The Record - Hackensack, NJ
Love of animals can lead to career

October 31, 2004

The new Veterinary Technology Surgical Nursing Center at Bergen Community College (BCC) has just opened and already the classrooms are full.

In fact there's a waiting list to get into the professional veterinary technician programs offered at the Paramus college in consortium with County College of Morris and Sussex County Community College. This semester 100 students are taking part in the pre-professional veterinary technician classes that offer pre-requisites for the more advanced program leading to careers at animal hospitals, equine clinics, zoos, or animal laboratories in pharmaceutical companies.

"Veterinary medicine is definitely a growing field and it's an amazing field to be in because of all the advancements taking place," said Harriet Terodemos, coordinator of the veterinary technician program and one of the instructors.

"I receive job postings from animal hospitals and other employers on a regular basis and all our summer graduates are currently employed," she added.

Jobs in all aspects of veterinary health care are among careers listed as having the fastest growth rate according to the U. S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). It's a trend that will continue through 2010 according to analysts. The outlook for jobs with animals is good overall according to the bureau.

One look at the recent statistics from the American Pet Product Manufacturers Association offers a good explanation for why there's no shortage of jobs in pet-related fields.

According to the association's survey conducted earlier this year, 62 percent of all American households own a pet. There are 77 million cats, 65 million dogs, 16 million small animals, 17 million birds, 9 million reptiles, 7 million saltwater fish, 185 million freshwater fish sharing homes with American families. The study also found that people are spending big bucks on their pets - a stunning $31 billion spent on pet products and pet services to date this year. That's more than the popular toy industry ($20.3 billion) and the candy industry ($24 billion). It's also very good news for animal lovers looking to turn their passion into a job.

"I started working part-time as a veterinary technician five years ago," said Vanessa Sliker, an employee at Rutherford Animal Hospital and student in the professional veterinary technician program at BCC.

She fell in love with the work and soon became a full-time technician. Her job, she said, is the equivalent of a nurse in the human medical field.

"I can do things like setting up IV fluids, placing IV caterers, and taking X-rays," said Sliker, who achieved veterinary technician accreditation through the American Veterinary Medical Association. "There are plenty of job opportunities for technicians, especially educated ones."

More and more jobs are cropping up too at pet stores, grooming shops, pet-sitting and doggy-daycare companies, and dog-training schools. Even non-traditional companies are getting on board. The Sheraton, Westies and Red Inn hotel and motel chains now offer pet-friendly rooms and are hiring staff to care for their animal guests. Petco and PetsMart, two of the leading pet store giants, are always in the market for behavior consultants, dog trainers, pet stylists (also known as groomers), public outreach attendants, and pet photographers. PetsMart pays interns to work either part-time or full-time in its on-site grooming salons. Full-time interns receive full benefits.

"They first work as professional bathers for between three to six months at which time we evaluate them for possible promotion to pet stylists," said Michael Guarnieri, PetsMart's District Services Manager for the State of New Jersey. "We spent a lot of time researching our curriculum and it takes students through all the hands-on knowledge as well as book work."

Pet stylists train at PetsMart Academies held five times a year throughout the country. The company also accepts interns in its dog-training school. These paid students work under experienced trainers who graduated from PetsMart dog training schools.

"We focus on positive reinforcement training developed by behaviorists and highly accredited professional trainers," Guarnieri said.

The best way to apply for positions in the store's grooming or training programs is either to contact a local store or apply online.

"Last year we had 28 percent growth rate in both these areas in our stores. This year it's another 23 percent on top of that," Guarnieri said. PetsMart is also always looking for animal lovers who want to work in the retail end of the business, he said.

As specific pet-related fields grow, there's been an increase of related professional organizations to support them. Included among these are the National Dog Groomers Association based in Pennsylvania, the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) based in Iowa, and the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters (NAPPS) based in Mount Laurel. These groups offer guidance to professionals working as independent contractors or as part of a company. They also sponsor advanced training and networking opportunities though seminars and workshops.

Experts from the NAPPS advise would-be entrepreneurs against jumping into business without first getting some hands-on experience at kennels or shelters. Similar advice comes from Teoti Anderson, president of the APDT and trainer and owner of Pawsitive Results dog school in South Carolina. To break into the field, she suggests gaining experience as interns under certified trainers or at animal shelters where there's an opportunity for exposure to all kinds of dogs. Currently the organization has 5,300 members with 100 new applicants signing up each month.

"It's not easy to make a living as a full-time trainer so most of our members work part-time in some other animal-related profession like grooming or pet sitting," Teoti said.

The idea of training dogs to do more than sit, stay, and give high fives came about with the launching of TV's "Animal Planet," the trainer said.

"Viewer ratings remain high for dog shows, and agility and fly ball events and dog owners are realizing that they can do so much more with their dogs than just throw them out in the yard," Teoti said.

The most successful trainers will be the ones with good people skills and the desire to continue educating themselves through seminars and workshops, she added.

"But don't go into this field thinking you are going to get rich," Teoti said. "You do this for the love of the dogs. A well-trained dog can mean the difference between living with a family or being dropped off at a shelter."

Speaking of shelters, animal welfare opens up a whole other area of job opportunities.

Humane Society University, the educational arm of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), offers a large variety of classes for those interested in pursuing careers as shelter managers, shelter executives, animal control officers, or community outreach associates for shelters or wild sanctuaries to name but a few. Each week the non-profit organization posts on its Web site a long list of job opportunities for those interested in pursuing a career in animal welfare. There's a common misconception that the only career option for those who want to help animals is a veterinarian but that's certainly not the case, said Betsy McFarland, director of communications for the Companion Animals Section of the HSUS.

There are lawyers who specialize in animal law, art directors, editors, and writers who work full-time at pet magazines, as well as accountants and librarians who work for large animal welfare organizations such as the HSUS or the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Manhattan.

Just about any skill can be used to help animals, McFarland said.
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