If you love animals, and care about their welfare, you might consider a career as an animal shelter worker. One of the sad realities of life these days is the need for animal shelters.
Animal shelters are the orphanages of the pet world, and in these tough economic times, more and more animals are finding their way into shelters.
Shelter workers are the people who care for these unfortunate animals, and they provide a valuable service in helping the animals find new homes. Unfortunately, this isn’t always possible, and some animals in shelters have to be euthanized as well, which can be an emotional challenge that shelter workers must face on a regular basis.
Despite this sad fact, and the relatively modest pay that shelter workers receive, there are many rewards to the job as well. They include knowing that you’re helping to care for animals that would be suffering or even dying out on the streets. You’ll also be giving animals a chance to find new homes, or be reunited with their previous owner.
And you’ll be providing a valuable service to your community, as stray dogs and other animals can be a public health hazard. Some people have even been attacked by packs of stray dogs as they revert to wild animal behavior in order to survive.
About the Job
In many cases, animal shelters are just stopgap homes for animals that have become separated from their owners after escaping from a yard or somehow finding themselves lost and away from home. With the increased use of microchip implants in pets, more and more stray animals can be identified and returned to their owners, even many miles away from home.
But unfortunately, many more pets that end up in animal shelters are simply unwanted, and many of these have to be euthanized at some point. As a shelter worker (unless you work in a no-kill shelter), this is a realty you’ll be asked to face on a regular basis.
But make no mistake, animal shelters and those who staff them provide a tremendous service to the communities they serve, as well as the animals in their care.
Shelters, and shelter workers, help keep stray animals off city streets, where they can be a nuisance or even a danger to the community. In a shelter these animals can given food and water, and proper veterinary care. And many times these animals have been rescued from homes where they were abused or neglected.
Shelter workers, and the other people employed at animal shelters, perform the majority of hands-on work with the animals on a daily basis.
An entry-level shelter worker has the opportunity to advance in their career over time, and could eventually move up to assistant shelter manager, or even shelter manager at some point.
What shelter workers do?
Depending on their position within the facility in which they work, the job duties of shelter workers can include all or some of the following:
- Providing food and water to impounded animals.
- Cleaning out the cages and kennels.
- Walking and exercising dogs.
- Helping to locate the owners of impounded pets.
- Helping to find new adoptive homes for abandoned or unwated animals.
- Providing adoption counseling to prospective adopters.
- Assisting veterinarians and vet technicians in the care and handling of all types of animals, including birds and reptiles.
- Performing euthanasia on animals that have to be put down.
What the job is really like?
It goes without saying that shelter workers spend the majority of their time working inside animal shelters. These shelters can be noisy places to work, filled with barking dogs and other animals vying for the staff’s attention.
They can also be malodorous at times, with so many animals living in close quarters, although the better shelters are cleaned and sanitized on a regular basis to keep unpleasant smells at a minimum.
Also be aware that as a shelter worker you’ll be exposed to dirt, fleas, animal excrement and even parasites, among other things. Many of the animals in shelters were living on the streets for weeks or months, and are often brought in filthy and suffering from worms, tics, fleas and other pests. Cleaning up these animals and making the presentable is typically part of a shelter worker’s job.
But usually the toughest working condition challenge facing animal shelter workers is the fact that they’re called on to perform euthanasia on a regular basis. Since staff at these facilities tend to be animal lovers, the idea of putting so many animals down is tough to take, and can lead to burnout on the job if the person isn’t mentally equipped for this reality.
Fortunately, more and more privately run animal shelters are adopting “no kill” policies where euthanasia is not usually performed unless the animal is terminally ill or is dangerous to the community and therefore unadoptable.
Training and certification
In order to get an entry level job as a shelter worker, you must have a high school diploma or GED. You’ll also need prior experience handling animals, especially dogs and cats. Experience with other types of animals is helpful as well, but not necessary for employment.