Do You Have What it Takes to Work for a Parrot Rescue Organization? An Interview With Foster Parrots

By Paula Fitzsimmons with Karen Windsor

Do you think you have what it takes to snag that dream job at an animal shelter or welfare organization? A lot of people want to work with animals, but it takes a special person – one with the right skills, level of commitment, passion, and attitude – to land the job.

To help you gain insights into what these organizations look for in applicants, I’m conducting a series of interviews with managers from an assortment of animal advocacy groups.

Remember that even if you’re able to convince an organization to hire you, you still have to prove yourself while on the job. So . . . be real. Be truthful. Use these guides to help you get a sense of your readiness for this type of work, or to learn what it takes to get ready – and stand apart from the pack.

In this case, it’s not a pack we’re talking about, but a flock. I asked Karen Windsor, co-director of Foster Parrots – a sanctuary that rescues and shelters neglected, abused, and unwanted parrots – to weigh in on what she looks for in employees.

Karen Windsor, executive director at Foster Parrots, with JubJub, a blue-throated macaw

Karen Windsor, executive director at Foster Parrots, with JubJub, a blue-throated macaw

To say that this organization has made impressive strides and contributions to parrot welfare, would be an understatement. What started as a small rescue in co-director (and Karen’s husband) Marc Johnson’s Massachusetts home, has morphed into a 23-acre Rhode Island sanctuary called New England Exotic Wildlife Sanctuary.

I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve heard of Foster Parrots. Aside from being leaders in avian welfare, and having amassed a  legion of fans (deservedly so) they’ve gotten the media’s attention – including in the PBS documentary, Parrot Confidential.

Karen was quite candid, and her insights invaluable. Here’s what she had to say, in her words, about the ideal Foster Parrots employee.

The following insights are from Karen . . .with minor editing work on my part.

What Karen looks for in applicants

“I care a lot less about where someone went to school or what degree they hold, than what kind of previous work experience they bring to the table. And previous work experience doesn’t have to be prolific as much as it needs to demonstrate a variety of relevant skills.

For instance, our new sanctuary director had a background in psychology – which is invaluable in animal welfare and management – had worked for several years in an administrative capacity in the fast-paced fashion industry in New York City. She had also worked three years at a wolf sanctuary, stepping up to administrative and management duties when the lead administrator left suddenly.

She didn’t know a thing about parrots, but I could teach her about parrots – and the parrots would teach her about parrots. What I couldn’t teach her is what she already knew about managing people, animal welfare politics, taking initiative, and working under pressure.

I’m not looking for employees to babysit. I want people who can take a considerable amount of work off my plate – someone who can look at the big picture, analyze it, then take the initiative. This requires confidence, self-motivation, ambition, strong problem-solving skills, a sense of personal responsibility, and a strong worth ethic.

How to stand apart from the flock

“The best advice I have is to bring that well-rounded set of valuable skills to the table. Some ways to accomplish this . .

  • Volunteer with several animal rescue groups to get a feel for how different organizations operate, as well as the challenges they face. Step into a role and fill a need to show your ability and willingness to rise to the occasion – do more than the minimum. The more hats one can wear and holes can fill, the more attractive they are as an applicant.
  • Take management and psychology courses. In the animal welfare world, working with animals is the easy part – it’s dealing with people that’s the real challenge. Computer and administrative skills are also incredibly valuable.
  • Educate yourself! Read the books and scientific papers. Know who is who in the animal welfare community.
  • Research the organization you want to apply to. Know their mission, history, accomplishments – as well as the person interviewing you. While interviewing my sanctuary director, I was impressed to learn that not only was she familiar with the work of Foster Parrots; but she has also written a paper during her Master’s program at Tufts University, using Foster Parrots as a sanctuary model.

“I want people who can take a considerable amount of work off my plate – someone who can look at the big picture, analyze it, then take the initiative. This requires confidence, self-motivation, ambition, strong problem-solving skills, a sense of personal responsibility, and a strong worth ethic.” –Karen Windsor

On commitment . . . and burnout

“Animal welfare is one of the toughest fields, requiring people to make great sacrifices for their careers. This field is notoriously underfunded, and organizations are typically overwhelmed and understaffed. There’s a need for strong people capable of improving an organization’s effectiveness . . . helping it to grow beyond its limitations.

One of the toughest aspects of this field is the emotional burden. There’s an enormous level of cruelty and suffering out there – and no matter how much we do, it’s never enough. If one is unable to effectively process the despair and use it to strengthen their own resolve, it can become crippling. Burnout is a real risk.

“Animal welfare is one of the toughest fields, requiring people to make great sacrifices for their careers.” — Karen Windsor

On what’s a turnoff in an applicant

“Confidence is important; arrogance is a turn-off. I’ve interviewed people who I believe were judging me and my organization. I’ve even sat across the table from people who seemed to actually be interviewing me, trying to determine if this position was something that was going to work for them. Why would I ever consider hiring someone like that?

When an applicant puts limits on how much they’re willing to work, this is an instant turn-off. This tells me that I’m going to have to spend a lot of time trying to fit my organization around the applicant’s limitations.

In the animal welfare world – particularly in the rescue community – we often work on an as-needed basis. Animals don’t recognize weekends, birthdays, or holidays. They have to be fed, cared for, and rescued according to their schedules – not ours. Not that I’m planning on working someone to death, but I need someone who will own the job.

Any detectable negativity or hostility will kill an applicant’s chances of being hired . . . and I have heard this from a number of associates. Animal welfare and rescue work is hard enough without bringing someone in who could potentially infect the entire workplace.”

What are your thoughts on this interview? Are you still interested in a career in animal rescue work after reading this?

(Affiliate/sponsor)

Macaw 24290291 image credit (minus type and additional design from Clipart.com.

2 Comments

  1. It is my pleasure to volunteer at Foster Parrots. Karen and Marc are in creditable in their constant pursuit to give every Parrot a wonderful life down at the Sanctuary. Their staff there is amazing and hard workers. The team of volunteers work in tandem to give each parrot the best quality of life experience. Our Fundraiser is coming up In September , how about coming and supporting a wonderful program !

  2. Animal Jobs Digest |

    Bonnie, thank you for commenting . . . and for volunteering. Agreed about Foster Parrots – what an amazing sanctuary.

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