How to Turn Your Love for Animals Into a Full-Time Job

Editor’s note: This Care2 favorite was originally posted on February 7, 2016. Enjoy!

They say that when it comes to your career, you should do what you love. But if what you love is saving animals, you may think that you’ll just have to come up with another plan. After all, at the end of the day there are bills and rent to be paid, and in an industry where volunteer — not paying — opportunities are available, prospects for making a full-time living sound grim.

Yet some still do. From attorneys and executive directors to graphic designers and writers — and other jobs in between — many people do find a career helping animals.

So what does it take to make that dream come true? We asked professionals in some of the top animal-centered non-profits to share their best career advice. Spoiler alert: You’ll have to do some volunteering first.

Kevin Schneider, executive director for the Nonhuman Rights Project

After getting a law degree with a specialization in environmental and land use law and serving as his school’s Student Animal Legal Defense Fund chapter’s president, Schneider started at the Nonhuman Rights Project as a volunteer. And he considers that to be the best way in — as long as you’re dedicated and reliable.

“Go somewhere, be serious, show up and say what you’re going to do,” Schneider advises. “There are people who come and go and some people are enthusiastic in the beginning but other things come up and it falls to the wayside. Put yourself second and with time people come to trust you and will come to you and ask for your help.”

And while, in his case, having a law degree was important for getting a job in animal advocacy, Schneider argues that following a specific track is not crucial if you know how to blend your skills with your goals.

“I definitely think that more and more academic tracks and disciplines integrate animal issues in a variety of ways. With more student groups and online activism, on the whole it’s getting easier for people to get engaged and have a community and it’s really important, I think, to have folks to support you. It’s always relationships with every line of work and it’s the same with animal rights.”

Patty Hegwood, director of volunteer & visitor experience at Best Friends Animal Society

“My advice to anyone seeking to marry their passion with purpose in this most worthy professional sphere of working with animals is to take personal inventory and then seek a fit for those skills,” says Hegwood, who also notes that the animal welfare industry has grown to incorporate a myriad of professional opportunities over the last 25 years .

“Be flexible, be patient, you may not get what you want immediately, you may have to start in an area that is not your exact area of choosing. You have to understand that this is your start point and then you can reinvent yourself and grow, building on your institutional knowledge and opportunity to contribute on a variety of levels. This profession is ever evolving and in need of bright, connected, purpose-driven individuals to continue the momentum created by the early pioneers in animal welfare.”

And if those starting steps involve less glamorous jobs that sound insignificant in the whole “saving the world” plan, Hegwood suggests patience and hard work.

“No job is too small or menial when approaching a life focused on the care and welfare of animals. When you apply your passion and maintain your flexibility, the world is yours and the animals will benefit.”

Becky Robinson, president and founder of Alley Cat Allies

“Don’t expect to be hired for a job just because you ‘love’ animals,” says Robinson. “Passion, compassion and drive are essential. But, real skills are needed and you’ll have to find the best avenues to educate yourself. Working for and with animals is a profession — not a ‘job.’  Organizations need people with knowledge of technology, program management, fundraising, operations, legislation, and more.”

To get that knowledge, Robinson suggests taking online courses like the Animal Shelter Management Certificate course or following more advanced programs like the Masters in Animals and Public Policy (MAPP) offered at Tufts University — “a graduate degree program that focuses on human-animal relationships and their implications for policy and community action.”

Volunteering is also a good way to acquire work experience, so getting involved on a local level, no matter what the end goal is career-wise, is essential. In fact, the Alley Cat Allies’ website has a page where you can search and find all animal organizations in your area to do just that.

Robinson, who initially had a career in social work, also reminds people that advocacy is extremely important for careers helping animals. After all, that’s how she started her job. After accidentally running into a neighborhood full of feral cats, with the help of a few friends she started a movement to help cats, both feral and domesticated.

“I would encourage someone interested in making a full-time career out of helping animals to start advocating, and pass that knowledge on to others. That’s how we have spread and expanded Trap-Neuter-Return in this country over the past quarter-century—by word of mouth and advocacy.”

Holly McNulty, human resources director at the Farm Sanctuary

“It is always great for employers to see passion for the mission and enthusiasm to help out in any way that is needed, however I find that our most successful employees and volunteers are those who have chosen an area of focus that is matched to their skills, strengths, and what they enjoy to do on a day to day basis,” says McNulty. If there are organizations in your community, consider volunteering first to get a feel for their work environment. There is a place for everyone to make a difference – so choosing an opportunity that fits you best will be most likely to be successful for the long term.”

McNulty also notes that it’s important to remember that doing what you love, while very fulfilling, is not free of headaches like every other job.

“It is also important to have realistic expectations – it is extremely rewarding to commit your daily work to making a difference for animals, but important to remember that this does not eliminate the normal challenges and stress that any workplace might experience. Lastly, I would say don’t be discouraged if it takes longer than you hope to make the transition, or if you try non-profit work and find it isn’t a good fit. Every individual can make a significant positive impact helping animals in their day to day life, regardless of where their paycheck comes from.”

Mike Wolf, investigations manager at Compassion Over Killing

“I would recommend starting with the Animal Rights National Conference,” suggest Wolf. “Take a look at their website, attend the conference, as well as the Taking Action for Animals and any other animal advocacy related conferences you find. Take a look at all the speakers—what organizations are they from? Look at all of the exhibitors to see who else may be there, but might not be speaking. Visit the websites of all of those groups to get an understanding of who they are. Are they the type of organization you might want to work for? If so, start a Favorites folder of all of those organizations’ job pages, and check them all on a weekly basis to see what new opportunities may arise.”

To figure out which organizations might be the best fit for your goals and personality, Wolf suggests asking yourself questions like “What kind of animals do I want to help? Wild animals, pets, farmed animals?” and practical ones like “Am I willing to relocate?” to help you consider whether you should look for local or national opportunities. After those decisions are made, patience, he says, is crucial.

“It may take some time, but if you are determined and committed enough, it will be worth it. You won’t mind waiting a year, for example, once the right opportunity comes up and you can spend the rest of your life doing what you love. During that time, go volunteer at the local shelter or sanctuary.”

Lindsay Rajt, stewardship manager for the PETA Foundation

According to Rajt, who’s been with PETA for over 10 years, the key to working in animal rights is not necessarily about what you learn in school, but how great you are at what you do and how passionate you are about animals.

“A lot of students ask me what courses they need to take to work at PETA but if you really want to work with non profits, pursue what you’re passionate about and what you’re good at,” she says. “So if you’re a graphic artist, don’t go into animal law. At PETA we have so many departments. We have folks who design our campaigns, we have people who pay our bills, translate, proofread. Whatever people are good at, pursue that and find a way to apply that.”

And to show how dedicated you are to the cause, Rajt says, volunteer — no matter what your day job is.

“Volunteer with an animal advocacy organization or if you’re in school, get an internship. It’s a great way to get to know the organization and find out where you’ll flourish plus it’s a foot in the door and it’s very helpful.”

Crystal Schaeffer, MA Ed., MA IPCR, outreach director for the American Anti-Vivisection Society

“I believe the best way to launch a career in animal advocacy is through volunteering and internships,” says Schaeffer. “In the corporate world, there are many different companies with many employment opportunities. However, there are far fewer nonprofit animal organizations, so there’s more competition for jobs. When you volunteer or do an internship with an organization, you have a little bit of an advantage because the group already knows you, has seen your work, etc. If a person is qualified, it’s sometimes easier to hire from within. Additionally, you can gain valuable experience working for a nonprofit, and that always looks good on a resume, regardless of whether or not the organization knows you.”

If you already know you want to work for animals before you get a degree, Schaeffer suggests pairing those goals with the education that will help you get the best skills to achieve them.

“If you like to protest, table, and tell others about how they can help animals, you might want to think about getting a degree in communications. If you’re interested in government and the law, consider a degree in public policy. Interested in the science behind alternatives and testing, go for a degree in chemistry or microbiology. Remember also, that nonprofits have a lot of the same needs as corporations and need accountants, marketing and PR people, etc.”

Photo Credit: ThinkStock Photos


Donna T
Donna T5 days ago

thank you

Chad Anderson
Chad Anderson6 days ago


Laura R
Laura R8 days ago


sandra m
sandra m8 days ago

Nicole is right.. they make a fortune, then ask for money from people who can barely afford it. I'm amazed that they actually mentioned cats in the article. I personally have 17 indoor cats so I have already turned my love for cats into a full time job.

Toni W
Toni W8 days ago


Toni W
Toni W8 days ago


Nicole H

Would like to make a last comment on this matter. It's may be 15 years ago, but I then have read an article in a very serious magazine about the yearly salaries that Presidents and Directors and Managers earned in Europe and the U.S.A., of organizations who regularly pushed us to donate, or put their organization in our testament, giving them substantial amounts of money if possible. I was shocked. Do not remember the figures, but know that these salaries were at least 500 x the salaries of the working class people, such as teachers, nurses, dentist assistants, etc... I immediately decided to stop donating any money to such bug organizations, but instead gave some money from time to time to smaller and local organizations, so that it was easier to follow up what was done with the money. Alls those Presidents, managers and Directors allegedly do their job to help the animals, or the hungry children, but if they would just earn a NORMAL salary, a lot more animals and people / children could be helped.

Nicole H

Don't remember having commented on this article 2 years ago. What strikes me is that all examples are people who are presidents, directors or managers. How many people will ever reach that level ?? Be reasonable, honest and serious please. Certainly there are other jobs, for which no specialized higher education is needed. I think of assistants in a vet clinic, or the responsible people who daily work in the shelters. They take in the dogs/cats, give people more info abt. the available pets, etc..

When reading comments, I have the impression that people love animals much more than humans. I fully agree, but TO A CERTAIN EXTENT. Children & adults who are disabled, who have mental issues, those working in the clinics or organisations who help the drug addicts or alcohol abusers who want to change their live AND SO MANY MORE.

Do we all want to help dogs, cats, horses, etc.. and do we just forget all about our elderly people who need help for their shopping, preparing meals, cleaning their house, etc.. I have a very big heart for animals, but I have ALSO a very big heart for people who need our help. There are millions of care takers, in hospitals, clinics, in homes or who work with the people in their house. And what about all the people who take care of our children when we are at work. Sorry, but this articles is NOT my piece of cake !

Dr. Jan Hill
Dr. Jan Hill8 days ago

i would like to be a professional cat cuddler.

Ian Crory
Ian Crory9 days ago