Tips to Make a Career Out of Helping Animals
There are many paths leading to work that benefits animals. We frequently receive questions about what vocations are available to those who want to work with and for animals, so we thought we would share information on potential careers. While the list below is not exhaustive, we’ve tried to include information about several of the more common animal welfare–oriented career paths we have encountered.
An important thing to remember, though, is that you can make a career out of helping animals regardless of your skill set. Many organizations tackle a variety of issues related to the welfare of animals, and each is filled with passionate animal lovers completing a multitude of tasks to further the organization’s mission.
It's also important to note that, while dedicating your career to improving animal welfare is always laudable, it is not the only way to help animals. You can make the world a better place for animals by volunteering at local organizations, volunteering your professional skills where needed, responding to AWI Action Alerts, writing letters to the editors of your local media about animal issues, donating, and more. Any time, energy, and resources dedicated to helping animals contributes to the overall cause.
Common Career Paths in Animal Welfare
Every organization that benefits animals has to stay up to date on relevant policies, file necessary paperwork, submit payroll, and more. They require inspiring and organized leadership, as well as organization. Those working in administration to keep the organization functioning efficiently greatly help animals through their work. Learn more about administrative, leadership, and other roles in nonprofits.
Science plays an incredibly important role in improving the welfare of animals. Biologists study the behaviors, ecology, and physiology of animals. Wildlife biologists, ecologists, and many more that use their science backgrounds to conduct research, engage in advocacy, and shape policy to preserve habitats, address human-caused threats to wildlife, and improve the welfare of species held in captivity. To become a biologist, you must earn a bachelor’s degree; those focused on research generally also pursue master’s and doctor’s degrees. Learn more about becoming an animal biologist.
”I never knew my doctorate was going to lead to such a long and productive career in animal protection. I didn’t know how fulfilling an advocacy career for animals could be until I thought to work for a couple of years in the animal protection field. That was almost 30 years ago!”
Naomi Rose, PhD, Marine Mammal Scientist
There are so many roles that fall into this category—writing, editing, public relations, journalism, marketing, web/app development, social media, photography, videography, and more. To educate the public about issues animals face and encourage them to help, creative professionals fill a variety of roles in nonprofit organizations, media outlets, government agencies, and private companies. By refining the skills required for one or more of these professions, an individual can apply them to help spread the world about animal welfare. There is also the growing field of science communications, which helps distill complex scientific findings into easy-to-understand materials. Learn more about creative roles and consider how you can apply these skills to promote animal protection.
“After spending two decades in traditional journalism, I felt very strongly that I needed to use my communications skills to help promote animal advocacy to a broader audience. It is incredibly fulfilling to use a combination of writing, editing, and media strategy to educate journalists, AWI members, and the general public about how to protect animals from needless suffering.”
Marjorie Fishman, Public Relations Manager
Nonprofits run on the generous donations of supportive donors. To ensure the organization has the funds to continue working to help animals, fundraisers work to connect with generous, passionate individuals and foundations. Those working in development also organize donor records and more. Development and fundraising are essential for the health of every nonprofit organization. Development skills are useful in any cause-based work, but particularly for animals. Learn more about working in nonprofit development.
In communities where animal service agencies are associated with state and local law enforcement, law enforcement officials are frequently on the front line of animal cruelty investigations. As with other law enforcement specializations, these animal cruelty investigators collect evidence, interview witnesses, and use other investigatory techniques to build a case. Their work in apprehending and prosecuting those who would seek to harm animals may also reduce harm inflicted on people, since crimes against animals and crimes against people often co-occur. There are also state and federal agencies that employ officers to enforce laws and regulations such as the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which are intended to protect wildlife. An education in criminal justice, criminology, or animal science can provide a good foundation for this type of work; however, some law enforcement agencies do not require a college degree. Learn more about a career helping animals through law enforcement.
“A career in animal law enforcement offers many challenges but is one of the most rewarding jobs for those wanting to make a difference in the lives of people and pets. Even after three decades, every day can still bring new experiences and opportunities to seek justice on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves.”
Mark Kumpf, Certified Animal Welfare Administrator, director of Detroit Animal Care and Control
Animal and environmental lawyers use legal expertise to secure animal protections. Becoming an animal lawyer requires a bachelor’s and a Juris Doctorate. Many law schools provide special courses on animal and environmental law. Animal lawyers work in private practice, for nonprofit organizations, and in government agencies. Learn more about how to become a lawyer to help animals.
“I never imagined that my work as an attorney could affect the lives of billions of animals each year. I am humbled by that fact and grateful for all of the experiences I’ve had that have led me here.”
Erin Sutherland, Esq., Staff Attorney, Farm Animal Program
Securing federal and state regulations and policies to benefit animals requires a deep understanding of regulatory processes. Policy advisors and lobbyists work with local, state, and federal governments to improve the welfare of animals through the adoption of beneficial laws and policies (as well as the prevention of harmful laws and policies). Individuals can lobby their elected officials at any time—use AWI’s Action Center to find your legislators and send messages about the issues that are important to you. To practice lobbying on a professional level, most acquire a bachelor’s and/or master’s degree in policy or public administration. Learn more about lobbying for animals.
“Lobbying on behalf of animals can be enormously satisfying because you get to touch the lives of so many different animals under so many different circumstances. It requires a variety of skills—chief among them, perseverance!”
Nancy Blaney, Director, Government Affairs
Refining your research skills can certainly help improve animal welfare. Researchers scour through public information records, crime reports, professional journals, and other sources to learn vital information that can help animals.
“Advocacy and accountability are impossible without facts. Research is not glamorous but can be incredibly rewarding when helping animals.”
Eric Kleiman, Researcher
Veterinarians work hands-on to improve animal health—which, of course, is an important component of animal welfare. While people think of veterinarians, they tend to picture someone working in an animal clinic to treat companion animals or treating farm animals in the field. However, there are several other career paths for veterinarians. They can use their training to work as government inspectors enforcing laws, in laboratories ensuring high-quality care and pain relief for animals used in research, or in a wildlife rehabilitation center or rescue organization. Becoming a veterinarian requires a bachelor’s degree and typically a doctorate of veterinary medicine. Learn more about the path to becoming a veterinarian.
Similar to veterinarians, vet techs work hands on to treat animals. While this field requires less formal education than what is required to become a veterinarian, vet techs must be thoroughly educated in the field before practicing.