What It Means to be an Animal Rescue Professional

As you would guess from our organization title, we have an opinion and perspective on what it means to be someone that is called a professional in the world of animal rescue and we’re happy to share it. Please know though, that our goal is to start a conversation and not to pass judgment. We welcome YOUR perspective on the subject so please talk back to us. Here’s our take to get the conversation started:

At ARPA we believe that there are 4 criteria that differentiate whether someone can be called an Animal Rescue Professional or not. In our opinion, an Animal Rescue Professional is someone who:

1) Goes beyond the hobby

2) Focuses on continuous learning

3) Applies standards & best practices

4) Pays it forward

Goes beyond the hobby

The dictionary defines a hobby as “an activity done regularly in one’s leisure time for pleasure.” The dictionary further defines a profession as “an occupation, especially one that involves prolonged training and a formal qualification.” As you know there are thousands of volunteers in animal rescue and many of them volunteer to help in many different aspects of animal rescue. From volunteering with transporting to fostering animals needing a temporary home; from walking dogs at the local shelter to doing loads of laundry to keep the blankets clean, these volunteers are often the lifeblood of both animal rescues and shelters who count on them to make the operations run smoothly. But are these volunteers animal rescue professionals? We by no means intend to take anything away from the great work these volunteers do but our perspective is that they have not crossed into the professional threshold through these activities. The tasks they are doing are being defined by people that are rescue professionals, and the volunteers are operating within the framework given to them without regard to how it was developed. In our opinion, for a volunteer to satisfy the criteria to go beyond the hobby, they need to be more regularly involved than in their leisure time and perform the activities often enough to move towards the definition of a professional. For example there are thousands of people that do volunteer rescue relay transport each week in the U.S. But for many of them, it is an infrequent activity at best volunteering monthly or even quarterly when the story or photos of the animals needing to be moved touches their heart. We believe that there is not a hard and fast number of activities a person has to perform in order to cross the threshold between hobby and profession so let’s talk about some of the other criterion that differentiates professionals.

Focuses on continuous education

From the time we are born until the time we pass on, we are constantly learning and absorbing more and more information. But just passively participating in activities is not considered continuous education in our definition. A professional in animal rescue activities is someone that makes continuous education a part of their regular activities. Whether you are an animal photographer, an animal handler, or even an animal rescue foster professional, constantly seeking out more information to better perform the activities you do helps differentiate an animal rescue professional, from volunteers and hobbyists. Keep in mind that we are not trying to insinuate that only formal coursework and classes are acceptable forms of continuous education. Working with other professionals to learn new skills, participating in online training or webinars, and reading books on the profession are all examples of furthering your eduction towards being a professional.

Applies standards & best practices

Learning from others that have gone before us and applying their learnings and practices is another differentiator and indicator that a rescuer is down the path of a professional. The standards of animal care, the best practices in animal medicine and the standards for animal transport are all things that have been developed prior to us, or with our active participation. Learning and applying these to the profession is an indication that you are dedicated to the ongoing development and success of the industry.

Pays it forward

Contributing back to the profession or the people that are active in it is the final criteria for determining whether someone is an animal rescue professional. Simply participating or doing activities is not enough in our opinion, to consider yourself or someone else a professional. Whether paying it forward by educating others in the profession, leading and guiding volunteers, or contributing to learnings through blogs, videos, tutorials or other courseware, paying it forward is critical to demonstrating your leadership in the world of animal rescue and by our criteria, required to be considered a professional.

Our perspective is that simply satisfying one or two of these criterion does not make someone an animal rescue professional. You have to meet all four of these to be considered a professional. So what is your perspective? Agree? Disagree? Are we being too harsh or not setting the bar high enough? We welcome the discussion.