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Great Jobs for Animal Lovers

Passionate about pets and looking for a little extra cash?

Great Jobs for Animal Lovers- Linda Waitkus owns the shop, Great Dogs of Great Falls in Virginia

Linda Waitkus with her dog, Dolly, at her pet store in Great Falls, Va. — Photo by Charlie Archambault

En español |For years, Linda Waitkus’s job was working as a manager in retail department stores. But her passion was taking care of her Golden Retriever, Soleil. Ultimately, she decided to find a way to turn her love of being around dogs into a second career.

When Waitkus learned that a local pet shop owner wanted to sell her business, Waitkus began to map a strategy to buy the store and spent a year developing a solid business plan and getting advice from other pet store owners and suppliers.

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Three years ago, Waitkus officially retired from a major retail store and bought the pet shop. At 57, she has no regrets about taking an early “retirement” and starting over as an entrepreneur. “I ran a $75 million department store, but had to learn how to sell a bag of dog food,” she says with a laugh.

Waitkus’s story is not uncommon. Since 1996, the highest rate of entrepreneurial activity belongs to the 55-to-64 age group, according to a study by the Kaufmann Foundation (PDF), a Kansas City, Mo.-based entrepreneurship institute. Kauffman's latest study shows that about 23 percent of new entrepreneurs in 2010 were in the 55-to-64 age group, compared with 14 percent in 1996.

Since its first year of business, Great Dogs of Great Falls has turned a profit, and Waitkus has been able to pay herself a salary. Today, she employs two full-time groomers and two bathers, plus an assistant manager for the six-day a week operation. “I did retire, but I planned carefully, and the gift I gave to myself is freedom of doing what I love – playing with dogs,” Waitkus says.

If you love cats and dogs and are looking for a job, consider these five possibilities. Pay ranges are primarily derived from U.S. Department of Labor data.

1. Pet shop operator

The nitty-gritty: Running your own enterprise isn’t for slackers. But if you have a head for business, you can tap into the fast-growing $52 billion a year pet care industry and blend work with your passion. Having the capital to invest upfront can be daunting. And as any small-business owner can attest, running your own retail shop can be time consuming. You will want to be physically present on-site to build rapport with your customers (both the four-legged and two-legged variety). You must also stay on top of licenses required by state and county regulations.

Median pay: This will vary widely. Salaries might run $25,000 a year in Washington, D.C., to $27,000 in San Francisco, according to job postings on Indeed.com. When it’s your own shop you have wiggle room – higher and lower – depending on your bottom-line.

Qualifications: Experience in the retail trade as a sales clerk, buyer and manager all are key ingredients. Cash flow is king, so accounting and bookkeeping acumen comes in handy — unless you plan on hiring someone to help you manage the finances. Great people and pet skills are indispensable. Understanding inventory control is vital. Food, for instance, can go bad. To get a sense of whether you’re ready to start a small business, go to the U.S. Small Business Administration’s resources, which are designed to help would-be entrepreneurs over the age of 50 with writing a business plan, getting professional counseling and locating financial services.

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2. Pet groomer

The nitty-gritty: Primping a pooch (or cat) runs the gamut from bathing to nail-trimming and brushing, to cleaning ears and clipping coats. You’ve got to be detail-oriented and love the down and dirty work. It takes some stamina, too. The work can include kneeling, bending and lifting. The end result is worth it when you tie that bright bow on a collar and see the owners' smiles when their pal rushes out to greet them. You might work out of a kennel, pet shop, your own home or even a mobile grooming van.

Median hourly pay: Payscale.com reports salaries can range from $14,137 to $48,537. Add in commissions and that figure can top $60,000. Hourly rates: $7.76 to $17.80, but an experienced groomer might earn $25 to $30 an hour, grooming eight to 10 dogs per day, according to Waitkus.

Qualifications: Although pet groomers typically learn by training under the direction of an established groomer, they can also attend one of 50 state-licensed grooming schools, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s Occupational Outlook Handbook. The length of each program varies depending on the school and training offered. The National Dog Groomers Association of America offers certification as a groomer and can provide a list of state-licensed schools.

3. Pet sitter

The nitty-gritty: There’s nothing quite like going to work where you’re welcomed at the door with a wagging tail — and maybe even a tennis ball to toss. Dog sitting can demand some extra oomph if daily exercising is on your list of chores. Otherwise, preparing meals and filling water bowls, feeding fish, hamsters and gerbils, and scooping out litter boxes are your basic duties — along with spreading around special love and attention. But it helps to have a cool head and to be able to act quickly in an emergency — if, say, Rover eats a pan of brownies. With animals, unexpected emergencies do occur, and you’re handling a big responsibility when caring for someone’s family member. You might be hired for overnight stays at a client’s home, bring the pet to your home or simply make house calls. There are several ways to troll for gigs. Depending on your location, there might be a local pet-sitting company hiring workers. More than likely you will be a sole operator marketing your services via local vets and pet stores and satisfied customers. Summer vacations, spring breaks and holidays are peak demand times.

Median hourly pay range: According to PayScale.com, hourly pay can range from $5.21 to $29.59. The charge for a single visit to a pet, however, can range from $10 to $22 and up, depending on the location, and $45 or more for overnight care.

Qualifications: The main requirements for this kind of work are a rapport with animals and a reputation for being dependable. You might consider joining the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters. The roughly 8,000-member trade association offers a certification and national listing service searchable by ZIP code for pet owners looking for a reliable sitter. If you're interested in becoming certified, the association offers a certification course online. In addition, you might want to look into pet-sitting insurance and bonding coverage. For a list of insurers to research, go to the Association of Pet-Sitting Professionals site.

Next: If you enjoy a bit of exercise, this job will be a breeze. »

4. Dog walker

The nitty-gritty: Expect to walk in all kinds of weather at least twice a day. The trek can take a degree of fitness and physical strength, depending on the size and demeanor of your charges. It’s not unusual to walk more than one dog at a time, if you have the dexterity for it. Be prepared to handle an unexpected injury and even pull out a nasty tick. And, of course, pooper-scooper duties go with the terrain.

Median hourly pay: $8 to $37.50 with experience, according to PayScale.com.

Qualifications: If you own a dog yourself, or have been a dog owner in the past, you know the drill. It requires an ability to stick to a schedule and an easy manner with pooches of all personalities. This word-of-mouth business can be bolstered by good relations with veterinarians in your town or pet shops and grooming salons, who will pass along your card and contact information to their clients. DogWalker.com, an online directory of dog walkers around the country, offers educational resources for those starting out.

5. Veterinary technician

The nitty-gritty: If you love animals, have an aptitude for science and the willingness to go back to school to ramp up the necessary skills, you’ve got a great chance of landing a job — especially if you live in a rural area. Employment of veterinary technicians is expected to grow 52 percent from 2010 to 2020, much faster than the average for all occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook. Working alongside primarily small animal vets, duties might include preparing pets for surgery, performing lab tests, administering medication and vaccines, emergency nursing care, collecting blood and samples, and the more mundane tasks of recording pet histories and weighing your sometimes nervous patients.

Median hourly pay: The median annual wage of veterinary technologists and technicians was $29,710 in May 2010, according to BLS. PayScale.com sets hourly wages at $9.40 to $17.71 and up to $27.62 per hour overtime.

Qualifications: Veterinary technicians usually have a two-year associate’s degree in a veterinary technology program. In 2011, there were 191 veterinary technology programs accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association. Most of these programs offer a two-year associate’s degree for veterinary technicians. Although each state regulates vet techs differently, in general, you must take a credentialing exam — the Veterinary Technician National Examination. Because you’ll often be the intermediary between the veterinarian and the pet owner, clear and calm communication skills are essential.

Kerry Hannon is the author of What’s Next? Follow Your Passion and Find Your Dream Job.

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