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How to Parlay Your Volunteer Experience into a Pet Industry Career

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by Jamie Damato Migdal, CPDT-KA & Pet Industry Entrepreneur

I’ve had many people come to me over the years to ask how they can turn their love of animals into a satisfying career. There are two things that I always recommend to anyone who wants to join the $60 billion pet industry: 1) get educated, and 2) volunteer.

Education and professional standardization is becoming increasingly more important across all pet industry verticals, but if you can’t afford or easily access more formal training, volunteering is one of the soundest investments you can make toward a pet-centric career.

If you live in a large urban center, your best bet is to volunteer at one of the big shelters. Here in Chicago, I like to direct people to places like The Anti-Cruelty Society or Friends of Chicago Animal Care and Control. Shelters always have a broad range of volunteer needs, and most will allow cross training into different programs. This will give you a taste of many different aspects of the industry, from facilities maintenance to animal socialization to special events and public relations. The larger shelters tend to have a wait list, so if you want to sign up be prepared to wait a bit for an open orientation date.

Almost all shelters and rescues need foster volunteers, so if you can have pets in your home this is a great way to help without committing to a certain number of hours at an outside facility. Many rescues are foster-based, which means they can’t bring an animal into their program without already having a foster home lined up for it.  A foster pet’s expenses (food, medicine, vet visits, equipment) are generally covered while in your care, so you can do some real good for very little cost. If you love animals but have never had one before, or if you haven’t had one for a while, fostering is an excellent way to gain solid experience in the care, socialization, and observation of companion animals.  (Bonus: some foster care expenses are tax deductible!) Foster experience is also a great thing to have on your profile if you’d like to sign up with a pet sitting company like Rover.com or DogVacay.

You can also volunteer with your own animals, through programs such as Pet Partners, Safe Humane Chicago, and Sit Stay Read. Opportunities for animal-assisted therapy range from educational programs with at-risk youth to hospital visits to de-stressing sessions with college students. Some organizations even allow human-animal teams to include pets other than dogs and cats, such as birds, horses, miniature pigs, and llamas.

Other organizations, while still pet-centric, fall more on the social services side of the spectrum. Pets Are Like Family provides goods and services to keep pets healthy and with their families, and the House of Nubs uses rescue animals and their stories to promote resiliency in at-risk children. Large national organizations, like Meals on Wheels and Pets for Patriots, offer pet care and supplies as part of their programs.

In addition to all of the other tangible [and intangible] benefits, volunteering is a great way to build or fill in gaps on a resume. Beyond taking care of the animals, most places will have opportunities available for people with social media, marketing, photography, clinic, and special event experience; and, if you don’t have experience in these areas but would like to get some, it’s a great way to get started. No matter where your career path ultimately leads you, employers will always value the skills you can develop as a volunteer.

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Did you know that you can browse volunteer opportunities on the FetchFind job board? And all 501c3 animal organizations can post volunteer positions for free, and paid positions at 50% off the regular price.

 

About Jamie Damato Migdal, CPDT-KA & Pet Industry Entrepreneur
Jamie Damato Migdal has been working with dogs and their people and innovating within the industry for more than 20 years. Having successfully built four pet-centric companies, she’s an expert across all aspects of the pet services industry, including business development, client services, marketing, and management. Her fourth and current company, FetchFind, is first and only recruitment and career networking site dedicated exclusively to the pet industry.