So, You Want to Work with Animals?
1 Choosing a Career Working with Animals
Congratulations on picking up a book about working with animals. Animals are a huge part of every person’s life. From the foods we eat to the clothes we wear, from the simple joy of owning a pet to the complexity of fighting on the battlefield, animals are our companions, coworkers, assistants, and fellow travelers on this planet we all call home.
Why did you pick up this book, open it, and start reading? If your answer is, “Because I love animals,” awesome! That’s step one. But almost everyone loves animals, and those who don’t love them probably really like them but don’t want to take on the responsibility of owning or caring for them.
You LOVE animals. Great start. But . . . are you obsessed? Are you captivated by every dog or cat you see? Intrigued by herds of cows or horses? Fascinated by fish or whales? Does seeing an animal in need stir you to action? Do you get goosebumps just thinking about ways to protect animals in the wild? Does finding a cure for animal diseases drive you to take harder and harder science classes? Does the idea of extinction make your heart sink to your knees?
If you can answer YES! to any of those questions, or you feel that you are heading in the direction of a yes answer, then pursuing a career working with animals may be right for you.
World Leaders Have Pets Too
Barack Obama, former president of the United States, adopted a Portuguese water dog named Bo. A few years later, while still in the White House, he and his family adopted another dog named Sunny.
Bhumibol Adulyadej, former king of Thailand, had a dog named Thong Daeng, meaning “Copper,” that was rescued from the streets of Bangkok. During the king’s reign, he encouraged his people to adopt street dogs.
Theresa May, the prime minister of the United Kingdom, has a cat named Larry. Larry holds the official title of Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office. When a prime minister leaves office, he or she also leaves the house at 10 Downing Street in London. The cat, however, stays.
Elizabeth II, the queen of England, loves Welsh Corgis and has owned over thirty of them during her reign.
Akihito, emperor of Japan, has a goby fish. He is an ichthyologist and has published dozens of peer-reviewed papers on fish biology. In 2006, fellow researcher Doug Hoese from Australia named his newly discovered fish Akihito in honor of his friend.
Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, has a black Labrador named Koni. The dog was a gift from the General of the Russian Army.
Claude Bourgelat (1712–1779), Founder of the World’s First Veterinary Schools
Claude Bourgelat was born on March 12, 1712, in Lyon, France, during the reign of Louis XIV. His father was a nobleman, and as his son, Bourgelat received an excellent education and was expected to pursue a career in law. After some time as a lawyer, he lost his focus and turned his attention to horses. Before long Bourgelat was considered the best in the nation at training and riding them. He was named the grand equerry of France and became director of the Lyon Academy of Horsemanship when he was only twenty-eight years old. The Lyon Academy was a school where young men studied horseback riding, music, math, manners, and swordsmanship.
Bourgelat soon realized that his knowledge of horse anatomy and health issues was sorely lacking, so he set out to learn as much as he could from two Lyon surgeons. Ten years later, in 1750, his book, Élémens d’hippiatrique ou nouveaux principes sur la connoissance et sur la médecine des chevaux (Elements of the Principles of Veterinary Art, or, New Knowledge about Medicine and Horses), was published.
The book detailed all his research into horses—research based on his own observations and experiments. The book earned him a place in the Academy of Sciences, a society that was leading the way in scientific study in Europe. In the preface, Bourgelat wrote, “Those who intend to [acquire skills
in veterinary art] will not be able to acquire a sufficient degree of education . . . [since] we do not have schools for teaching.”1
It was clear that the idea of starting a veterinary school was already on his mind.
Over the next decade, it became clear to Bourgelat that educated veterinarians were needed. Thousands of cattle in herds across the country were being destroyed by a disease known as the cattle plague. It was also a time when the health of the nation’s horses was critical to maintaining a powerful army and the nation’s security. He convinced the government of King Louis XV that the nation needed a school of veterinary medicine, and he received the money to start one.
In 1761, the world’s first veterinary college, the Royal Veterinary School of Lyon, was established. By the end of 1762, the first thirty-eight veterinary students were enrolled and beginning their studies. In 1765, Bourgelat founded the Alfort Veterinary School outside of Paris. Both colleges accepted students from throughout Europe. After graduation, those students returned to their home countries, spreading an understanding of how to use the scientific method (experience, observation, reasoning, analysis, and deduction) to study and treat diseases in animals.
As a veterinary surgeon, Bourgelat was one of the first scientists to acknowledge that the scientific study of animal biology and pathology could lead to a better understanding of human biology and pathology. This revolutionary thought is considered the point when modern medicine was born. Bourgelat is also credited with being the creator of the modern veterinary profession. He died in Paris on January 3, 1779. He was sixty-six years old.
Five Traits You Need to Work with Animals Attentiveness
Animals can’t talk. That may seem like an obvious statement, but it’s important for you to understand. They don’t know what you are saying to them unless you teach them. By learning to pay close attention, you will notice when an animal is happy, scared, or feeling stressed and likely to lash out. Careful attention to each animal’s unique behaviors is critical to knowing how it will react in a given situation. Being attentive also helps you learn to speak cat, dog, or even dolphin, and to be in tune with what they are trying to communicate to you.
Working with animals can be very dangerous. When caring for lions in the wild, elephants in captivity, or cows on a farm, you must remember that they bite, butt, kick, and scratch. It’s up to you to be prepared for any event and face their actions with calm, controlled courage. It also takes courage to euthanize an animal. Whether it’s a wild animal threatening people, a sick animal in a zoo, or a wounded cat in a pet clinic, you will make life-and-death decisions many times during your career. That takes courage too.
It’s hard for an animal to understand what a human is trying to do for it. Getting a shot hurts. Having your nails clipped is scary. Being captured and put in a cage is very traumatic! Animals don’t understand that a shot protects against diseases, clipped nails protect against joint damage, or being captured may protect their species from going extinct. Having the ability to empathize with animals will help you make appropriate decisions for them, and your job will be easier in the long run.
Animal Tales Told in Movies
When an intense bond is created between humans and animals it is always based on love, respect, and, most of all, trust. Here is a list of movies that depict that unique connection and the lengths people will go to to help protect the animals they love.
The Amazing Panda Adventure (1995)
Born Free (1966)
Dolphin Tale (2011)
Eight Below (2006)
Free Willy (1993)
The Horse Whisperer (1998)
Hotel for Dogs (2009)
The Journey Home (2014)
Never Cry Wolf (1983)
Two Brothers (2004)
Animals don’t understand time. In their world, it takes as long as it takes. If you want to train a horse to compete in a rodeo, a dog
to sniff out drugs, or a cat to . . . wait, no one teaches cats to do anything . . . or a dolphin to perform at the aquarium, you must have patience. They learn at their own pace, and forcing them only leads to frustration for both animal and human.
The American Bison
On May 9, 2016, President Barack Obama signed the National Bison Legacy Act, which declared the American bison the United States’ national mammal. The bison, saved from near extinction in the early twentieth century, joins the American bald eagle as the nation’s second national animal. Besides being a national symbol, the bison is the official mammal for three states. Its image also appears on two state flags and on the seal of the Department of the Interior.
When working with animals, you must learn and adapt to what an animal can and cannot do. Be realistic about the time it takes to train them. Be realistic about the need for culling a herd or slaughtering animals for food. Be realistic about life-and-death decisions. But most of all, be realistic about their needs. Wolves and bison need huge spaces to roam. Cows and horses need pastures for grazing. Dogs are social animals and need lots of attention. As you enter a career working with animals, try to be realistic when meeting the needs of each animal in your care.
Quiz: Am I Cut Out to Work with Animals?
Let’s take a quick quiz and see if you should read on and discover all the fascinating careers available working with animals.
1. When an animal pees or poops on the floor, I . . .
a. Get a bucket and mop and clean it up.
b. Find someone and tell them that the animal made a mess.
c. Squeal and run away.
2. An unknown dog is running loose in my neighborhood. I . . .
a. Ask an adult to help me catch it so we can find its owner or take it to a safe shelter.
b. Try to catch the dog. But when it runs away, I let it go.
c. Yell at the dog to get out of my yard!
3. I see a goat lying in the barn, separating itself from the herd. I . . .
a. Immediately know that there is something wrong and call the vet.
b. Watch it for a few days to see if it changes its behavior.
c. Ignore it.
4. I had a dream about the spotted Amur leopard. In my dream I . . .
a. Saw a future where there are thousands of leopards roaming the forests of Russia.
b. Watched the last leopard die, and my heart broke into little pieces.
c. Saw a leopard lying on a boulder and called out, “Get out of the way! We need those trees to build houses.”
5. I see an elephant that is very sick and miserable. I’m told it won’t get better. I . . .
a. Help make it comfortable and then call a vet to euthanize it.
b. I watch and wait, hoping it will die quickly.
c. I walk away.
6. In school, my favorite classes are . . .
a. Science, math, and English.
b. Computers, economics, and marketing.
c. Theater, physical education, and art.
7. My favorite place to be is . . .
a. Outside; it doesn’t matter what the weather is like.
b. Inside, but I don’t mind going out when the weather is nice.
c. Inside, where I can be cozy and warm.
If most of your answers are “a,” then read on. You are ready to discover all the possible careers working with animals that are open to you.
If most of your answers are “b,” then read on. With a bit more education and an open mind, you can discover a career working with animals that fits you perfectly.
If most of your answers are “c,” then maybe there is a different career that’s right for you. But, don’t give up if your heart is with animals. There are some careers in this book that might pique your interest, like animal photography. Or, you may blaze your own trail and define a special career all your own.
Things to Know If You Plan to Work with Animals
A career with animals means that you will spend much of your time working with other living creatures that require constant care. Much like human children, animals need to be carefully watched, regularly fed, given a clean place to sleep, and entertained to avoid boredom. This can be a 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week job—infinitely rewarding, but sometimes grueling:
You will work long hours, including many weekends and holidays.
You will deal with demanding and emotional pet owners.
You will handle frightened animals that may bite, kick, or scratch.
You will work outside in all types of weather.
You will deal with messy and unpleasant situations.
You must understand that sometimes you have to euthanize an animal.
You will face tons of paperwork.
You must recognize and avoid compassion fatigue.
You must understand that all animals can be dangerous, especially males and mothers with newborn babies.
US Animal Welfare Timeline
1866. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is founded by Henry Bergh, a New York philanthropist and United States diplomat to Russia. The ASPCA was the first animal rights group formed in the United States and is one of the largest in the world.
1877. The American Humane Association is founded to stop the inhumane treatment of farm animals and improve their living conditions. A year later, they added the safety and protection of children to their mission.
1954. The Humane Society of America is founded to prevent cruelty to animals in laboratories, slaughterhouses, and puppy mills. Today, it is one of the largest animal activist groups in the United States, with associated animal humane societies in every state.
1955. The Society for Animal Protective Legislation is founded and becomes the first organization to lobby for humane slaughter legislation in the United States.
1966. The Animal Welfare Act is passed. The law dictates the minimum acceptable living conditions for animals in the United States, defines what mistreatment of an animal means, and sets penalties for abuse of animals.
1974. Animal Rights International is founded by Henry Spira to stop the use of animals for research and testing.
1979. The Animal Legal Defense Fund is formed to provide free legal services to animal cruelty cases. The organization is dedicated to helping create new laws, enforcing existing laws, and shaping the growing legal field of animal law.
1980. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is founded by Ingrid Newkirk and Alex Pacheco. The organization works for animal rights through public protests, public education, animal rescue, and lobbying for animal protection laws.
TOP DOG Profile
Name: Rear Admiral Terri R. Clark, DVM, DACLAM
Job: Director of the Office of Animal Care and Use, Office of Intramural Research at the National Institutes of Health, and Commissioned Corps Officer with the US Public Health Service
When did you first become interested in working with animals and decide to make it the focus of your career?
I have had a love for animals for as long as I can remember. My father had a similar love and interest, and he was always bringing home dogs, cats, and even a rabbit. I also had a pet hamster at one point, and goldfish. Ultimately, my dad seemed to be the one who recognized veterinary medicine as a career choice for me, even before I was willing to acknowledge it as a possibility.
When I went to Auburn University, Alabama, for my undergraduate college program, I truly enjoyed the biological sciences and ultimately decided to pursue acceptance to Auburn’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
What education/work path did you take to get to your current position with the United States Public Health Service?
I have an undergraduate degree in animal and dairy sciences and a doctorate of veterinary medicine, both from Auburn University. After graduating with my DVM, I went into private practice for a short period of time and then joined the US Army, Veterinary Corps. During my undergraduate years in college, I worked as a research technician at Auburn’s veterinary college and so knew I had an interest in animal model–based research. Through the army, I was able to complete a four-year residency program in
laboratory animal medicine and then took board certification exams to become a board-certified diplomate of the American College of Laboratory Animal Medicine (ACLAM).
During my twelve years with the army, I was assigned to five different research programs. Since transferring to NIH [the National Institutes of Health], I have worked primarily with the Office of Animal Care and Use (OACU). The director position required that I have a diverse animal research background and hold board certification with ACLAM. I worked as an associate director and deputy director before being hired as the director, so my years of experience supporting the NIH community were also key to my success.
Why did you decide to join the army instead of going into private practice after veterinary school?
I did work in private practice for a short time, immediately after graduating from veterinary college; however, I quickly felt that I wanted to seek a work environment that had broader professional opportunities. I entered my veterinary college program with an interest in research, and knowing that the army would also offer me the opportunity to complete additional education and training made my choice to join even easier.
You were deployed to help with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. What did you do during that time?
The PHS CC [Public Health Service Commissioned Corps] veterinarians assisted [relief] efforts by providing direct veterinary care and other support services to two animal shelter operations: at Lamar-Dixon Expo Center and at the Parker Coliseum at Louisiana State University, as well as directly to the State of Louisiana and the USDA.
I primarily served as the executive officer to the second veterinary team leader. As such, I served as the team leader’s staff member, providing liaison and coordination to the rest of the team and visiting outlying animal shelter operations to ensure their proper constitution and support.
After Hurricane Katrina, it became clear that any disaster rescue plan needed to include a plan to rescue pets. Can you explain how your office is working to improve in this area?
Providing for pets during disasters was a very positive outcome of the devastation that occurred with the hurricanes in Louisiana; however, my office does not have authority to work with pets in a rescue situation. We do ensure all research animals held for the NIH intramural research programs are properly cared for during disasters and emergencies. Federal animal welfare laws require that we have well-developed disaster/emergency response plans, and we test those plans with tabletop exercises and the occasional actual event, such as snowstorms and power outages.
What do you see as your main responsibilities with respect to your work with/for animals?
I’ve recently completed my term as the chief veterinary officer (CVO) for the USPHS Commissioned Corps. As the CVO, I was responsible for providing leadership and coordination of USPHS veterinary professional affairs for the Office of the US Surgeon General and the Department of Health and Human Services. I also provided guidance and advice to the Surgeon General and the Veterinary Professional Advisory Committee on matters such as recruitment, retention, career development, and readiness of PHS veterinarians.
As people’s attitudes change regarding animals used for research, can you explain how you feel about this issue and how your office is addressing their concerns?
The humane use of animals in a research setting has been influenced throughout its history by public opinion, and this influence will continue into the future. As a federal agency, our funding is provided by Congress, so our mission is set by the public influence for funding and legislature. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of my office to ensure that our programs meet the federally mandated animal welfare standards as well as our accreditation standards.
Our federal laws also require that a veterinarian with experience and training in the field of animal research be involved with the research animals’ care and oversight. This is the reason my board certification exists, and it provides me with a special understanding of the needs of the research animals in this setting. Ultimately, I’m confident we are providing exceptional care and an exceptional environment for our research animals, and our collective team of scientists, veterinarians, care staff, etc. work to ensure the research we conduct is in keeping with these high ethical standards.
What future trends do you see in animal research, both using animals for research and research for the welfare of animals?
The mapping of both humans’ and various animal species’ genomes has led to an explosion of opportunities for biomedical research. New technologies are allowing for the genetic modeling of species beyond mice. This will give us avenues to explore that are not well supported in rodent species.
The mission of the NIH is to seek fundamental knowledge about the nature and behavior of living systems and the application of that knowledge to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce illness and disability in humans. While animal welfare research is not our primary mission, much of what we accomplish as we strive for excellence in our daily care of research animals leads to welfare improvements. Additionally, when animal models are used for research, the outcome of the research, while focused on human health, invariably has parallel benefits for animals as well.
What tips would you give kids who are interested in pursuing a career in animal research?
It is a wonderful career that allows you to work with and care for animals and allows you to help people too. Many opportunities are available, from veterinarian and research scientist to technician and animal caretaker. All require a love of animals and science. I would encourage you to study hard in school and follow this path if science, animals, and research pique your interest and match your skills.
What is your favorite animal and why?
My favorite research animal is the mouse, with zebrafish running a close second. Scientists are able to do quite powerful genetic modelling in these two species, which has led to a tremendous level of knowledge about how our bodies and various organs and systems work and, in turn, is allowing us to understand how to address diseases and health issues.
For pets, I love my standard poodle, but have also had lovely cats, guinea pigs, fish, hamsters, and birds over the years.