Becoming an Animal Control Officer: Job Description & Salary Info

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An animal control officer's median annual salary is around $32,000. Is it worth the training requirements? See real job duties and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming an animal control officer is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career as an Animal Control Officer

A career as an animal control officer may be rewarding if you're passionate about helping animals who are being abused or protecting the public from vicious animals. Consult the pros and cons tables below to learn more.

PROS of Becoming an Animal Control Officer
Doesn't require a college degree**
Gratification from ensuring humane care of animals***
Faster than average job growth (around 15% from 2012-2022)*
Independent work style (often involves patrolling alone)**

CONS of Becoming an Animal Control Officer
Low earning potential ($32,000 median salary as of May 2014)*
Emotional distress from having to euthanize animals***
Stress from dealing with combative individuals***
May have to work nights, weekends, holidays and on-call for emergency situations***

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistic, **O*Net Online, ***National Animal Control Association.

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Your main duty as an animal control officer is to ensure the well-being of animals. You may investigate claims of abused, abandoned or unattended animals. You're also responsible for responding to claims of dangerous animals. You'll handle animals of all sizes and temperaments, and you may also have to euthanize animals that are imposing an immediate risk to humans.

Besides dealing directly with animals, you may inspect animal holding facilities, such as shelters or barns. The public may also call upon your assistance to round up loose animals and return them to their homes safely or clean up dead animals on public property. In the course of your work, you may write out warnings and issue citations. You may also have to settle disputes between individuals about animals. Driving an animal control vehicle, chasing animals on foot and filing paperwork are also part of the job.

Your work day will typically be spent outdoors or in a patrol vehicle driving to animals' locations. You may find this job emotionally taxing, since you'll be dealing with animals that are injured, abused or sick as well as disgruntled pet owners. The tasks you carry out are based on the laws of the local, state or federal government that employs you, and so you might work in conjunction with local law enforcement. In some cases, you may have to testify in court.

Salary Info and Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most animal control workers earned between about $20,000 and $51,000 per year as of May 2014 (www.bls.gov). Hourly wages ranged from about $9.80-$24.82. The largest employer of animal control workers was local governments, which offered an annual mean wage of nearly $34,000. The BLS also reports that jobs in this field were projected to grow by nearly 15% in the decade spanning 2012-2022.

What Are the Requirements?

Requirements for animal control officers may vary for different employers, but, generally, you need to have a high school diploma or the equivalent and have experience working with animals. Some employers also prefer that you have law enforcement training or experience. Additionally, you'll need to have a valid driver's license and a good driving record. Most employers require U.S. citizenship and many have minimum age requirements. You may also have to pass a physical and/or background check. After gaining employment, you may go through on-the-job or apprenticeship training, in which you'll work under the supervision of more experienced animal control officers. Skills and qualities you may need to have include:

  • Physical strength and stamina
  • Knowledge of local geography
  • Familiarity with local and state animal control laws

Job Postings from Real Employers

Most employers have pretty standard requirements for animal control officer applicants, such as having experience with animals and having a valid driver's license. Review these April 2012 job postings to understand what employers will expect from you:

  • A city in New Mexico was seeking an officer that is at least 21 years old, has a driver's license and high school diploma and, preferably, has experience with animal control.
  • A Florida city was looking for someone willing to work evenings and weekends. The applicant needs a valid license, clean driving record and at least one year of experience in animal control.
  • A New Mexico animal control department wanted to hire an animal control officer who is at least 18 years old, has a high school diploma and at least six months of animal control work experience. Applicants must be able to type 25 words per minute and lift 50-70 pounds.

How to Make Your Skills Stand Out

Gain Practical Experience

Since experience with animals is highly important in this career field, you might stand out from the competition by gaining as much experience as possible. You should gain a varied background in working with animals and, if possible, in law enforcement. You could, for example, volunteer at an animal shelter, work at a veterinarian's office or taking classes in law enforcement. Activities like these can help you to develop the skills and gain the experience that employers look for and you can do them all while still in high school.

Attend a Training Academy

While generally not mandatory, completion of an animal control training academy may give you an edge in the job market. Such programs may be offered by governments or by professional organizations. You can expect to complete 80 hours or about 10-12 days of training, taking classes in law enforcement and investigation, animal capture and restraint, report writing and disease prevention.

Other Fields to Consider

Police Officer

If you want a career in law enforcement, but don't want to work with animals, consider becoming a police officer. As a police officer, you'll protect and serve the public to maintain an orderly society. You'll make arrests, respond to calls from the public and monitor your assigned area for those breaking the law. This career can be physically and mentally demanding. You usually need to complete a training program and pass physical testing to become an officer. According to the BLS, jobs in this field were expected to grow by seven percent from 2010-2020, and police officers earned a median salary of about $54,000 as of 2011.

Animal Care Worker

If you want a career working with animals, but you don't want to enforce laws, you might enter a less demanding career in animal care. Animal caretakers help to provide a safe and comfortable home for cats, dogs and other non-farm animals. You may work in a shelter, kennel or rescue league, feeding and grooming as well as trying to find permanent homes for animals. In a more advanced animal care position, you might vaccinate or put down animals.

There are no formal requirements for this career, and training is usually completed on the job. Additionally, the BLS reports that jobs for animal caretakers were projected to grow at a much-faster-than-average rate of 28% from 2010-2020; however, these professionals tend to earn little - a median salary of about $20,000 as of 2011.

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