Do You Have the Right Temperament?
The majority of people who work with animals — in all capacities — share one thing in common: they all are passionate about animals. “We don't go into this profession for the money,” says Kimberly May, DVM, MS, DACVS (Diplomate of American College of Veterinary Surgeons), and assistant director of the Communications Division of the American Veterinary Medical Association.
“While the financial rewards can be high, the work itself is rewarding. Healing an animal just makes you feel so good. We get a different kind of positive feedback. The animals don't tell us in words, but seeing how much better they are is an overwhelmingly good feeling. Pet owners are the ones who express their joy when they see that we are helping their pets. People consider their pets a part of the family. They dote on their pets.”
Helping animals can be a definite high. It can also be sad when an animal dies. “It is important to not take work home with you,” says Dr. May. “It's hard not to when emotions are involved. You do think about your patients and their owners. This is a caring profession. However, we don't usually bring work home with us, like others do in the corporate world. We can think about our patients. We can also put in long hours. It depends on the job. Some people have flexible schedules. Overall, the positives in this business outweigh the negatives.”
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, more women than men are entering veterinary schools. In the 1960s women made up 5 percent of the student body. Today, 79 percent of the students at the nation's 28 veterinary schools are female. At some schools, such as Tufts, the ratio is even higher. Last year women composed 89 percent of the first-year class at Tufts.
“One sure thing is that people who go into this business must be adaptable to change,” Dr. May says. “It takes a lot of creativity and flexibility too. You must be a well-rounded person with good business sense too.”
People don't always think about the business side of working with animals. “It's an important element that shouldn't be overlooked,” says Dr. May. “Many people who work with animals go into private practice, and they should know how to set up and run an office. If you run a small practice, you will have many jobs — from bookkeeper to publicist to animal worker. You will most likely hire a staff, and you need good business sense to know how to hire and train the people who work for you.”
It's a major misconception that working with animals means having no contact with people. In fact, you will need top-notch people skills. Medical doctors can sometimes be brusque. Veterinarians, zookeepers, animal trainers, pet groomers, dog show judges, and animal welfare workers work with people. Even researchers work with other scientists. So the bottom line is that you need to be able to work with people.
Whether it's asking the pet owner about the behavior of his golden retriever, supervising an obedience training session in a client's home, or working to change animal welfare laws to improve the lives of animal actors, people are always involved. “This is a people profession,” says Jim Burwell, a dog trainer and owner of Petiquette, a dog-training franchise based out of Houston, Texas.
Many of the national associations can assist you with the business side of running an office, hiring workers, and publicizing your business. If you join a professional association, you can take advantage of the many workshops that teach business-building skills.
Nicknamed “Houston's dog whisperer,” Burwell explains, “I spend a lot of time with people, often in their homes. You have to know how to deal with people as a dog trainer. I don't only observe the dog, I observe the family. Some of the issues the dog has can stem from its environment. It's a total package.”
“The dog you are training is a key member of the family,” he adds. “These people invested time and money on their dog. You go to people's homes and see photos of their children and their pets. You know how important this animal is to them. That's why a good bedside manner is needed in this business.”