From Accounting to Animal Care

Author: Claire Greene, Real Life Stories

This is the story of the most difficult decision I have made in my entire life. Every person throughout his or her life has lots of choices they have to make. What career they go into, whether or not to have children, where to live…even small, insignificant decisions such as what to get for dinner take up a big portion of our day.

I have always been an extremely indecisive person. In fact, “I don’t care, what do you want to do?” has never been a rare sentence to come out of my mouth. However, while I believe that logic can be useful in making certain decisions, the most important decisions that will truly affect your life need to be made with your gut and your heart.

If you decide to try dinner at a new place that you haven’t been to before, the worst that can happen is you don’t like it and you don’t order from it again, absolute worst being food poisoning. However, if you decide to go into the wrong major, that decision can completely turn your life upside down.

I have always been good at math. Yes, I know, it sounds sacrilegious, but believe it or not, I actually looked forward to my algebra homework. I always looked at it like a fun puzzle or riddle that I had to figure out. When it came time to apply to colleges, as an always indecisive person, I went in with an undecided major. During my sophomore year, I realized that I eventually would have to pick one.

I had spoken with some of the accounting majors, and they all said that it was a great program with some amazing professors, and being as I was always good at math, I figured I would do well. I was right.

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I aced every test and impressed all of the professors with my natural ability to figure out financial reporting. I was even inducted into the international business honor society. It all came very naturally. I didn’t find the homework to be a big pain, and I thought I had finally figured out what I was supposed to do with my life. I was thinking logically. Accounting is something that I am good at, and I could probably make a lot of money doing. This is it.

Ladies and gentlemen, the following is why I believe that internships are a good idea. After I graduated with my Master’s degree in Business Administration, I ended up working as an accounting specialist at a banking headquarters. It was the most miserable period of my entire life. I was typing in the same thing over and over again, all day, every day. I felt so useless in my existence.

Also, one of the most depressing things about the job to me was that I was behind a desk all day, and never went outside. I was on the phone with my mother in Connecticut on the way home from work one day, and she said “It’s been rainy here all day, how about there?” and I reluctantly had to say “I don’t know, I haven’t been outside since seven this morning.” That one sentence made me realize that I was not meant for this type of life. I ended up sinking back into my depression, and I ended up moving back home to Connecticut.

While I was home in Connecticut recovering from my mental illness and trying to figure out what the next step for me would be, I decided to find a fun, relaxed place to volunteer. I had loved Mystic Aquarium since I was a kid. I had great memories of going to see the beautiful animals there, and I had a lot of respect for the care and devotion they gave to the marine life. I decided that would be the place.

I started volunteering in the guest services department, giving speeches and educating the public about the great things the aquarium does. I instantly fell in love with the animals, and I was truly happy for the first time in a long time. I looked forward to every day there, and most importantly felt I had a purpose. My being there and creating a good experience for each guest that came through our doors increased the chance of them coming back, and that meant more money that would go to our animals. I felt that I was meant to be there.

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After about a year of volunteering, I was hired in the guest services department. I then realized that what I was meant to do all along was take care of animals. This was a decision I made with my heart and my gut. I was always an animal person since the day I was born. Being around animals gave me a serene feeling that I never had anywhere else. It filled my heart and put a smile on my face.

After being at the aquarium for a total of one and a half years, I ended up getting an internship in the reptile and amphibian department, and then I ended up getting hired as an animal care specialist for Living Exhibits, which is the company that brings in the Bird of the Outback Exhibit at the aquarium. That summer working with Living Exhibits was the best summer of my life.

You never know where life is going to take you. But my point is, life is too short to not do what makes you happy. When it comes down to those really important, life-changing decisions, you can try to use logic all you want, but your heart will tell you where you truly need to be.

What You Didn’t Know About Working as an Animal Care Specialist

Author: Claire Greene, Career Advice

Yes, that’s right, I work with animals. As my career.

I work as an Animal Care Specialist for a company that brings animal exhibits to different zoos and aquariums throughout the country. By working first hand in the animal industry, I see the differences between what people think being a zookeeper is like, and the reality of the career path. Here are some things you may not have known about the animal industry.

Less training, more scrubbing
The average full-time zookeeper usually spends an hour or less actually training and doing enrichment activities with the animals. So what fills up the other seven hours? You got it… cleaning.We get on our hands and knees and scrub and scrub and scrub until there is nothing else to scrub…. and then we go find something else to scrub. To be an animal care specialist, you have to be willing to get extremely dirty, and work hard to keep the place as clean and sanitary as possible.

They are paid very little for their work
If you are one of the select, fortunate ones to get a regular, full-time job as a zookeeper, prepare to live on an average salary of about $20,000/year. That’s right, we barely get paid enough to live off.It is for this reason that most zookeepers have a second job. Also, if a zookeeper is lucky enough to work full-time, that means that second job has to be a night job. So, it is more likely than you think that your waitress at TGI Friday’s was the host of the dolphin show you saw earlier that day.

The degree isn’t as important as hands on experience
If you look at my education history, you would see that I actually have a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting and a Master’s in Business Administration. I was highly discouraged from pursuing a degree in the field that I truly wanted to go into, and decided to go with a safe bet. I was always great at math, so I decided to major in accounting. After I graduated I realized that it wasn’t what I truly wanted to do.

So how did I end up with a full-time animal care job? Volunteering. So much volunteering. I started volunteering as a docent at Mystic Aquarium in 2013. I eventually got hired in the guest services department, where I worked for three years.I was later offered a full-time, unpaid internship position in the reptile claire-3department, which I then worked in for six months. Once that position ended, I went back into the guest services department. I would volunteer with Living Exhibits in the summer months, when they brought in the seasonal birds of the outback exhibit.

If I had a guest services shift that didn’t start until later, I would go in early to help with the birds. If I had a shift that ended early, I would stay later to work with the birds. I also secured one full day a week that I dedicated solely to working with the Living Exihbits animal care specialists, and I would spend two nights a week as a dog trainer’s assistant – and I’d help teach dog training classes. I actually still do that to this day.

Essentially, I’ve earned my position not because I have a degree in it, but because I dedicated over three years of my life to working hard for free and proving that I was willing to put in the necessary effort to make the animals’ lives better.

There is nothing we would rather do
Overall, we live for that one small moment in which we can help save an animal’s life, or when we reach a breakthrough with an animal. We want to improve their lives the best we can, and that is what keeps us going day after day. It makes all the cleaning and scrubbing worth it.The animal’s welfare means everything, and we consider ourselves extremely lucky. We have a blast.