It's a Dog's Life: Six Animal Careers We'd Love to Have

by Staff - Original publish date: January 19, 2012

When it comes to careers, most of us are looking for the same thing -- fulfilling, meaningful work we enjoy that also pays the bills.

While many people spend a good portion of their working lives looking for a career that meets these elusive parameters, there are some animals that have managed to achieve this balance quite nicely.

This article explores six animal careers that put the "fun" in job function. How does your job measure up?


1. Animal actors have it made

Animal actors live comfortably with their every need taken care of and their days spent "playing" on set with actors and trainers. Some famous examples of our most beloved four-legged performers include:

* Mr. Ed, who did his own stunts, received his own screen credit, and probably loved the peanut butter he was fed to get him to "talk." 
* Toto from The Wizard of Oz, who purportedly earned more than twice as much per day as the actors who portrayed the film's Munchkins. 
* Benji, a former animal shelter mutt who lived the true American dream and hit the big time in his series of eponymous films.

$250 per day ain't hay!

The average daily pay for animal actors begins at about $250 per day, according to Gloria Winship, owner of Animal Actors International. But unlike their human counterparts, animals don't earn residuals, which means they earn nothing after that day.

And, just as Jennifer Aniston contributes a portion of her paycheck to hiring a personal trainer to maintain her fab abs, owners of animal stars use the money their animals earn to contribute to their training, feeding, housing, and grooming.

So, while there are exceptions, most animals in films earn just enough to maintain their upkeep, with maybe a little left over for designer kibble.

2. In the animal world, racehorses are rock stars

Successful racehorses lead a life that most people would envy: They spend their days doing what they love (running), earn lots of money, receive tons of attention and unsurpassed care, and then spend their (early) retirement in cushy accommodations enjoying the occasional company of superstar horses of the opposite sex.

During his storied, but short, career, Secretariat earned $1,316,808 winning races, including the 1973 Triple Crown. In 16 months, Secretariat started in 21 races, won 16, and earned money in all but one of them. He became so famous and sought after that the William Morris Agency was hired to organize all of his appearances.

And it gets even better... for some

A winning racehorse doesn't stop earning when he stops running. Male racehorses who retire often demand enormous stud fees, as much as $500,000 per contact.

Not to be outdone, female racehorses often fetch exorbitant prices for their offspring.

Of course, it takes a load of money to train, feed, house, and transport a racehorse, not to mention to pay the 10s, and sometimes 100s, of thousands of dollars worth of entry fees in the higher-paying races. And only 50 percent of racehorses ever win a race, so there’s no guarantee the investment will pay off.

Animal entertainers are well-traveled

Animals who entertain at parades, sporting events, festivals, and other public events earn fees, travel the world, enjoy excellent care, and enjoy the attention and adoration of their fans.

The Budweiser Clydesdale horses, which comprise six teams of eight horses, have been present in two inaugural parades, have entertained sports fans at Busch Stadium, and attend about 900 events per year.

They get to travel the world in specially outfitted trailers, and while home enjoy luxurious brick and stained-glass accommodations. But how much money do they really earn?

Here come the Clydesdales

For the price of $2,000 per event, those famous Clydesdales will clip clop down your cobblestones.

Because there are eight horses per team, each horse earns $250 a day. According to Anheuser-Busch, the brewery that manufactures Budweiser, it costs the company about $8,000 per day to keep the show on the road.

Of course, this doesn't take into account the publicity given to Budweiser, and how that ultimately translates into beer sales.

3. Sell, Fido, sell!

Since the advent of media, animals have been used to sell products.

According to Paul Calabria of Studio Animal Services in Castaic, Calif., a firm that provides trained animal and coordination services for motion pictures, commercials, and television, different types of animals demand different fees.

For example, a common animal such as a cat or dog would fetch around $400 a day for a commercial, excluding extra fees such as those allocated to trainers and transportation, while a more exotic animal, like an elephant, could demand $3,500 or more.

Yo quiero this job

Animals such as the Taco Bell dog, which are involved in additional duties such as merchandising, earn more than the typical daily fee. These animals have more complex deals that are unique to the situation and they, their owners, and their trainers are well compensated.

In addition to money and recognition, animals that make their living as mascots for brands are offered fun opportunities. For example, the Taco Bell dog played roles in the movies "Legally Blonde 2" and "Beverly Hills Chihuahua," and also rang the bell on the New York Stock Exchange. 

4. No donuts for these canine cops

Police dogs, also referred to as K-9 dogs, undergo vigorous training that allows them to assist police officers in tracking, protection, search and rescue, and drug work.

Due to their highly sensitive sense of smell, police dogs have played significant parts in some of the country's biggest drug busts, have sniffed out deadly bombs, and are used in search missions, such as those that took place after the World Trade Center bombings in 2001.

Because of their speed, police dogs are able to apprehend and catch criminals that police officers aren't able to.

Police dogs may find fame; but rarely fortune

While police dogs are considered a part of the force, they aren’t paid. But they do develop deep bonds with their officers, and typically enjoy comfortable lives in their homes.

Some police dogs have become famous. "Pascha," a police dog known for his work in the Oklahoma City bombings, also helped people after the earthquake in Kobe, Japan, as well as victims of Hurricane Opal in Panama City, Fla.

Many canine cops receive awards and other honors. A German shepherd from Ontario was even given a full police burial upon his death for his long years of service to the police department.

5. Assistance animals at your service

Dogs, horses and even monkeys are helping improve the lives of a wide range of people with disabilities.

In addition to seeing-eye dogs, there are other trained pooches who can alert owners of fire alarms and ringing telephones, open and close doors, turn lights on and off, and warn people of imminent seizures.

Specially educated capuchin monkeys help boost the self-esteem and independence of their paralyzed partner by performing myriad manual tasks.

Payment for therapy animals? That's a horse of a different color

According to the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association, riding a horse can help people with physical issues such as cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy gain flexibility and strength, as the movement of the horse mimics the movement of human muscles.

In addition, statistics show that people with emotional, cognitive, or behavioral issues are also soothed and empowered by equine contact.

Therapy animals do not receive money, but they arerewarded with attention, love, gratitude and excellent living conditions.

It pays to be a talented animal... or to own one

Whether the animal's job is to entertain or to fulfill a vital role in society, there's no doubt that some animals boast jobs that are more interesting, more satisfying -- and sometimes even more lucrative -- than our own.

Which of us can compare ourselves to Spuds MacKenzie, whose job was to party hearty, hang out with a bunch of babes called the "Spudettes," and revel in the adoration of fans?

In that case, we could all hope for a dog's life... or a dog owner's pay!