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Careers for animal lovers require research and commitment

By Terry Pile

Companionship, protection, education, healing -- animals serve many needs in modern society. For people who love animals, career opportunities are growing as well. On Mercer Island, there are the traditional jobs for people who love animals and some not-so-traditional jobs. These animal lovers share their experience and offer advice to those considering a career working with non-humans.

Evan Crocker, DVM at Mercer Island Veterinary Clinic -- ``I grew up in a family that always had a strong love and deep respect for animals of all kinds,'' said Crocker. A frequent visitor to the local veterinary clinic, young Crocker discussed his interest in dentistry with the family vet. ``After that conversation, I never seriously considered anything other than a career in Veterinary Medicine. This also explains my passion for offering high quality dental care in my hospital. I still love dentistry, just not with humans.''

For those pondering a career in veterinary medicine, Crocker suggests volunteering first at a veterinary hospital or animal shelter to get a good feel for animal care. Study hard and volunteer to get experience. It is essential to assure you are entering the profession with no misconceptions. Crocker said, ``If you are dedicated, caring and a good communicator with people and pets, you will do well as a veterinarian? I find it most rewarding and the only job I could ever truly love.''

Denise Mouroux, owner of Denise's Parrot Palace -- After 30 years in the legal profession, Mouroux knew it was time for a change. As a hobby, she had owned and bred parrots. She became increasingly annoyed at the way many pet stores mass produced birds, housed them in unclean or unsafe cages and sold them as a commodity, she said. As her home became more crowded, she decided to turn her hobby into a business and moved into Tabit Village Square in 1998.

``I am really on an emotional quest to educate people about being a bird owner,'' said Mouroux. ``Before people purchase a bird, they need to know what is involved. It is a big responsibility owning a pet. We won't sell our birds to just anyone."

Mouroux increasingly finds herself speaking at schools and retirement homes about her parrots. She says she is continually learning ways to improve breeding and caring for her birds. For those considering a retail business involving pets, she advises, ``Do it because you love it, not because you expect to make money. If you do it right, it is very time consuming and, at times, heart wrenching, and most likely not very profitable.''

Janet Elliott, pet sitter and owner of Petcetera -- Job burnout and the suggestion of a coworker led Elliott to a new career as a pet sitter. As an owner of Newfoundland dogs, she enjoyed tracking and water rescue training with her pets. She observed that people who have pets are generally nice people. Why not help them out?

``Building this type of business takes awhile,'' said Elliott. ``People are hesitant to let a stranger come into their homes and take care of their pets.'' Word of mouth helped to build Elliott's business and she now employs two helpers. ``It's hard work physically and your time isn't your own. Holidays, especially Christmas, are the busiest.''

Elliott now has clients who don't schedule vacations until they check her schedule first. She only works on Mercer Island and cares for most pets, with one exception: She doesn't do snakes.

Jamie Pflughoeft, pet photographer and owner of Cowbelly Pet Photography --``I have an innate drive to create visually as well as a deep love, respect and fascination with animals. Time spent as a pet sitter and a degree in animal behavior fueled my desire to spend time with domestic animals,'' said Pflughoeft. She points out that unlike product or landscape photography, pet photography requires knowledge, even intuition, in animal behavior to be able to predict their moods and movements.

Although Pflughoeft's main work is done in Seattle, she is expanding to the Eastside and has a canine clientele on Mercer Island. She suggests aspiring pet photographers acquire as much experience as possible with animals through volunteering at shelters and offering free photo shoots for friends' pets. ``The more variety of animals you can expose yourself to, the better chance of capturing great shots that reflect each animal's uniqueness.''

Careers for animal lovers are not limited to pet care. If you love animals and would like to make them your life's work, here are a few other careers to consider: Animal Control Officer, Animal Refuge Manager, Wildlife Biologist, Animal Trainer, Aquarium Curator, Ornithologist, Game Warden, Wildlife Interpreter, Animal Rights Activist, Animal Masseuse.

Additional resources include:

``Working with Wildlife: A Guide to Careers in the Animal World,'' Thane Maynard.

``Careers for Animal Lovers and Other Zoological Types,'' Louise Miller.

``Careers with Animals,'' Audrey Pavia.

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