I’m often asked about my many unique experiences I have had with animals over the years. I’ve been fortunate enough to have lots of animal interactions from a young age. Such as growing up visiting my grandfather’s farm, to volunteering at animal shelters, interning at veterinary hospitals, volunteering at a wildlife rehabilitation for birds, and of course my two-month internship at Wildlife World Zoo, Aquarium, and Safari Park in the summer of 2016 (please check out my series of posts detailing that internship, a link is provided below.) If I had a nickel for every time someone exclaimed “ugh I am so jealous of all the cool animals you have gotten to interact with.” I would have enough money to buy my own giraffe (which I would not recommend, giraffes are smelly!) However, most people don’t realize that you don’t need to have an animal related education or career to have the experiences I have had. In fact, there are many ways that you could start volunteering, interning, or even find a job in animal related career today! I have compiled a list of helpful hints, tips, and ideas below. Check ‘em out!
1. Reflect on your interests
The field of working with animals is vast. There are so many different options and a wide variety of opportunities. Ask yourself, what interests me? Is it dogs, cats, and bunnies? Is it veterinary medicine? Is it farm animals? Wildlife? Zoology? Knowing what you are interested in can narrow down your search.
Helpful tip: Make a list of your top three interests to narrow down your search.
2. Do your research
The best way to find a job is to look of course! Almost all the internships I applied to were found online. You can easily type in something like “wildlife centers near me” on google and see what pops up. Ask yourself some questions, such as do I want a long-term volunteer opportunity or more of a short-term internship? If this internship is far from home, do they provide housing? Do I want to make money or just gain experience? These are all questions that can easily be answered by searching on an organization’s webpage.
Helpful tip: Most volunteer and internship information will be located under the “job” or “employment” tab on an organization’s webpage. If you can’t find it, don’t assume there isn’t anything available. Go to the “contact us” page and send an email, it never hurts to ask.
3. Be proactive
As said above, always ask if you can’t find an answer. The zoo I interned at didn’t even have internship information on their website, but I saw they had information for volunteering. If I had never emailed the volunteer coordinator and asked about internships, I would never have known! Always be assertive and ask questions, every application process is different.
Helpful tip: Offer yourself to a place of interest! Even if they don’t usually take volunteers, taking initiative and offering to help for free is appealing to those in charge. Last summer I saw an old coworker on Facebook feeling overwhelmed at her farm with a new litter of pigs who needed round-the-clock feedings. Guess who offered to help and spent a month volunteering with baby piglets? This chick right here! Put yourself out there and it’s almost always worth it.
4. Ask a friend
You might have a friend or family member that has had a cool experience working with animals. Ask them about it! The animal field is all about connections, and your friend might be able to recommend you to someone in charge or even just give you advice on how to get started.
5. Always remain professional
All your communications and behavior should always remain professional. Even if you decide against a particular place you were interested in, let them know. Don’t just stop emailing or answering their phone calls because you decided on a different place. You never know what the future holds and keeping contacts in related fields you are interested in is always a good thing. If you do decide to volunteer or intern at a particular place, remember just because you might not be getting paid, doesn’t mean you aren’t working. I take my volunteer work and internships very seriously. Always listen to the staff you are working with. Animals can be unpredictable and even dangerous and the staff members are very knowledgeable and the rules they are telling you are there for your safety and the safety of the animals.
6. Be willing to start from the bottom
Generally, volunteering or interning is the bottom of the workforce food chain, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t beneficial. Not only do you gain valuable work experience, but you get to show those in charge what you’ve got. Say you had your heart set on an internship but there are only volunteer positions available. Take it! You might be able to work up to an internship once a position is available. Same goes for taking an internship when you were really looking for a job. Do you know how many people get hired from internships? A lot! Even if it isn’t exactly the work you pictured, you are still getting your foot in the door and sometimes that is half the battle.
Working with animals is such a valuable experience and I hope this article was informative and helps you take the next step towards your dream! Please check out my series of posts titled, A Zoo’pendous Summer! to read more about my zookeeping internship. A link is provided below.