If you love animals and want a rewarding career taking care of them, the U.S. Department of Labor reports that a career as a veterinary technician offers great growth potential. The median pay is approximately $33,000 annually.

The number of jobs as of April 2014 is anticipated to be 80,200 with a rapid growth rate of 52 percent.

Norwalk Community College offers two programs for animal lovers who want to turn their passion for animals into a paycheck.

The first is the Veterinary Assistant Certificate Program, which requires a high school diploma or GED, and can be completed in less than a year. Tuition is $499 for each of four courses and an internship. This doesn't include the cost of a textbook, which is required for the entire course. With this certificate, one can work in the front office of a veterinary clinic, learn how to medicate animals, and master minor procedures such as vaccination protocols, nail trimming, bandaging, bathing and grooming.

The program requires a total of 30 daytime hours (three hours per week) working in an animal hospital or clinic under the supervision of a program coordinator. Veterinary assistants work in clinics, hospitals and emergency referral centers.

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Full- and part-time positions are available with pay ranging from $10 to $18 per hour.

For those who want to continue their education in veterinary science, Norwalk Community College now offers a two-year program that leads to an associate's degree as a veterinary technician.

The core program takes a full-time student two years to complete.

The associate degree prepares one for higher education in the veterinary science field and/or immediate employment in veterinary offices, biological research facilities, stables, dairies, drug and feed manufacturing companies, and in the animal production industry.

Graduates of both NCC programs are eligible to take the Veterinary Technology National Exam, which provides national certification.

Increasingly, veterinarians are requiring employees to have this important credential.

In order to be considered for this new degree program at Norwalk Community College, applicants must be in good health and be capable of lifting a minimum of 55 pounds.

If you did well in your science and math courses in high school, it will help with the academic requirements, which include competency in college algebra, general biology, chemistry and basic computing skills.

Tuition is $420 per three-credit course. Financial aid is available for qualified students. Interested students should contact Erik Rambusch, recruitment and placement coordinator for the NCC Health and Life Science Careers Initiative.

Rambusch's direct line is 203-857-7014. If you would like a program brochure, you can email him at Erambusch@norwalk.edu.

"Students who have signed up for the program are really excited about getting involved in a hot career with great prospects, in a subject area they love," Rambusch said.

This new program is part of the Connecticut Health & Life Science Careers Initiative and is fully funded by a $12.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment & Training Administration.

The grant was awarded to NCC in recognition of the extraordinary job this institution does in providing workforce training and boosting the local economy.

So if you have thought about going back to school and love being around animals, these programs at NCC can train you for a rewarding career.

The costs are low and the reward is high -- a good job helping animals.

New Canaan resident Cathy Kangas is a member of the Board of Directors of the Humane Society of the United States. She can be reached at cathy@praibeauty.com.