How to Get a Job Working at an Animal Shelter

Mark Gordon BrownStarred Page By Mark Gordon Brown, 29th Aug 2010 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL
Posted in Wikinut>Jobs>Careers

Many pet lovers wonder what it is like to work at an animal shelter, how to get the job, and what it is like. My wife worked in an animal shelter for 5 years, I have interviewed her asking the most common questions about getting a job at the animal shelter.

How Did You get the Job of Working at an Animal Shelter?

I started as a volunteer, walking dogs and playing with cats, going almost every day for 1-3 hours. They had lots of dog walkers, so I offered to help in other areas. I soon saw a need for dogs to be brushed, and the staff needed help with the laundry and some other duties. As it happened, after about two months, a staff member got hurt and could not work so I was offered a job.

Staff did things that volunteers were not allowed to do. I was paid minimum wage to start, but I got a raise later, I really don't recall how much, but it was certainly lower than a wage I could have made elsewhere. Obviously this is a job you take for the love of helping pets, not the love of money.

What Did you Have to Know about Animals before you got the Job?

As long as a person loves animals and is interested in learning more about them, they should be okay as a volunteer, to be staff it is a good idea to be familiar with different animals, behavior, and so forth, particularly not to be afraid of any animal.

It is good if a person knows the basic colors of cats, for example what is a calico, what is a tabby, and how to sex a cat. They should know the most common dog breeds. Some trickier things like sexing a rabbit isn't necessary, but a bonus if you know how.

You should be able to tell if a pet is sick, scared, or dangerous - being able to read pet's body language is important, but knowing what specific sickness a pet has is a veterinarian's job.

Knowing how to handle pets and animals is important, but I will note that some people at the shelter where I worked were more familiar with some types of pets than others.

What Kind of Training did you Get?

They showed me how they cleaned the kennels and so forth. As a volunteer I had not been allowed to do this, and was not even allowed in parts of the building (where new animals were kept prior to being deemed adoptable and vaccinated and so forth).

A lot of the things I already was familiar with because of my working as a volunteer. Staff do not have the time to teach things like what dog breed is what, that is something you should already know.

What did you do while Working at the Animal Shelter?

Working for that particular shelter (every shelter is different) the staff came in at 8am, fed the animals, then medicated them, and cleaned kennels. This took most of the morning, and when the shelter was full, it took all the morning. In the afternoon it was laundry, dishes, rotating the animals from inside kennels to outside ones, and so forth. The staff really did not get to “play” with the animals, the volunteers did that. At about 4:00 we did another round of feeding and medicating, and put the animals back in their cages for the night. We left at 5:00 (eventually the shelter did have a night shift to 11:00pm).

I often came in as a volunteer on my days off as the job was part time. I also did fostering of some pets, orphaned kittens, and pups, but this was a volunteer thing.
Eventually I started working more in the office, handling the public, admitting animals, and doing adoptions. I loved working in the office but some of the staff did not like working with the public.

How Many Animals and What Kinds did you get at the Animal Shelter?

Like most animal shelters we took in mostly cats, then dogs, then small caged animals.

Every year we got more and more pets, I cannot remember exact numbers. I do know one year it was over one thousand cats because I named a kitten “Cat One Thousand” and it was not even the last to come in that year, but it was the first time the shelter had taken in that many cats in a year. For dogs it was less, maybe 400, roughly 40 other animals such as rabbits, hamsters, and guinea pigs.

The shelter had room for about 80 cats, 20 dogs, and 5 other animals, at any given time.

One year somebody played a cruel joke and painted a lamb, and put duct tape on it and left it at the High School. We also had a few pot-bellied pigs from time to time, and once a pheasant.

We sometimes got in birds, and once a snake.

The city where this shelter was located had a population of 50.000 people, in larger cities I know they take in many more animals.

What was the Best Part of Working at an Animal Shelter?

I preferred working in the office because I was very good at it and enjoyed talking to the people to help them find the right pet, or to not feel bad about surrendering a pet (it is better they surrender the pet rather than abandon it).

We often had irate people and I was good at calming them. The Television News did a “Pet of the Week” feature, and I enjoyed being part of that. Answering peoples questions, offering advice, and so forth, was always something I enjoyed. Obviously seeing pets get adopted that had been there for a while was terrific. Talking to the public was always fun, particularly educating people, like if somebody had a pet and were phoning for help with it, or deciding if they should spay or neuter.

On my volunteer days I liked brushing the longer haired dogs to make them feel good and look better for adoption.

What was the Worst Part of Working at an Animal Shelter?

The politics were terrible, but of course you might encounter this in any job. When I started working there it seemed there was a lot of hostility from the staff to the board of directors, but none of the staff ever voiced their problems aloud to the board of directors (people who oversaw fund raising and so forth, but were not at the shelter on a daily basis).

Without getting into specifics the fact that the board of directors were not active in the day to day running of the shelter it made for a volatile situation, one which saw certain staff members (who maybe were not as good employees, but were great brown nosers) being treated better than those who really were passionate about the job and actually spoke their mind about problems and real things that needed to be addressed. It saddened me a great deal to see the people who really were there for the animals being treated worse than those who where there for the pay check.

Our shelter took in every pet brought to it as such we did have to euthanize pets once a week. This would be those that had been there too long, or were mean, sick, or less adoptable. Obviously dealing with the death of so many pet friends sucked. Also being told by the public that we were scum for “killing” pets.

That was frustrating and really a hard part of an already hard job. Putting the animals down was horrid too, but not the fault of the shelter itself as we took in every animal that was brought to us, it was more the fault of people who were not responsible owners, or who didn't spay or neuter their pets, or those who dumped their adult cat or dog because they decided they prefer to have a kitten or puppy (yes people have actually said this!).

So, in thinking more about it, I think the worst part was seeing how cruel people could be.

Would you Recommend this Job to Somebody who Loves Animals?

A million times Yes! My first job ever was at a Pet Store... I thought that animal lovers would want to work there, I was wrong, pet stores are about profit – selling animals, fast turnover and making money. Shelters actually care about the pets more than money, as such I would never suggest an animal lover work at a pet store, but would highly suggest they work at an animal shelter.

I would suggest anyone who wants to work at an animal shelter to start out as a volunteer!

Related Links

Working at an Animal Shelter: Dealing with Euthanasia

General Information Every Pet Owner Should Know

Getting Rid of an Unwanted Cat or Kitten

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Animal Shelter, Aspca, Employment, Humane Society, Job, Jobs, Pet, Pets Animals, Rspca, Spca, Volunteer, Work

Meet the author

author avatar Mark Gordon Brown
Raised in Michigan, I have a son who recently joined the Military. I am living in Canada with my wife where we have a hobby farm.

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author avatar Denise O
29th Aug 2010 (#)

Mark, I just love this article.
I wish I was able to work out side the home, then I would do this kind of work.
I have been thinking about fostering dogs though.
I bet you have seen it all, working there though.
Good article and good for you, for doing the hard but necessary work.

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author avatar Mark Gordon Brown
29th Aug 2010 (#)

Thanks, it was my wife who worked at the animal shelter. Not myself. I know she would love to work at a shelter again but the nearest one is over an hour away from where we live.

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author avatar Kate
5th Sep 2011 (#)

I read your article with great interest as it is my hope to find work at an animal shelter (I live in the UK) so it is very helpful to read about your wife's personal experience.

Although often shelters seem to advertise jobs with no experience required, I suspect that in reality you do usually need to go down the volunteer route first.

Thanks for posting a very helpful article!

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author avatar Rachael
8th Nov 2012 (#)

i love the article and im finding for a job to work in a animal shelter

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author avatar Gloria delacerd
20th Jan 2013 (#)

I would love to work at animal shelter

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author avatar Asha
23rd Feb 2013 (#)

I would love to work in a animal shelter because I love animals and I love the website and I am also looking for work working with animals and I have pets at home two.

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author avatar Jade
29th Jun 2013 (#)

Omg..great advice I sooo need it....even though I'm not old enough to work or volunteer...I still apreciated it...

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author avatar Sinéad
28th Sep 2013 (#)

I love this article, i was thinking of doing some sort of animal course in college such as zoology but i think i'd rather see myself working in an animal shelter. I think i'll volenter at one after my exams

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author avatar Will
25th Nov 2013 (#)

I work in an animal shelter and although there are great moments it is extremely hard work physically but mostly mentally. I'm there only to care for the animals and it is frustrated that not everyone cares as much.

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author avatar Samantha
18th Mar 2014 (#)

Thank you so much for this information. I really did like it I have been encouraged by this. I am an animal lover I've owned many of animals. I have saved many animals including my best friend which is my cat Elizebeth. She had a hole right in the idle of her neck at first we thought it was gangrene but, after about a year or so of helping her I fixed it up. So again thank you. But I have a question. How old do you have to be to get a job at an animal shelter? thank you.

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