An animal care attendant's job includes many aspects of caring for animals and may include feeding, grooming, cleaning, exercising, observing, and providing companionship. Animal care attendants have an important role in preserving the human-companion animal bond. Animals that are handled and cared for with respect and compassion for their needs, and who live without hunger, pain, or fear, are more likely to form relationships with humans based on trust. Providing for the basic needs of companion animals, whether adored or abandoned, is nonetheless essential, and animal care attendants put their heart into their work.
Companion animal care attendants are employed in animal shelters, boarding kennels, pet supply stores, stables, laboratories, and veterinary facilities. Job titles may vary by employment setting, but the work of the animal care attendant is basically the same. Duties in a boarding kennel may involve cleaning cages and dog runs, filling food and water dishes, bathing and exercising animals, as well as selling pet food and supplies. In an animal shelter, additional responsibilities may entail screening applicants for animal adoption, answering telephone inquiries, and receiving unwanted pets from owners or stray animals found by the public. Animal care attendants who work in animal clinics or hospitals, and are referred to as veterinary assistants, carefully watch animals who are sick or recovering from surgery and restrain animals for treatment in addition to all the other duties they perform.
There are usually no formal educational requirements for animal care attendants, and on-the-job training is common. Beyond a high school diploma, some colleges and vocational schools offer programs in animal science and, while such training is not necessary, it can lead to increased responsibilities and job advancement. Experience with animals is helpful. The American Boarding Kennel Association (ABKA) offers a three stage, home study program for individuals interested in pet care. Individuals may become Certified Kennel Operators (CKO) if they complete the program and pass written and oral test administered by The ABKA.
Animal care attendants held about 181,000 jobs in 1998. Approximately 45,000 of the total worked as veterinary assistants, and the remainder worked in boarding kennels, animal shelters, stables, grooming shops, zoos, and local, state, and federal agencies. Median hourly earnings of animal caretakers were $7.12 in 1998.
The environment in which animal care attendants work is physically and emotionally demanding, occasionally dangerous, and often soiled and noisy. Such conditions may be difficult to handle except for those persons with a deep concern for animals.