Scratching posts, litter boxes, blankets, toys and three cats are all around us. Mietzi, an old cat lady limps across the room and meows loudly. Sarah Fehr (32), zookeeper at the Pfötli animal shelter, takes her in her arms. «I’m particularly sorry for animals like Mietzi. It is very difficult to find a new home because they are older and need more care. »
Fehr did an apprenticeship in KV and then went on to IT. It was the beginning of a good career, but one thing was missing: passion. She quit and went on a trip. In Bolivia, South America, in the Senda Verde animal reserve, the planned two weeks of volunteering became three months of intensive life school. « From then on it was clear to me that I wanted to be an animal rights activist. »
The way to the zookeeper
Back in Switzerland, Fehr started looking for training as a zookeeper. It was not an easy task. In 2018, according to the Federal Statistical Office, only 107 women and men started teaching animal carers EFZ. Jobs are scarce and wages are low: Fehr earned CHF 700 during her apprenticeship. « It is definitely a job that you do with passion, » she says.
Even after the apprenticeship, the wages remain between 3,600 and 5,000 francs. The canton and the organization are very important. The people around her were critical at the beginning. «I’ve considered giving up a few times. But the fire in me just burned too much. »
More than just « stroking animals »
Every day at the shelter begins with the morning round. Any medication must be administered and certain animals must already be fed. «Then comes the nice part. You grab a dog and go for a walk. I appreciate that because you can start the day in nature. » Then go back to the animal shelter in the assigned department. « 75 percent of the job is cleaning. » Boxes, rooms, toilets and food bowls have to be cleaned again and again.
All animals must be examined for their condition. Certain nursing measures must be initiated, such as fur and claw care or a general health check. «The best thing is that you are dirty and tired in the evening, but you know that you have done something useful. You are also proud to see how the animals develop from the moment they arrive until they can move to a new home. »
That cattle keepers cuddling with animals all day is a cliché. «I would like to take the people who say that to work for a week. They would have a different opinion in the end. » It is definitely a physically demanding job, since you are on your feet all day. Cleaning, lifting, catching and fixing animals requires energy. “In the beginning, it takes a certain amount of time to get used to it. In the evening you notice it in the bones. »
Destinies that come close
The job is psychologically demanding. «You can tell the fate of animals and people. That doesn’t leave you cold. As a zookeeper, you should keep a certain professional distance. » Nevertheless, there are animals that are dear to her. But nobody has come to her home yet.
When asked what her future looks like, Fehr replies: « I want to follow my heart wherever it leads me. » Sooner or later she wants to go back to Bolivia. She is also committed to her heart project from Switzerland. With the animal protection association Animalma she is fundraising for the animal reserve in Bolivia.