Pet parents know that the veterinarians who care for their companions are animal lovers, and for many, it’s been a lifelong passion.

We recently interviewed vets from all over America for our latest feature, True Stories: Veterinarians Share Tales of Overcoming Career Challenges. We learned about some of the tough obstacles they’ve overcome during their careers, and the unique journeys that led them to where they are now. While it’s not surprising that many vets work with animals before beginning their careers, we learned there are many different ways to get that experience.

Here are a few unique experiences of vets working with animals before their careers began:

Some vets started small…

Lots of vets worked with animals even as children. Dr. Laura Ziegler of Portland said her appreciation of animals started in an endearingly humble way: with butterflies.

“When I visited my grandpa in Milwaukee as a little girl, I chased butterflies into his neighbor’s yard,” she recalled. “His neighbor was a naturalist, and she got me started raising butterflies, which I did for years. Not all of the butterflies made it, but when they did, it was really fun to watch!”

Raising butterflies gave her valuable animal care experience in multiple ways: not only did she get to study them up close and observe how they lived and grew, she also got to examine their instincts as a species: “We even tracked them for migration,” she said.

But Dr. Ziegler didn’t stop there. As she got older, she found other ways to work with animals and round out her experience in more traditional settings.

“I did search and rescue dog training when I was in grade school, and I volunteered a lot with the humane society,” she said.

…Others had slightly bigger introductions to animal care!

Dr. Elizabeth Carney of Peaceful Pet Passage in Pennsylvania also found a unique way to work closely with animals as a young girl. Her first “patients” may have been larger than butterflies, but it was a rewarding experience all the same.

“I spent countless hours on a dairy farm from the age of 4 on feeding calves, milking cows, and quietly watching the veterinarian who came to examine sick cows or perform surgery,” she revealed.

Working with large animals gave her valuable insight into caring for animals of all sizes. These days, she works with domestic pets like cats and dogs, but she’s always kept a soft spot for cows.

“To this day, cows are my favorite. They are warm, thoughtful, make comforting noises, and have scratchy tongues when they lick you,” she noted on her website, Your Pets Need This.

For some, it was a way to test the waters

Dr. Monica Dijanic hadn’t even decided she wanted to pursue a career as a vet when she began volunteering with animals — hers was an act purely out of love for creatures of all kinds.

Now practicing at Beaver Brook Animal Hospital in Connecticut, she told us, “I loved science and animals, so when I was in high school I decided to volunteer at an animal hospital to see if it would be something I was interested in.”

As it turned out, she discovered her calling! Even after a particularly rocky first day at the clinic (a tip: cats are significantly less accommodating while being treated during a heat wave!), she worked there as a vet tech for nine years before moving on to vet school.

Some sought a little adventure

Early veterinary training doesn’t have to be restricted to pets and livestock. Some vets, like Dr. Tyler Carmack of Hampton Roads Veterinary Hospice in Virginia, chose not to work exclusively with domestic animals and walked on the wild side to broaden their skillset.

“In high school, I volunteered with our local animal shelter and the local zoo to get more experience learning about and taking care of all different types of animals,” she explained.

No matter what course of action vets choose, it’s a great idea to have experience with animals before embarking upon a veterinary career.

“It’s important to have practical experiences with animals, whether it be petsitting, volunteering, or working with them in another way,” Dr. Carmack advised. “Do something that helps you stand out from the crowd of other would-be veterinarians and gives you a unique perspective on animal care.”

If you’re looking for a fun way to work with animals, pet sitting with is a great opportunity!

Author, Kelly Wright explores and celebrates the magical and mysterious bond between pets and people for’s Animal Heroes section. If you have an amazing story about how an animal has brought joy and wonder to your life, please email her at