Volunteering With Animals – Part Five: Animal Attendants

As not-for-profit organisations all animal shelters require volunteers to help with the day-to-day running of things. Volunteer animal attendants generally help out in a number of ways; daily cleaning of pens, litter trays and food bowls, setting up clean pens ready for the next tenant, feeding, grooming and walking/socialization of animals. It’s rewarding, but be prepared to do some repetitive, physically demanding and messy work. Remember there is always work to be done, so ask an employee what you can help with if whenever you some down time.

Animal attendantsWalking dogs and socializing with the animals is probably the most important (and the best) part of these roles. Unfortunately shelter workers rarely get the time in their day to socialize with the animals. To make the most of a shift always ask shelter staff which animals they’d like you to spend more time with. These won’t always be your first choice – they’re often the animals that have been there a long time, or that need to get more confident around people before they will be adopted. For shy animals remember to go slowly – it’s about giving them as positive an experience as possible so if they’re too scared to leave the pen or sit with you then don’t make them.

shelter kitty noseAt smaller or regional shelters you may be working across the shelter; with cats, dogs and any other animals in the shelters care (which generally include rabbits, guinea pigs and the occasional chicken or ferret). The larger shelters will generally have you stick to one area (either cats or dogs) per shift, which will allow you to work with the species you have the most experience with or steer away from animals you have allergies to. Volunteers are needed every day of the week and shifts are generally three to four hours long. Most shelters will require you to be able to attend a weekly or fortnightly shift for at least six months. At a minimum there is usually an information event you must attend before your first shift and some shelters require a police check (at your own expense) in order to volunteer.

Not everyone is suited to this kind of role. Before taking on a position like this consider whether you agree with the shelters policies and how you will be affected seeing the animals in this environment every week or fortnight.

dog_cage_jumping_pawsShelters are doing an amazing service but the care the animals get simply doesn’t compare to that of living in a home with a loving family. Sadly, some animals are in shelters for a long time and some volunteers can’t cope with seeing the same sad eyes week after week. You will also hear the sometimes heartbreaking stories of the animals past. They may have been victims of cruelty or neglect. They may have been surrendered for reasons that make you angry, like adopting a younger pet that doesn’t get along or shedding too much hair. What ever the reason, some people find shelters to be too emotional to visit every week.

I like to remember that the alternative is worse – a life on the street is never a good one for these animals and they could be threatening precious native wildlife. If you do decide to volunteer as an animal attendant remember what a huge difference you are making to the lives of the animals.

If you like the idea of volunteering with dogs, but not with the heartbreak of shelter work you may like to look into volunteering with Guide Dogs Victoria instead. All the fun of pooper-scooping and poochy smooches without the sadness of shelter life.

To find out more about volunteering at a shelter check out their website. I’ve compiled a few from around Melbourne:

Share your stories of wonderful shelter animals you’ve met in the comments below!

My Top 5 Tips for Job Hunting in the Animal Care Industry

Breaking into the animal care industry is proving to be a very tricky task! Even now that I have some background in the industry (5 months as a kennel hand and 5 months as a veterinary receptionist/trainee vet nurse) I am still only getting a handful of interviews, and no job offers. I continue to meet new stumbling blocks and find ways to improve my chances.

Equally true for nurses and animal attendants.
There is tonnes and tonnes of job hunting advice out there, and a lot of it is very relevant to the animal care field. In fact it could be argued that more of it is relevant than in other fields – so many clinics are kind of old fashioned that some of the out dated advice still applies. If you would like advice on general job hunting, I’m a big fan of Ask a Manager. I find Alison Green’s advice to be a more logical and thought through from the hiring managers point of view than other career advice out there. Also, having a single contributor means the website doesn’t contradict itself.

Instead of going into detail of all of my job hunting advice, I’ll just give my top tips for getting a job as a veterinary receptionist, veterinary nurse or an animal attendant that differ from other industries:

  1. Know where to look.
    This was a huge barrier when I started hunting for animal care jobs in Melbourne. Having come from an administration background, where Seek.com.au reigns supreme, I had no idea which industry-specific websites were worthwhile. Months later I can say from my own experience, and the feedback from others in the industry that for jobs in veterinary clinics, that in Australia  www.kookaburravets.com/ is where most jobs in clinics are posted. Shelters, doggy day cares and boarding facilities are more likely to post on their websites and regular job boards.

    For more experienced nurses, there is also www.vetlink.com.au/, which have a service where you can register as a veterinary nurse looking for work and they will match you with positions, both temporary (know as a ‘locum’ job in the veterinary field), and permanent. Unfortunately when I applied they got back to me saying that they only list jobs that require qualified nurses, or those studying with at least 12 months experience in a clinic.

    That being said, even when looking for nursing jobs don’t neglect to look for other job boards. There are plenty of clinics and other organizations that are posting on general career websites like Seek, so be sure to do regular searches. You should also look on some of the bigger organisations websites for openings (such as RSPCA, who don’t always post outside of their website). Dog walking and house sitting companies such as the Lonely Pets Club are generally open to taking email applicants year-round, so search for those organisations in your area. Similarly, some boarding and doggy day care facilities that will take applications at any time, so check the websites of the ones in your area.
  2. Highlight Your Point-Of-Difference.
    HINT: This is NOT a love of Animals.
    It’s great that you love animals, and employers want to be sure of that. But in this case it doesn’t make you special. Every applicant to these jobs loves animals, otherwise they wouldn’t apply.

    We're all like this =)

    This is how every nurse and animal attendant ever sees themselves!

    You are indeed a unique snowflake and there is something that sets you apart from the other applicants. Try to think critically and figure out the point of difference, and then let it shine through in your application and in interviews. Maybe you’re a sales guru and could drive profits for the business. Maybe you’re a neat-freak and could help improve the organisation and cleanliness of clinic. Maybe you’re an IT wiz, and could attract new clients through a social media presence. What ever it is, make it work for you.

    For me, it’s my background in administration. I’ve worked for 3 and a half years as an administrator and manager, which allows me to hit the ground running when it comes to taking on reception and administration duties in a clinic.

  3. Volunteer in the Industry.
    Not only is volunteering a great way to develop  relevant ‘professional’ experience (which is likely to win out over having had a handful of pets growing up), it can also open up job opportunities.

    I got my first job in the industry purely through volunteering. I started out doing laundry and cleaning litter trays at the Cat Haven, but made sure to be clear I’d be willing to do more. I liaised with the volunteer coordinator, and was given a more hands-on role of kennel hand assistant in their boarding facility, and sometimes on the grounds. I got to meet all of the grounds staff, so when the manager needed a new casual I came to mind. Remember to always work hard, seek out more opportunities and be friendly to everyone.

    Additionally, becoming a volunteer may open you up to hidden job boards. The RSPCA for one will always post a new opening to existing employees and volunteers with access to their Intranet before posting it publicly. I’ve noticed more than a few postings that never appear publicly which must have been filled internally.
  4. Wear Pants.
    I used to follow a philosophy that you can never be over dressed/too professional for an interview, but since moving from the corporate world to the animal care industry I’ve changed my tune. You need to look like you would fit into the workplace, and skirts (or shorts) can blow the look.

    I would still go with dress/business pants rather than jeans, but skirts around animals can make you look like you don’t know what the job is about. Even if you’re going for a reception role and might wear skirts when you’re in the job the safe bet to look like you fit in is to wear pants. I can guarantee that the nurses and kennel hands will be wearing pants. Besides, you never know if you might be given a tour and meet the owners crazy Labrador puppy who likes to bite at ankles, or a clinic cat that climbs legs.

    And remember, as was the number 1 lesson of my Animal Studies teachers, LEGGINGS ARE NOT PANTS!

    And thongs (aka flip-flips) are not shoes. Which brings me to…

  5. Wear shoes that are flat, comfortable and quiet.
    Like skirts, heals might make you look foolish and like you don’t know what the job will entail. Also, what if instead of a Labrador the owner has a rambunctious Great Dane?

    I still wear relatively dressy/business-y shoes rather than the super-comfy shoes I expect to be wearing once I start working, but that is mostly just a preference – perhaps a throwback to my corporate days, or a symptom of having more shoes than I know what to do with.No matter the industry it’s a bad idea to wear new shoes to an interview, but I find it especially true for animal care. Most vet clinics will give you a tour, and you want to be able focus and think critically – not wondering if that burst blister is bleeding or wishing you could sit down.

    Then there is the quiet criteria. I learned this preference the hard way. It was very embarrassing to clomp my way into a hushed treatment area, and see a Rag Doll with a needle to its neck struggle in the nurses arms to find out who the giant making all the racket was.

Those are my top 5 lessons I’ve learned in my job hunt so far. What advice can you give to those starting out in the field? What is your point of difference? I’d love to hear your advice and stories in the comments below!