Animal lovers get satisfaction in this occupation, but the
work can be unpleasant, physically and emotionally demanding,
and sometimes dangerous.
Most workers are trained on the job, but employers generally
prefer to hire people who have some experience with animals;
some jobs require a bachelor’s degree in biology, animal science,
or a related field.
Good employment opportunities are expected for most positions;
however, keen competition is expected for jobs as zookeepers.
Earnings are relatively low.
Nature of the Work
Many 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 care for pets 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
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,
typically at a salon, or increasingly, by making house calls.
Such mobile services are growing rapidly as it offers convenience
for pet owners and flexible hours for groomers. Groomers answer
telephones, schedule appointments, discuss pets’ grooming needs
with clients, 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
Grooming the pet involves several steps: an initial brush-out
is followed by an initial 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
Caretakers in stables are called grooms. They saddle and
unsaddle horses, give them rubdowns, and walk them to cool them
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.
People who love animals get satisfaction from working with and
helping them. However, some of the work may be unpleasant, 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 distress. 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 must 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.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Most animal care and service workers are trained on the job;
however, employers generally prefer to hire people who have 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 animal 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 also may attend
one of the 50 State-licensed grooming schools throughout the country,
with programs varying in length from 2 to 18 weeks. The National
Dog Groomers Association of America offers certification for master
status as a groomer with a focus on four principle areas—non-sporting,
sporting, terrier, and masters. The examination consists 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
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 three-stage, home-study program for individuals
interested in pet care. The first two stages address basic and
advanced principles of animal care, while the third stage focuses
on indepth animal care and good business procedures. Those who
complete the third stage 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
very 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, proper
guidelines for capturing animals techniques for preventing problems
with wildlife, and dealing with the general public. Because shelter
workers often deal with individuals who abandon their pets, excellent
communication skills, including the ability to handle emotional
people, is vital. 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.
Animal care and service workers held 172,000 jobs in 2004. Almost
3 out of 4 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 2004, nearly 1 out of every
3 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
3 in 5 animal trainers were self-employed.
Good job opportunities are expected for most positions because
many workers leave this occupation each year. The need to replace
workers leaving the field will create the overwhelming majority
of job openings. Many animal caretaker jobs require little or
no training and have flexible work schedules, attracting people
seeking their first job, students, and others looking for temporary
or part-time work, including retired people. The outlook for caretakers
in zoos, however, is not favorable due to slow growth in zoo capacity
and keen competition for the few positions. Job opportunities
for animal care and service workers may vary from year to year,
because the strength of the economy affects demand for these workers.
Pet owners tend to spend more on animal services when the economy
In addition to replacement needs, employment of animal care and
service workers is expected to grow faster than average for all
occupations through 2014. The companion pet population—which drives
employment of animal caretakers in kennels, grooming shops, animal
shelters, and veterinary clinics and hospitals—is expected to
increase. Pet owners—including a large number of baby boomers,
whose disposable income is expected to increase as they age—are
expected to increasingly take advantage of grooming services,
daily and overnight boarding services, training services, and
veterinary services, resulting in more jobs for animal care and
service workers. As many pet owners increasingly consider their
pet as part of the family, their demand for luxury animal services
and willingness to spend greater amounts of money on their pet
will continue to grow.
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
will probably continue to commit private 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. Job openings as shelter workers
will continue to be driven by high turnover as the job is extremely
demanding and stressful.
Earnings are relatively low. Median hourly earnings of nonfarm
animal caretakers were $8.39 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent
earned between $7.16 and $10.50. The bottom 10 percent earned
less than $6.17, and the top 10 percent earned more than $13.66.
Median hourly earnings in the industries employing the largest
numbers of nonfarm animal caretakers in May 2004 were:
Other personal services
Social advocacy organizations
Other miscellaneous store retailers
Other professional, scientific, and technical
Median hourly earnings of animal trainers were $10.60 in May
2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $8.10 and $15.23. The
lowest 10 percent earned less than $7.07, and the top 10 percent
earned more than $20.62.
Others who work extensively with animals include farmers, ranchers,
and agricultural managers; agricultural workers; veterinarians;
veterinary technologists and technicians; veterinary assistants;
biological scientists; and medical scientists.
Sources of Additional Information
For more information on jobs in animal caretaking and control,
and the animal shelter and control personnel training program,
Humane Society of the United States, 2100 L St. NW., Washington,
DC 20037-1598. Internet: http://www.hsus.org/
For career information and information on training, certification,
and earnings of animal control officers at Federal, State, and
local levels, contact:
National Animal Control Association, P.O. Box 1480851, Kansas
City, MO 64148-0851. Internet: http://www.nacanet.org/
For information on becoming an advanced pet care technician at
a kennel, contact:
American Boarding Kennels Association, 1702 East Pikes Peak
Ave., Colorado Springs, CO 80909.
Source: Bureau of Labor
Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook
Handbook, 2006-07 Edition