Are there any well paying jobs working with animals?
May 4, 2012 4:31 PM   Subscribe

Asking for a friend: Are there any high paying jobs that involve working with animals?

My friend's dream is to work with animals in any capacity. But she'd also like to make a livable wage, 60k or so. Google suggests that these two dreams are highly incompatable. Is this true?

She has no formal education beyond high school but is willing to get some. She's 20s, self supporting and no kids, in case it matters. Thanks in advance for your help!
posted by Pericardium to Work & Money (27 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Is she gorgeous and brave? Lion or tiger tamer in the circus.
posted by Scram at 4:37 PM on May 4, 2012

There are, but most require additional schooling (in fact, quite a bit).

Veterinarians, for example, need at least 4 years of college and a degree; some continue on beyond that. And for them "working with animals" means also having to sterilize them, put them to sleep, etc., which she may not want to do.

She can work as a volunteer at a zoo with no training, but of course she won't get paid for that. Our local zoo called these volunteers "docents" and lots of zoos have them.

To work at a zoo in other animal training/feeding capacities, you generally have to be in college and seeking out a degree, as many of those positions begin as paid internships.
posted by misha at 4:38 PM on May 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just to get it out of the way... Being a veterinarian pays more than that, but she is probably 8 years of schooling away from that, and that's assuming she can get into vet school, which is probably more competitive than med school. But, you know, it's there.
posted by brainmouse at 4:39 PM on May 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

My undergrad degree is in zoology, and my school had a zoo and aquarium science major specialty. Most of the ones I can come up with require an advanced degree. Getting a bachelor's degree then working in a zoo won't cut it, zoos tend to pay pretty poorly for jobs that work directly with the animals.

Vet is the most obvious if she's willing to go back to school. Salaries start at around 80k for private vets and 100k+ for specialists. Tenure-track scientists in the various life sciences and wildlife disciplines often work with animals, and the pay is similar to that of vets.
posted by zug at 4:41 PM on May 4, 2012

Yeah, big NO on the circus idea.

It has nothing to do with whether or not your friend is brave or beautiful--most animal lovers don't want anything to do with circuses because they are notorious for the mistreatment of animals.
posted by misha at 4:42 PM on May 4, 2012 [7 favorites]

Pet animals? Not really, for the investment in education, absurd level of competition, stress, and hours, working with pet animals is about as bad a gig as there is.

Working for farmers, doing research on or with animals, or doing regulatory work on the other hand can be a great gig.
posted by Blasdelb at 4:44 PM on May 4, 2012

I have a few friends who are vet techs. All of them have college degrees, but I don't know that college is strictly required. The pay isn't great, but the schedules are apparently flexible and it's definitely a living adult type wage. I can see getting into the pay level she's interested in if you keep at it for a few years, maybe pick up additional skills, etc. There also may be potential for growth at some level (I'd assume there are managers, administrative types, bookkeepers, etc), which would bring you up to where she wants to be.

As misha says, though, it is a lot of rough stuff. You have to be comfortable with putting animals down, assisting in surgeries, turning over strays to shelters, etc. There's lots of exposure to animal poop and other bodily fluids, and being mauled or bitten is an occupational hazard. It's basically like being a nurse, but for animals. But if you're an animal lover, it's probably the best job you can get without needing a specialized degree.
posted by Sara C. at 4:44 PM on May 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

As one studying for a career in animal care, I can tell you that yes, apart from certain highly qualified roles, the two are incompatible. Here in London an animal care worker is doing very well to get £20K as a starting salary. But this is not a field anyone goes into for the money. No one lasts long unless they love it. Does she realise how much poop is involved?
posted by Perodicticus potto at 4:47 PM on May 4, 2012

The circus doesn't normally start someone off at 60k. Last I heard, apprentices at Cirque du Soleil (which doesn't have any animals, but for the purpose of providing an example, is probably the highest-paying circus out there...) begin at 20-30k. If there is talent and determination to stay, then yes, she can eventually make more.
posted by Xere at 4:52 PM on May 4, 2012

Police or other law enforcement K-9 stuff?
posted by XMLicious at 4:53 PM on May 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

My friend's dream is to work with animals in any capacity. But she'd also like to make a livable wage, 60k or so. Google suggests that these two dreams are highly incompatable. Is this true?

Probably, but I get the sense that there is some money in doggie day care/pet boarding? Probably primarily for the owner of the place, and there might be insurance/bonding/degree requirements that I'm not aware of that make it not a good investment.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 5:03 PM on May 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

There is apparently a tremendous amount of money to be made at the moment in petcare - grooming, walking, day care, etc. Not necessarily 60K a year, but there's still a lot of money out there at the moment for pets.
posted by mleigh at 5:15 PM on May 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Being an animal wrangler for film, TV and commercials pays pretty well, as many wranglers and trainers are members of IATSE, but most trainers start with their own pets or animals and then branch out.
posted by Ideefixe at 5:18 PM on May 4, 2012

Yeah you can definitely make that being a trainer, or running a business like grooming or boarding or even retail. BUT you need experience and if your friend is mid 20s and doesn't already have a decade or more experience she's at a huge disadvantage vis people who grew up around animals and have skillz.
posted by fshgrl at 5:20 PM on May 4, 2012

Electrical utility companies often have a small number of staff biologists. Their primary work centers around environmental policy issues and dealing with animals that get entangled in the equipment. Some utilities also have small corporate zoos that contain examples of the local wildlife. They use the zoos both to educate the staff (this snake will kill you, that one won't) and for community outreach (bring some snakes to a middle school, talk about how the electric company cares about the animals in its territory).

I'm not sure what the pay is, but I would guess that it would be in line with other staff jobs at a given utility.

Other companies that do business out where human population is scarce and animal population is large are likely to need biologists to help them appropriately deal with the local wildlife. Jared Diamond mentioned in his Long Now talk that he has been contracted by petroleum companies to do environmental impact studies for them.

Finally, being a bio / medical student can involve a lot of contact with animals. Depending on what kind of research you are involved in, you may be breeding rodents or primates for research. This could be extremely depressing work if the animals are likely to be killed or harmed in the line of research. But you did say "work with animals in any capacity."

Any of this stuff is going to require at least an undergraduate degree. A Masters degree or PhD will probably be a big help. And she will probably get to work with animals as she studies.
posted by b1tr0t at 5:34 PM on May 4, 2012

What about raising heritage animals in a natural, humane manner and getting a booth at the farmer's market to start? With the recent "pink slime" debacle and increased awareness of what goes on in factory farms, it seems like there'd be more of a demand for small growers. Eventually she could supply restaurants, grocery stores, or start a meat CSA. I think that it's probably possible to cobble together a 60k living from this but it may take a few years.

Obviously, I think that you can care about animals and still eat them ... she may not feel the same way.
posted by Ostara at 6:11 PM on May 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Farming and ranching are hard work, and carry high risks. Better to try working on a ranch or farm before trying to start one yourself.
posted by b1tr0t at 6:27 PM on May 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Work at a company that allows dogs? I work in a office area that has 3 dogs (including mine).

Not sure if that was what you are looking for.
posted by wongcorgi at 7:10 PM on May 4, 2012

Earning 60k without a college degree in any field is really tough right now. Here are some ideas that haven't been mentioned:

Falconer at an airport... They run falcons to scare away small birds that can destroy plane engines.

Biology teacher... You can keep an entire managerie in your classroom, and take kids on field trips to the zoo.

City government animal control... You'd get all the city government benefits like health care and pension.

Animal care at a medical research organization that uses animals...
posted by miyabo at 7:35 PM on May 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Hands on MSc work on prions, research associate with an academic PI studying prion disease - the PI has a great publishing history with other things and a decent part-time MD career so the money isn't an issue. Working with chimpanzees.

Dude down the hall shows up around 10, 11a. Leaves with his wife (who he found at the centre a few yes ago who was a "communications" type, just had a kid, both had time off, now they're back) around 3p. Sometimes he has longer days. Pulls at least 70k. Pretty nice position.

However, I'm guessing that your friend isn't interested in this kind of career.

If your friend doesn't have current experience with animals, $60k is pretty far fetched. From your description, she's qualified to volunteer to clean animal adoption cages. Trying to not be mean (look - no qualifications?) but it's pretty bleak.

Is your friend a "hey hello little fella! are you having an awesome day?" type animal lover or more a "it's awful that you and your entire brood were brought into existence for a higher purpose. Here's hoping you go to rodent Valhalla with the maximum of dignity."?
posted by porpoise at 7:36 PM on May 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, sorry, the first sentence/paragraph should start with; "There's a guy down the hall who has..."
posted by porpoise at 7:37 PM on May 4, 2012

I'm a graduate student studying primate behavior and ecology in West Africa. If she's interested in studying wildlife, that's almost certainly at least a BA away. And there's basically no way to parlay that into 60,000 a year unless you go through and get an MA and then probably a Phd and get one of the rare jobs for Phds in animal sciences.

Jobs like zookeepers are incredibly scarce and not especially well-paying; most of the zookeepers I know started out as unpaid interns who did well and got positions when other people retired or moved on.

My suggestion is to get a job that pays well in some field that your friend is currently qualified for, and in her spare time or weekends volunteer at a zoo or a wildlife sanctuary or a vet hospital or ASPCA etc, and start to get her foot in the door at various organizations that offer people the opportunity to work with animals. Once she figures out specifically what she's interested in, the people she's volunteering with are probably in the best position to help her get ahead in that field.
posted by ChuraChura at 8:46 PM on May 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Have her get a business degree. It's the difference between being a Falconer, and running the small company that specializes in Green-friendly bird-strike reduction. A falconer is paid crap. A business with contracts to a few airfields... well, now, that's real money.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:51 PM on May 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

My current dogwalker just got his undergrad business degree. His dogwalking/pet care business is successful enough that he gave up the idea of working for someone else to continue what he's doing. I doubt he earns 60k yet, but I'm sure he will land near that once the business grows more. You really have to be good at being your own boss to do this, though, and to grow a business like this eventually also usually means hiring staff/contractors.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 2:30 AM on May 5, 2012

Just wanted to add that "qualification" doesn't necessarily have to mean "degree." I have a degree, but it's in political science; when I decided to change career and work with animals, I went back to school to get a vocational diploma in animal care. It's cheaper and quicker than a degree, and (in the UK at least) qualifies you to do hands-on work. Most of the higher-paid roles still require a relevant degree, but having a vocational qualification can make it easier to go on to university.
posted by Perodicticus potto at 2:53 AM on May 5, 2012

My wife and I manage a doggie daycare. Neither of us have a college degree, but it's a small business and the owner does not make a distinction between having one and not having one when deciding on pay. Neither of us make even close to $60k, it's closer to somewhere between $30-$40k each. It's also not as much fun as it looks on the outside. I work every major holiday, and 6 days a week normally. I am on-call 24 hours a day in case something goes wrong at night. My wife and I are the only two in the company that receive a benefits package. I get the sense that some other places may be able to pay more, but I certainly wouldn't count on it, as we are at the high-end of the price range and even the owner of the company is struggling. (Honestly, that's due more to her poor business skills than anything.)

In short, unless you friend is going to go to school to be a vet, I would recommend she find some other job and volunteer with animals on the weekends. I love my job, and if it paid more I might make a career out of it. It doesn't, so I'm in school for my IT degree so I can have the life I want. I understand her passion, but she probably needs to look elsewhere.
posted by InsanePenguin at 9:15 AM on May 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

What about jobs at zoos that don't involve working directly with the animals, but let you be at the zoo pretty regularly? Looking at the Bronx Zoo jobs site, I see they have a bunch of outside the box things like being an exhibition designer/developer or being an assistant architect. Plus there's regular administrative jobs that seem like they'd be more fun at the zoo.
posted by barts at 8:54 PM on November 25, 2012

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