Education and Training: Typically high school and on-the-job training
Salary: Median—$8.39 per hour
Employment Outlook: Good
Definition and Nature of the Work
Animal caretakers tend to the everyday needs of animals in a variety of settings, including kennels, clinics, and shelters. Animal caretakers may also be called animal attendants, animal keepers, or animal-care technicians. They feed and groom the animals, clean their cages, and examine the animals to make sure that they are well. They may also play with the animals, provide companionship, and observe behavior.
In kennels, shelters, or veterinary clinics, animal caretakers often assist in obedience training and breeding or administer vaccinations and other tests. In zoos and circuses they make sure animals are ready to be exhibited to the public. Animal caretakers often repair cages and fences, exercise the animals, and give information to the public about the animals.
In all their tasks animal caretakers are usually supervised by a head keeper or trainer. In clinics they are supervised by a veterinarian. This supervisor is also in charge of training new caretakers.
Education and Training Requirements
A high school education is usually required to become an animal caretaker, and most of the training needed can be learned on the job. However, some zookeeping and animal training jobs may require a bachelor's degree. Interested individuals can gain experience working with animals by getting a job with a local veterinarian or by volunteering to work at a local animal shelter operated by the Humane Society or the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).
Getting the Job
Prospective animal caretakers should apply directly to pet hospitals, pet shops, kennels, animal shelters, and stables for experience in working with animals. Sometimes state employment services can help candidates find jobs related to animal care. Occasionally, jobs for animal caretakers are listed in want ads in local newspapers.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Animal caretakers with years of experience may advance to the position of head keeper. They may also be promoted to animal nurses. Some special training may be required. Caretakers in clinics can further their education to become veterinary technicians or veterinarians.
The outlook for animal caretakers is good, with employment expected to grow faster than the average through the year 2014. The continuing popularity of pets and the increasing use of pet services will spur employment in kennels and clinics. Also, with the growing public awareness of animal rights and animal abuse, more jobs will become available as more shelters are funded by caring communities and individuals.
Animal caretakers have to do a great deal of walking, lifting, carrying, and stooping. They may have to carry heavy animals, so they need at least average strength. Caretakers must also have patience and be willing to endure inevitable bites and scratches from the animals.
Animal odors and the smell of cleaning fluids may be disagreeable to some people. Witnessing abused animals or having to put to death old or sick animals can be emotionally stressful. However, most people who enter the profession love animals and receive great satisfaction from helping and working with them.
Animal caretakers usually work a five-day, forty-hour week. Some caretakers work on weekends. In some places caretakers wear uniforms. Employers may provide the uniforms or an allowance for their purchase and cleaning.
Where to Go for More Information
American Association of Zoo Keepers
3601 SW 29th St., Ste. 133
Topeka, KS 66614-2054
American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
494 E. 92nd St.
New York, NY 10128
American Zoo and Aquarium Association
8403 Colesville Rd., Ste. 710
Silver Spring, MD 20910-3314
Earnings and Benefits
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, animal caretakers earned a median income of $8.39 per hour in 2004. Those with experience in grooming animals in commercial enterprises, especially in metropolan areas, earned more than those working for nonprofit animal shelters. Many employers provide their caretakers with health insurance and vacations.