As a kid, what job did you dream you would have as an adult? What job do you have now?
Have you ever paused and looked back at your journey through life? You start out as a kid, playing imagination games, grow to a teenager with attitude, and suddenly you’re adulting. You get your first job, second, maybe advance through school, and all that led you to where you are now. So, how different is it from when you were kid? Are you where you hoped you’d be at?
I always wanted to work with animals ever since I was little. When other people hear that, they think you’re going to be a veterinarian because that’s always the first career people think of when you say you’re going to work with animals. So as a kid, I thought: “Yeah! I’m gonna be a veterinarian! I’m going to take care of all animals and make them feel better! I’ll be the greatest veterinarian in the world! There won’t be anything I can’t heal!”
What can I say? I had big ambitions.
Yet, as often as I thought I’d be the greatest veterinarian in the world, I didn’t actually pursue being a veterinarian. Yes. In high school I was in the animal science program. In sophomore English, I had to write this poem about where’d I’d be in ten years and I figured I’d be cleaning kennels at a vet hospital while in pursuit of a doctrine of veterinary medicine. I even went into the pre-vet program at my college. But, my heart just wasn’t into learning the medicine and the chemistry. I preferred letting my mind soar with the stories I was writing. Doodling the scenes from these stories on my notes. Spending my free time creating instead of studying molecular structures and memorizing what causes what. The “dream job” was always to become a veterinarian, but the more I pursued it, the more I didn’t want it.
It wasn’t until the semester I was supposed to graduate with my animal science degree that I decided I didn’t want to go to vet school. Family and friends would ask me: “So, what’s the next step? What do you have to do to get into vet school?” They were very supportive and wanted what’s best, but I didn’t have the heart to tell them I didn’t want to go. Vet school is expensive. The students have to balance studying and providing for themselves. It’s hard to do on your own, not to mention it’s taxing on your mental health. A lot of people crash and burn as veterinarians. I already had a lot of anxiety and stress getting through my bachelor’s degree, I didn’t want to put myself through anything I didn’t feel I could handle. Especially since my heart wasn’t in it.
So, now what? I closed the door on the dream of becoming “the greatest veterinarian in the world.” What’s next? Well, I still have my writings. I still have my novel and that’s the new dream. I want to become a published author, but that’s not all. I still love working with animals.
Most of all the jobs I’ve ever had involved working with animals. I’ve worked at a children’s farm, a dairy farm, an animal shelter. I’ve got a wide range of experience working with animals. When I left college, the new goal was the zoo. I want to work with exotics. Work with cheetahs. My first semester at college, I would go to the zoo on the weekends (I didn’t have any friends at that point to hang out with). I’d hang around the cheetah exhibit, add what cash I had to their cheetah conservation box, and wonder what it would be like to work with exotics. When I wanted to be a vet, I wanted to help heal exotic animals other than just cats, dogs, and farm animals, but no animal likes the vet. Not even exotics, and I want to be liked by whatever species I work with.
I didn’t land a zoo job as fast I thought I would. It’s a very competitive field and, though they prefer you to have a degree, what they value most is experience. If you want a job with exotics, you need experience with exotics. So when I didn’t land those first couple positions I applied for, I started volunteering. I had a part time job at the library at the time, so the days I wasn’t at the library, I was volunteering at the zoo with the animal team that cared for–you guessed it: cheetahs. It was a really cool experience! I got to see a cheetah immobilization! Basically, it was time for the cheetah’s check up. They darted her so they could clean her teeth and do a full check over to make sure she was okay. The animal team even got her pawprint on canvas for me AND I GOT TO PET HER! I GOT TO PET A CHEETAH! The more time I spent at the zoo, the more I wanted to stop being a volunteer and actually work there. I was easily putting in a hundred hours a month. The team I served noticed my dedication and appreciated my hard work. They actually recommended me to a different animal team who’s intern fell off the face of the Earth. During my interview, they told me the position was mine if I wanted it. I started as a volunteer in March and in June of the same year, I got my first position at the zoo. It was a seasonal intern position, but I was super excited.
I spent the summer working with chimpanzees, hippos, and a couple other species. It was an amazing experience! I was supposed to go back the next summer as the seasonal keeper on the animal team I volunteered for, but COVID-19 hit. The position was axed and the zoo closed its doors to protect the animals from contracting COVID. I was crushed. My chance to work with cheetahs was gone.
With the zoo not hiring, I had to look elsewhere for a job. I still wanted to be in animal care, but I still didn’t want to work at a vet. That’s how I ended up in an animal shelter. It was great to start. I loved making a difference there and I got paid to walk and train dogs. Yet, over the course of my year and a couple months there, too many things were changing. We turned more into a cleaning crew than an animal care team and the tension/drama around the workplace was too much. I didn’t like being there. I remember crying on my way to work, and wishing many times that I was back at the zoo. Yes. I love cats and dogs, but to me, there’s greater adventure working with exotics. There are more ways that I could grow and learn working with exotics over working with domesticated cats and dogs.
I tried to leave the animal shelter before I actually did. I got a couple job offers at veterinary practices and even one at a equine reproduction farm, but the fit just didn’t feel right. Then I found out the seasonal positions at the zoo were coming back. Each animal care team hires an intern and a seasonal keeper for the summer. There are several animal care teams. I know I applied for at least six of those seasonal positions. I even went to the zoo with several copies of my resume, cover letter, and references to pass out to the keepers giving their chats. The team with the cheetahs didn’t remember me and wouldn’t take my resume, but the keeper said she’d pass my name along. The team with the lions took my resume and the keeper mentioned I looked familiar. Then, I found the team I previously worked for at their chimp chat. We caught up and I learned all the crazy things they had to go through during COVID. I didn’t offer my resume because I didn’t want to seem too forward to them, but I did comment: “If you see my resume in the pile, I hope you give me a good thought.” I went on my way, enjoyed the rest of the zoo, and waited. I loved being back there even if it was just to visit.
I quit the animal shelter about two weeks later. I couldn’t stand being there anymore. I hadn’t heard anything from the zoo except for rejections from the cheetah’s animal care team and the lion’s animal care team. So, I gave up hope in getting one of the jobs there and I broke down and started considering more veterinary practices. I left the animal shelter in March, but by the middle of April, I had two job offers that stressed me out. The first was for a full-time veterinary tech position at a practice that had multiple locations. They let me shadow for half a day and they had no issues with the fact that I hadn’t worked at a vet clinic before. They were willing to teach me anything and everything. It came with benefits, the pay was better than the animal shelter, I would be a fool not to take it. Yet, the second position I was offered was the seasonal zookeeper position on the same animal care team I worked for before. The pay was a little less. There was no benefits, but I would be back at zoo. I guess talking to them at the chimp chat that day helped them think of me.
Yet, I had to choose. It wracked up my anxiety. I didn’t want to pick the wrong job. One was safe: better pay, benefits, full-time with no end date. I could get back into that childhood dream of veterinary medicine. But, the other was the new dream: the adventure with exotics. It was a temporary position, but it came with the slight chance of getting hired permanently. The decision tore me apart. I knew most of my family likely wanted me to pick the veterinary position so I could actually have a stable income to move out, but another family member told me that I shouldn’t pick something just because it’s safe. My heart needs to be in it too.
May 4th, 2022 I started a seasonal position at the zoo, and I loved every second of it. Even the weed-eating on the chimp exhibit. It felt good to be back, to see the animals I cared for two years prior. Since I got hired as a seasonal instead of an intern this year, there’s more that I can do. I can feed the animals. I can do a whole routine by myself. I can give chats about our animals. The team is even full of awesome people that push me to do better and get over fears. I didn’t regret choosing the zoo over the vet clinic. And June 1st, the zoo offered me a permeant part-time position that would allow me to jump back and forth between my current animal care team and the animal care team with the cheetahs! My position doesn’t have an end date and there’s a chance I get to work with those beautiful, spotted felines.
I’m not going to be the “greatest veterinarian in the world.” I’m not at the place I said I’d be in my sophomore year poem. I’m a zookeeper who has every intention of getting her books published. I’m living a new dream and I’m excited to see where it takes me. Life is incredible in how it flows. With its twists and turns, and highs and lows, you don’t know where it will take you. You think you have it all figured out when you’re a kid. You’re going to be this when you grow up. Yet, as you grow and learn, and the options in life, that childhood dream may not seem as appetizing as something else you’ve discovered, and that’s okay. The goal in life isn’t to be successful or saying you’d do something you said you’d do as a child. The goal in life should be a dream that your heart is invested in.