Animal Care and Service Workers Career Information
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Significant Points· Animal lovers get satisfaction in this occupation,
but aspects of the work can be unpleasant and physically and emotionally demanding.
· Most animal care and service workers are trained on the job, but advancement depends on experience, formal training, and continuing education.
Nature of the WorkMany people like animals.
But, as pet owners can attest, taking care of them is hard work. Animal care
and service workers—which include animal caretakers and animal trainers—train,
feed, water, groom, bathe, and exercise animals, and clean, disinfect, and repair
their cages. They also play with the animals, provide companionship, and observe
behavioral changes that could indicate illness or injury. Boarding kennels,
animal shelters, veterinary hospitals and clinics, stables, laboratories, aquariums,
and zoological parks all house animals and employ animal care and service workers.
Job titles and duties vary by employment setting.
Kennel attendants usually care for small companion animals like dogs and cats while their owners are working or traveling out of town. Beginning attendants perform basic tasks, such as cleaning cages and dog runs, filling food and water dishes, and exercising animals. Experienced attendants may provide basic animal healthcare, as well as bathe animals, trim nails, and attend to other grooming needs. Attendants who work in kennels also may sell pet food and supplies, assist in obedience training, help with breeding, or prepare animals for shipping.
Animal caretakers who specialize in grooming, or maintaining a pet's—usually a dog's or cat's—appearance are called groomers. Some groomers work in kennels, veterinary clinics, animal shelters, or pet-supply stores. Others operate their own grooming business. Groomers answer telephones, schedule appointments, discuss with clients their pets' grooming needs, and collect information on the pet's disposition and its veterinarian. Groomers often are the first to notice a medical problem, such as an ear or skin infection, that requires veterinary care.
Grooming the pet involves several steps: An initial brush-out is followed by a first clipping of hair or fur using electric clippers, combs, and grooming shears; the groomer then cuts the nails, cleans the ears, bathes, and blow-dries the animal, and ends with a final clipping and styling.
Animal caretakers in animal shelters perform a variety of duties and work with a wide variety of animals. In addition to attending to the basic needs of the animals, caretakers also must keep records of the animals received and discharged and any tests or treatments done. Some vaccinate newly admitted animals under the direction of a veterinarian or veterinary technician, and euthanize (painlessly put to death) seriously ill, severely injured, or unwanted animals. Animal caretakers in animal shelters also interact with the public, answering telephone inquiries, screening applicants for animal adoption, or educating visitors on neutering and other animal health issues.
Caretakers in stables are called grooms. They saddle and unsaddle horses, give them rubdowns, and walk them to cool-off after a ride. They also feed, groom, and exercise the horses; clean out stalls and replenish bedding; polish saddles; clean and organize the tack (harness, saddle, and bridle) room; and store supplies and feed. Experienced grooms may help train horses.
In zoos, animal care and service workers, called keepers, prepare the diets and clean the enclosures of animals, and sometimes assist in raising them when they are very young. They watch for any signs of illness or injury, monitor eating patterns or any changes in behavior, and record their observations. Keepers also may answer questions and ensure that the visiting public behaves responsibly toward the exhibited animals. Depending on the zoo, keepers may be assigned to work with a broad group of animals such as mammals, birds, or reptiles, or they may work with a limited collection of animals such as primates, large cats, or small mammals.
Animal trainers train animals for riding, security, performance, obedience, or assisting persons with disabilities. Animal trainers do this by accustoming the animal to human voice and contact, and conditioning the animal to respond to commands. Trainers use several techniques to help them train animals. One technique, known as a bridge, is a stimulus that a trainer uses to communicate the precise moment an animal does something correctly. When the animal responds correctly, the trainer gives positive reinforcement in a variety of ways: food, toys, play, rubdowns, or speaking the word "good." Animal training takes place in small steps, and often takes months and even years of repetition. During the conditioning process, trainers provide animals mental stimulation, physical exercise, and husbandry care. In addition to their hands-on work with the animals, trainers often oversee other aspects of the animal's care, such as diet preparation. Trainers often work in competitions or shows, such as the circus or marine parks. Trainers who work in shows also may participate in educational programs for visitors and guests.
Working ConditionsPeople who love animals
get satisfaction from working with and helping them. However, some of the work
may be unpleasant, as well as physically and emotionally demanding, and sometimes
dangerous. Most animal care and service
workers have to clean animal cages and lift, hold, or restrain animals, risking
exposure to bites or scratches. Their work often involves kneeling, crawling,
repeated bending, and lifting heavy supplies like bales of hay or bags of feed.
Animal caretakers must take precautions when treating animals with germicides
or insecticides. The work setting can be noisy. Caretakers of show and sports
animals travel to competitions.
Animal care and service workers who witness abused animals or who assist in the euthanizing of unwanted, aged, or hopelessly injured animals may experience emotional stress. Those working for private humane societies and municipal animal shelters often deal with the public, some of whom might react with hostility to any implication that the owners are neglecting or abusing their pets. Such workers must maintain a calm and professional demeanor while they enforce the laws regarding animal care.
Animal care and service workers may work outdoors in all kinds of weather. Hours are irregular: Animals have to be fed every day, so caretakers often work weekend and holiday shifts. In some animal hospitals, research facilities, and animal shelters, an attendant is on duty 24 hours a day, which means night shifts. The majority of full-time animal care and service workers work about 40 hours a week.
EmploymentAnimal care and service workers held a total of 145,000 jobs in 2009. Nearly 90 percent of this number worked as nonfarm animal caretakers; the remainder worked as animal trainers. Nonfarm animal caretakers worked primarily in boarding kennels, animal shelters, stables, grooming shops, animal hospitals, and veterinary offices. A significant number also worked for animal humane societies, racing stables, dog and horse racetrack operators, zoos, theme parks, circuses, and other amusement and recreations services. In 2005, more than 1 out of every 4 nonfarm animal caretakers was self-employed.
Employment of animal trainers was concentrated in animal services that specialize in training horses, pets, and other animal specialties; and in commercial sports, training racehorses and dogs. About 4 in 10 animal trainers were self-employed.
Training, Qualifications, Adv.Most animal care and service
workers are trained on the job. Employers generally prefer to hire people with
some experience with animals. Some training programs are available for specific
types of animal caretakers, such as groomers, but formal training is usually
not necessary for entry-level positions. Animal trainers often need to possess a high school
diploma or GED equivalent. However, some animal training jobs may require a
bachelor's degree and additional skills. For example, a marine mammal trainer
usually needs a bachelor's degree in biology, marine biology, animal science,
psychology, zoology, or related field, plus strong swimming skills and SCUBA
certification. All animal trainers need patience, sensitivity, and experience
with problem-solving and obedience. Certification is not mandatory for animal
trainers, but several organizations offer training programs and certification
for prospective animal trainers.
Most pet groomers learn their trade by completing an informal apprenticeship, usually lasting 6 to 10 weeks, under the guidance of an experienced groomer. Prospective groomers may also attend one of the 50 State-licensed grooming schools throughout the country, with programs varying in length from 4 to 18 weeks. The National Dog Groomers Association of America certifies groomers who pass a written examination consisting of 400 questions, with a separate part testing practical skills. Beginning groomers often start by taking on one duty, such as bathing and drying the pet. They eventually assume responsibility for the entire grooming process, from the initial brush-out to the final clipping. Groomers who work in large retail establishments or kennels may, with experience, move into supervisory or managerial positions. Experienced groomers often choose to open their own shops.
Beginning animal caretakers in kennels learn on the job, and usually start by cleaning cages and feeding and watering animals. Kennel caretakers may be promoted to kennel supervisor, assistant manager, and manager, and those with enough capital and experience may open up their own kennels. The American Boarding Kennels Association (ABKA) offers a 3-stage, home-study program for individuals interested in pet care. The first two study programs address basic and advanced principles of animal care, while the third program focuses on in-depth animal care and good business procedures. Those who complete the third program and pass oral and written examinations administered by the ABKA become Certified Kennel Operators (CKO).
Some zoological parks may require their caretakers to have a bachelor's degree in biology, animal science, or a related field. Most require experience with animals, preferably as a volunteer or paid keeper in a zoo. Zookeepers may advance to senior keeper, assistant head keeper, head keeper, and assistant curator, but few openings occur, especially for the higher-level positions.
Animal caretakers in animal shelters are not required to have any specialized training, but training programs and workshops are increasingly available through the Humane Society of the United States, the American Humane Association, and the National Animal Control Association. Workshop topics include cruelty investigations, appropriate methods of euthanasia for shelter animals, and techniques for preventing problems with wildlife. With experience and additional training, caretakers in animal shelters may become adoption coordinators, animal control officers, emergency rescue drivers, assistant shelter managers, or shelter directors.
of animal care and service workers is expected to grow faster than the average
for all occupations through 2010. The pet population—which drives employment
of animal caretakers in kennels, grooming shops, animal shelters, and veterinary
clinics and hospitals—is expected to remain stable or slightly increase. Pets remain popular and pet owners—including
a large number of baby boomers whose disposable income is expected to increase
as they age—may increasingly take advantage of grooming services, daily and
overnight boarding services, training services, and veterinary services, spurring
employment growth for animal caretakers, veterinary assistants, and animal trainers.
Demand for animal care and service workers in animal shelters is expected to remain steady. Communities are increasingly recognizing the connection between animal abuse and abuse toward humans, and should continue to commit funds to animal shelters, many of which are working hand-in-hand with social service agencies and law enforcement teams. Employment growth of personal and group animal trainers will stem from an increased number of animal owners seeking training services for their pets, including behavior modification and feline behavior training. The outlook for caretakers in zoos, however, is not favorable due to slow growth in zoo capacity and keen competition for the few positions.
Despite growth in demand for animal care and service workers, the overwhelming majority of jobs will result from the need to replace workers leaving the field. Many animal caretaker jobs that require little or no training have work schedules that tend to be flexible; therefore, they are attractive to people seeking their first job and for students and others looking for temporary or part-time work. Because many workers leave the occupation, the overall availability of jobs should be very good.
EarningsMedian hourly earnings of nonfarm animal caretakers were $7.67 in 2009. The middle 50 percent earned between $6.48 and $9.59. The bottom 10 percent earned less than $5.78, and the top 10 percent earned more than $12.70. Median hourly earnings in the industries employing the largest numbers of nonfarm animal caretakers in 2005 were as follows:
Local government $11.80
Commercial sports 8.09
Animal services, except veterinary 7.78
Retail stores, not elsewhere classified 7.32
Membership organizations, not elsewhere classified 7.18
Veterinary services 7.07
Median hourly earnings of animal trainers were $11.54 in 2009. The middle 50 percent earned between $7.59 and $16.19. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $6.25, and the top 10 percent earned more than $20.85.
Related OccupationsOthers who
work extensively with animals include farmers, ranchers, and agricultural managers; agricultural
workers; veterinarians; veterinary technologists, technicians, and assistants;
and biological and medical scientists.
For more information on jobs in animal caretaking and control, and the animal shelter and control personnel training program, write to: For career information and information on training, certification, and earnings of animal control officers at Federal, State, and local levels, contact: For information on becoming an advanced pet care technician at a kennel, contact:
Sources of Additional Information
For more information on jobs in animal caretaking and control, and the animal shelter and control personnel training program, write to:
For career information and information on training, certification, and earnings of animal control officers at Federal, State, and local levels, contact:
For information on becoming an advanced pet care technician at a kennel, contact: