Becoming an Animal Cop: Job Description & Salary Info

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Get the truth about an animal cop's salary, education requirements and career prospects. Read the job description and see the pros and cons of becoming an animal cop.
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Pros and Cons of an Animal Cop Career

Animal cops, also known as animal control workers, function similarly to police officers in the protection animals. If you think working as an animal cop might be the career for you, take a moment to explore the pros and cons below.

Pros of an Animal Cop Career
Entry-level positions available with minimal education*
Positions may be available in every state**
Opportunity to educate public about animal welfare and safety*
Job satisfaction can be found in rescuing animals in danger*

Cons of an Animal Cop Career
Low to moderate wage prospects (about $34,000 annual mean wage in May 2014)**
Job can be stressful when dealing with some pet owners*
Situations involving animals in traumatic situations may be emotionally challenging*
May be required to euthanize animals*

Sources: *O*NET OnLine, **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Animal Cop Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Animal cops perform many of the same types of duties that are performed by police officers. Your duties may vary depending on the area you work in, but the primary roles of animal cops are consistent. In the course of your day you may be on patrol in a designated area, investigate reports of abuse or neglect, issue citations or offer testimony on cases in a courtroom. You may even be tasked with caring for rescued animals and, in some cases, be required to euthanize them. To perform this job, you'll need to be physically fit in order to handle animals in distress.

Some animal cops participate in outreach programs that help inform the public about animal safety and welfare through venues such as websites, blogs or personal visits to schools. Depending on your location, you can find yourself working regular shifts or in rural areas, you might end up on-call. Small towns may only have one animal control officer, but in some instances, that officer might share duties with a local animal shelter or the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife.

Salary and Career Prospects

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that in May 2014, animal control workers earned an annual mean wage near $34,000. The BLS also noted that California had the highest employment rate with more than 1,400 officers in the state, while animal control officers in California earned the highest annual mean wage at more than $46,000. The growth rate for this profession was projected by O*NET OnLine to be about 8%-14% between 2012 and 2022, which is considered average.

What Are the Requirements?

Education and Training Requirements

Animal cops need at least a high school diploma or GED, but further education may be required by the specific hiring agency. The majority of animal cops receive on-the-job or academy training. Some jobs may also require you to go through a probationary period of field training.

Personal Attributes

Good communication skills are vital to this job because much of it requires dealing with the public. Attention to detail is also important because you may be called upon to document or testify in court about an animal's situation. Compassion for all species is an essential component of this career. You should also be in good physical shape in order to capture or restrain animals that may be large or in a state of panic.

Job Postings from Real Employers

No matter where you work, employers expect you to learn the laws that need to be enforced in your jurisdiction. There are some consistent requirements such as having a valid driver's license for the state in which you work. Although this is a government position, you'll find that laws will vary depending on your location and therefore employers will have slightly different requirements. The jobs below are a sampling of open positions found in November 2012:

  • A Los-Angeles based government office is seeking an animal control officer with one year of experience working with domestic or wild animals or the completion of coursework in an acceptable area such as animal science. You'll also need to pass the physical assessment test. You must be 21 years old to apply for this job and if you're hired, you'll begin by going through a 6-month training session.
  • A Maryland government office was looking for high school graduates for its animal control officer position. Animal experience is preferred but not required. You must undergo pre-exposure rabies vaccination if you're hired.
  • An animal control officer is needed for a San Francisco government job opening. You should have at least 1,000 hours of experience working with animals. Your job will require you to perform regular patrols, educate the public, make arrests when needed and provide first aid to animals in need of emergency care. This position is a component of the city's Disaster Service Workers force, which requires additional training.

How to Stand Out in the Field

Experience and Knowledge

You can get a jump-start on the competition by gaining hands-on experience with the animals in your area through volunteerism. Humane societies and animal shelters frequently need volunteers to help with everything from feeding the animals to playing with them so they don't lose their socialization skills and become unadoptable. There may be a wildlife refuge near you that will teach you how to work with animals that have been injured and are going through rehabilitation and healing processes. Some community colleges offer courses in animal science that can give you a technical understanding of animal anatomy, physiology and behavior.

Get Certified

The National Animal Control Association offers training and certification to animal control officers and prospective animal control officers through weeklong programs. They also have workshops in single subjects. If you're already a working professional who wants to stay abreast of the latest developments, you might consider getting the Certified Animal Welfare Administrator credential through the Society of Animal Welfare Administrators. This program is for CEO-level professionals with at least three years of experience.

Alternate Career Options

Animal Care and Service Workers

You may find the idea of working with animals in unfortunate circumstances distressing. If so, you might consider a career in animal care and service work. The BLS predicted this field to increase by 23% in the 2010-2020 decade. Most positions offer on-the-job training and require no formal education. Your work may vary by position but generally requires care, feeding, exercise and grooming of non-farm animals. The BLS noted that the annual mean wage for animal trainers in May 2011 was about $31,000.

Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists

If you enjoy studying animals and find the salary of an animal cop a little low, you might enjoy a career as a zoologist or wildlife biologist. You'll need a bachelor's degree for most entry-level positions. In this career, you'll study the characteristics and habitats of wildlife. The BLS predicted job growth in this field to be only 7%, but noted that more of these professionals will be needed to study habitats being impacted by human population increases. According to another BLS report, zoologists' and wildlife biologists' annual mean wage was about $62,000 in May 2011, with California, Florida and Alaska on the list of the states offering the most jobs in this field.

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