Working with animals is a rewarding career choice for many, and if your child is interested in someday working with animals, she may be able to get some experience now. Depending on the situation, she may even be able to make a bit of money for her efforts.
Dog walking is an ideal way for your child to spend some time with animals. It's also an effective way to introduce your child to the responsibilities of caring for an animal. Hand out flyers with your phone number and time availability to your neighbors letting them know your child is willing to walk dogs. (See ref 5) Depending on your child's age, you may want to walk the dogs with her for safety. If she doesn't need you to accompany her, it's a good idea to stay nearby so you're on hand if she runs into trouble and needs your help getting the dogs home.
Pet sitting is another way your child might be able to interact with animals in a semi-professional way. There are online services that allow you to sign up as a pet setter, and many veterinarian offices can also connect you with people who need a sitter for their pet. While the owner is gone, your child can help you feed, water, walk, groom and play with the pets in her care. As long as your comfortable being the primary pet sitter, you can sign up to have your child help you watch dogs, cats, birds, fish, small rodents and even snakes or lizards, widening her experience and knowledge. Make sure you let potential customers know that your child will be helping out so each one goes away satisfied.
Volunteer at an Animal Shelter
Many animal shelters allow kids to volunteer and help care for animals. Check with your local shelter about the age requirements and laws about child volunteers, which differ by state and city. You might have to stay with your child while she works. For example, the Santa Fe Animal Shelter requires a child to be 12 years old, but the Animal Haven in New York has opportunities for kids as young as 5. Depending on the shelter, your child might walk dogs, cuddle kittens, feed birds and fish, clean cages and help bathe the animals. These are skills she'll need if she plans to work in an animal care career someday. They're also useful for helping her care for her own animals at home.
Many city zoos offer programs that allow kids to get close to a variety of animals, making them ideal if your child loves all species. Depending on your child's age, she might help feed animals, assist with animal shows, pet the animals, hold and play with some of them, clean habitats and help with other basic care duties. Most of the time, kids work with experienced zookeepers so they learn proper techniques and stay safe. Some nature centers offer similar programs if you don't live near a city zoo. For example, the Denver Zoo offers a Zoo Keeper Experience program that allows a child to help out with training, feeding and cleaning tasks. Check with your local zoo for similar opportunities.
- PBS Kids: Volunteering: Helping Animals
- Pet Finder: So You Want to Work with Animals? A Guide for Youth Who Love Animals
- Paws Kids: Ways to Help
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Animal Care and Service Workers
- Kidz in Biz: Dog Walking Service
- American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry: Pets and Children
- Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images