, a friend told her about a job opening at the clinic. She has been there ever since.

Even though she had never thought of working with animals in the past, she is glad she found this job. Sometimes the animals Mundt and her coworkers help "raise" over the years become debilitated. That is not the best part of her job. But, when asked what is the worst part, she didn't have a quick answer, noting that she really enjoys her work environment. And when times get tough, everyone works together as a team to get through them. She does have one piece of advice. "If you don't like people and you don't like animals, this is not the job for you. You must be able to communicate …. Animals can't tell you what is going on."

Employment and Training

Individuals looking at jobs in this field are in luck because this occupation is expected to grow above the 13.9 percent statewide average at 18.5 percent between 2014 and 2024. The pet population, which is on the rise, drives this occupation. Even beyond 2024, this occupation will likely continue to expand.
Self-employment is very common among animal caretakers. Many groomers, pet sitters, and pet day care providers are self-employed.

Animal caretakers also work for veterinarians, grooming services, kennels, amusement facilities (such as parks, zoos, or aquariums), animal shelters, and animal rescue organizations.

Education and Wages

Overall, animal caretakers earn relatively low wages, with the median at $11.33 per hour statewide. Also, some jobs within this occupational category pay more than others. For example, an individual who cleans cages or pens at an animal shelter or a stable is probably going to make at or near minimum wage. Individuals who help care for animals at a zoo or aquarium, or work in laboratories at a research institution – which may require some post-secondary education – likely earn more. Income for the self-employed is not included here because the Oregon Employment Department does not collect income data for self-employed individuals.
In addition to relatively low hourly wages, many animal caretakers do not work full time. Part-time positions are common in this field.

Typically, education is not necessary to become an animal caretaker. Short-term on-the-job training will help workers get up to speed with the job.

Animal caretaker positions are excellent entry points for individuals wanting to work their way up a career ladder toward higher-paying jobs. These positions will require more education, however. Education in animal science, veterinary science, or similar programs can qualify workers for higher-paying positions such as horse trainer, veterinarian technician/technologist, veterinarian, animal scientist, and zoologist and wildlife biologist.

As an agricultural school, Oregon State University offers several majors related to animal science, including a veterinary medicine program. Several community colleges, including Linn-Benton, Blue Mountain, Treasure Valley, and Portland Community College, offer animal-related programs such as veterinary technology, agricultural production, and ranch management.
Summary

Caring for animals can be rewarding, but some of the work may be unpleasant, as well as physically and emotionally demanding. Caretakers need patience, sensitivity, and experience with problem solving. There are opportunities in both entry-level and advanced occupations in this and related fields, and growth is expected in these occupations over the next 10 years.


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