So you think you want to work with animals. After all, you love animals and you think you have "a way with them." But a passion for pets is just one of the factors you need to consider when choosing a career with animals.

Let's say you decide you want to become a veterinary technician. Before you spend the time, effort, and money to follow your dream, you should consider test-driving your career choice before you find out that your dream job is a nightmare or just not suited for you. Why not volunteer at your local animal shelter? You can find out if you are truly cut out for a job working with animals, while putting your passion into service for your community.

How Can I Help?

Most animal shelters or humane societies offer a variety of volunteer programs to choose from. Here are a few of the opportunities available at my local shelter:
•    Animal care: Feed and water shelter animals; clean up animal waste, scrub kennels and cages; wash dishes, toys, and laundry; and socialize animals through dog walks and cat interactions
•    Animal photographers/videographers: Take high-quality photos and cute videos of adoptable animals to post online and enhance adoptions
•    Behavior and enrichment: Provide animals with mental and physical stimulation, plus basic behavior training to make them more desirable companions
•    Client services: Greet clients, assist patrons in finding a suitable animal, help with adoption paperwork, answer phones, and perform other administrative tasks
•    Community outreach: Provide knowledge about the shelter's programs and services at community events, festivals and fundraisers. Also present age-appropriate humane education to schools and community organizations.

Those are just a sampling of the areas in which you can assist the shelter and its programs. With more experience, you might be able to assist in wellness exams, administer vaccinations or medical treatments, or help with other more veterinary-related tasks.

Discover Yourself

From your volunteer service, you may find that you can't stomach the continual cleaning up after animals. You might discover that you're frightened working with large dog breeds or unfamiliar animals, or that you get too emotionally involved with animals that are hurt or scared. As a vet tech, you WILL have to deal with those issues on a daily basis. Through your volunteer service, you might be able to work through some of these problem areas, or you might decide that you want to go into a less "hands-on" type of animal work such as pet blogging or pet retail.

One of the most useful areas to volunteer in is dealing with the public. You might be surprised, but one of the most critical attributes for working with animals is good people skills. Think about it. Most every job that deals with animals has a people component as well. From pet sitting to grooming to working in a veterinary clinic, you'll need to interact with the public. If you don't play well with people, you might want to choose a different career path and simply volunteer walking dogs or providing a foster home for an animal rescue.

Discovering your aptitude (or lack thereof) for working in various areas of the pet care industry is an important first step in embarking on a pet-related career. You might discover a talent or affinity that will lead you to a specific specialty for your veterinary career (e.g., wildlife rescue, pet grief counselor, or fund raising for animal non-profit groups).

Giving and Getting Back

An animal shelter or similar organization is an ideal place to try out different aspects of a pet-related career. If you decide that working with animals is not a good fit for you, at least you found out before taking the leap. More often than not, working as an animal volunteer will reinforce your desire to work around animals and give you valuable experience as you go forward. Whatever the volunteer experience does for you, the animals will certainly benefit from your much-needed love and assistance. And isn't that the reason you want to get into the business of pets in the first place?

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