Sara Alan-Smith

Animal Welfare Officer at the Blue Cross

What I do

Blue Cross is an animal welfare charity and it’s entirely funded from public donations and fundraising activities. We do not get any government support. It has rehoming centres, where I work. We take in unwanted or abandoned pets and try to find new homes for them. The other side is our hospital services. We’ve got four hospitals in the UK which treat animals for people who couldn’t otherwise afford veterinary care. I’ve been working for Blue Cross for 16 months now. I did my eight week work placement here and then I volunteered for half a day a week while I was completing my degree at Hartpury University.

I work as an animal welfare officer. There are 15 of us who work in that role. We work with the kennels, the cattery and the small animal section. The key parts of my job are the day to day care of those animals: feeding, cleaning, walking and training. The other side is the rehoming to the public; finding out what animals they’re looking for, what home they can offer, and to match that to the animal they are interested in.

Why I chose Hartpury University

I was working in public relations in the energy sector, which was a great job for a number of years, but I realised it wasn’t what I wanted to do for the rest of my working life. Going to Hartpury University was great because I knew that was what I wanted to do. I found all the tutors were really passionate about what they did and they were really keen to support students. And it’s a lovely environment, a really nice campus in a nice location.

Why I studied at Hartpury University

My degree looked at all animals - companion animals, farm animals and wildlife. There was quite a lot on evolution; understanding where animals come from. I studied where companion animals come from and how they’ve evolved to live in a domestic environment. We also looked at animal welfare, how you can measure it and what you can do to improve it. We looked at the behaviour of animals and how you can understand what they are communicating by the way they behave. Everything I do in my job links back in some way to the modules I studied as part of my degree. Advice for people wanting to work with animals: Try to gain as clear a picture as possible about the path you think you’re going to want to take when you go into the workplace. I think that can be really hard to do when you’ve just left school, so it is very useful to get some work experience before you choose a course. I would recommend voluntary work to see if that is really something you’re passionate about. If you want to develop a specialist position in an organisation or even become self-employed then you will need a higher qualification as well as practical experience.