FARAH ROSE, 42, AND DON MEARS, 32
REAL JOBS: Office manager/computer technician
FANTASY JOB: Cattle rancher

Herding 25 head of cattle back home after a day's grazing, Farah Rose sat atop her horse, looking at the Colorado mesas bathed in the late-day sun. "This is heaven," she thought. Normally, she would be scheduling appointments and overseeing the books for a massage-therapy studio in Ann Arbor, Mich. But Rose, who dreamed all her life of being a cattle rancher, got a taste of her ideal job in November 2005 after signing up with Vocation Vacations. During her three days at the 7,300-acre Saddleback Ranch in Steamboat Springs, Rose vaccinated cattle, saddled horses and branded calves—"That was tough," she says. Mears, who has worked on a credit union's tech desk for 11 years and been on horseback only a few times, says he "wanted to see what it's like to work outdoors, without a name badge." Rose and Mears (whose experience will air on a Travel Channel show this spring) won praise from Jerad Iacovetto, 29, son of Wayne, 59, and Luanna, 56, who own the ranch. "They jumped right in," he says. "They did good." Rose, now back at the office and reunited with her son Blake, 14, has no plans to ditch her day job, but is pondering a different way to enjoy the great outdoors: "It made me want a horse." As for Mears, now when he faces difficult colleagues at work, he recalls the ranch, where "you're dealing with animals, not people," he says. "I miss that part of it."

LEA CHADWELL, 36
REAL JOB: Veterinary technician
FANTASY JOB: Pastry chef

The truth about cats and dogs, Lea Chadwell had been thinking of late, is that caring for sick ones—as she had been doing at a clinic in Winston-Salem, N.C., for the past nine years—is a young person's job. "Am I really going to be wrestling golden retrievers when I'm 65?"

Chadwell decided the answer is no—after spending two days last October perfecting butter-flake rolls and rum-ball filling at JaCiva's, a bakery in Portland, Ore., owned by Jack and Iva Elmer. "It's been a daydream to have a pastry shop," says Chadwell, who took up baking just over a year ago and found she has a passion for it. Now that she's prepared chocolate with the pros, Chadwell feels confident that, with enough training—she is taking a culinary class and working as an apprentice to a pastry chef back home on her day off—she will be able to open her own place in a few years: "It seems doable to me now."

BARBARA DOYNE, 42
REAL JOB: Homemaker
FANTASY JOB: Animal-shelter worker

During her time at the Ridgefield Operation for Animal Rescue in Connecticut, Barbara Doyne tapped her maternal skills, usually employed in raising her 5-year-old daughter Samantha. "Sweetie, you're not happy," Doyne cooed to an antsy kitten. "Sometimes my tummy hurts too."

The soft touch didn't always work. Trying to cajole a dozen cats into sitting still for shots, Doyne quickly became the day's comic relief: "I was trying to catch them—they were all hissing at me and at each other," she says. A former Navy lieutenant and mutual-fund marketing director from Malvern, Pa., Doyne has spent the past three winters in Puerto Rico rescuing abandoned dogs and is planning to open her own animal shelter. Doyne says her husband, Jay Brown, a financial-services company executive, was supportive of her two days scrubbing kennels, but laid down one condition: "He told me, 'You're not allowed to bring any animals back.'"

  • Contributors:
  • Maria Eftimiades/Portland,
  • Ridgefield and Steamboat Springs.