Working with animals in the public eye definitely has its benefits. For one, you get to work with all sorts of different animals on various projects. Some of which you never would have dreamed of working with! From releasing Black Bears into the wild to making sure a 17-foot python doesn't poop on "The Today Show", everyday is different and comes with new challenges. One of my favorite aspects of the job is receiving e-mails from people across the country. They come from all walks of life. From the 12-year-old who just discovered a new passion for animals, to the adult who has always wanted to pursue a career working with them. The #1 question I get is "How can I pursue a career working with animals?" Although I'm no career expert, I can give you an insight on how I managed to do it. It's not impossible. If you are passionate enough about something and dedicated anything can happen...
I've always grown up around animals and have been incredibly blessed with two supportive parents who allowed myself (and my sister) to express ourselves in any way we wanted. For me that meant dinosaurs and reptiles! I always joke that I was holding snakes in diapers...Literally! Thankfully our household was "animal friendly." Although this isn't the case for most. A lot of the e-mails I receive from kids state their parents won't allow them to have pets. In this case there is a solution...
Go to your local zoo, wildlife park, or aquarium! It's a great way to see animals from around the globe up-close and personal. These wildlife facilities offer millions of people an opportunity to see animals they wouldn't normally see. (And yes...I was "that kid" who stared aimlessly at motionless alligators for hours at a time.)
If zoos aren't your thing get outside and get active! Go hiking and explore new areas. You'd be surprised what's outside your front door! Wildlife is all around...Sometimes you just have to stop and listen.
Join an animal related club or organization. For me that meant joining the Idaho Herpetological Society at age 13. Joining these organizations is a great way to network with people who share the same interest and passion. It's also a great resource for knowledge! To this day I still keep in touch with members.
Volunteer at a local zoo or shelter. It's a great way to interact with animals and the professionals who care for them. Although I should mention...I never technically volunteered. This brings me to my next point:
No matter what DON'T EVER GIVE UP! At 13 the zoo volunteer program ended up denying me. Even though I had plenty of experience and animals of my own. It happened to work in my favor. I ended up making friends with a few keepers and the lead veterinarian. Before long I was "grandfathered" in and doing all sorts of tasks that volunteers weren't even permitted to do! With the help of the vet I ended up convincing the zoo director to allow me to do a weekly show. That's how "Reptile Rampage" was born. I'll never forget that summer and still extend my gratitude to the people who believed in me and helped me along the way. You know who you are.
Plan on getting an education! These days it's next to impossible to get a career working with animals without a college degree. Plan ahead. While in high school I was already looking at schools with special emphasizes in animal-related programs. One of the schools I was seriously considering was Moorpark College in California. I don't think I thought it through all the way...Unlike most high school kids I had 50 animals that depended on me night and day. There was no way I was going to California! I ended up staying close to home and attended Boise State University and graduated with a Bachelors in Biology.
Try to Take Advantage of any opportunity that comes your way. While in college there was an opportunity to visit the Seychelles Islands to study endemic species. Honestly I'd never heard of the Seychelles and couldn't even point them out on map.
You can imagine my surprise when the Seychelles looked like this: Sandy beaches, crystal clear water, and giant granite rocks! It was the most difficult class I'd ever taken at Boise State!
One of my biggest pieces of advice is to Network. Meet as many people as you can who share your same interest and passion. You never know who might be able to help you out in the future; whether it's pertaining to a career or opportunity. The last thing I'd like to share...
Dreams come true. It doesn't matter who you are, where you live, how old you are, or what connections you have. If you are passionate about something and dedicated you will get somewhere. It might take time (I know all about that!) and you might be rejected but continue and keep going. No matter what! The sky is the limit.