Becoming an Animal Cruelty Officer: Job Description & Salary Info

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What are the pros and cons of an animal cruelty officer career? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming an animal cruelty officer is right for you.
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Becoming an Animal Cruelty Officer: Pros and Cons

Animal cruelty officers, more commonly known as animal control officers, help protect and improve the lives of animals and their owners. Keep reading to learn more pros and cons for this occupation.

Pros of Animal Control Officer Careers
Opportunities to help both animals and people*
Able to help find caring, loving homes for pets*
Only a high school diploma and some training is needed for some entry-level positions*
Opportunities for advancement*
The career is challenging, yet rewarding*
Earning potential of up to $85,000 in metropolitan areas (upper-level positions)*

Cons of Animal Control Officer Careers
Might need a college degree or equivalent experience for some jobs*
Stress from public misunderstanding of the need for animal control*
Depression caused by animal euthanasia*
Risk of injury from animals and emotional pet owners*
Long work hours as well as weekend, holiday and on-call shifts required for some positions*
Susceptible to communicable diseases*
Positions in small communities may pay lower-than-average salaries ($12,000 to $24,000 annually)*

Source: *National Animal Care & Control Association.

Essential Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Animal control officers are responsible for legal investigations and law enforcement in regards to animal welfare. A related profession is an animal cruelty investigator. Both careers involve very similar job duties, but animal cruelty investigators' work is typically centered on abuse and neglect cases, whereas animal control officers' responsibilities can include a wider range of duties. As an animal control officer, you might be responsible for tasks like responding to complaints from concerned citizens, patrolling the streets looking for strays or suspicious activities, licensing and micro-chipping animals, caring for sheltered animals and helping prosecute people who abuse animals. You will likely have to capture aggressive and dangerous animals, as well. Sometimes you might be responsible for humanely euthanizing animals that are sick, aggressive or have not been adopted.

It can be a physically demanding job and a good deal of your time can be spent outdoors. You might also be required to fill out reports and daily records, and some positions might involve helping to educate the public. According to the National Animal Care & Control Association (NACA), animal control officers are the front line of defense, committed to serving the public to ensure the safety and health of humans and animals. Although you will likely be exposed to many unpleasant situations, you might also get to experience the satisfaction of helping rescue and protect animals as well as taking part in finding them good homes.

Salary Info and Career Prospects

NACA reports that there is a broad range of earning potential for animal control officers. Much of what determines your income is based on your level of training, specialty knowledge and geographic location. According to NACA's most recent data, if you work in a smaller community, you might earn between $12,000 and $24,000, annually. Mid-sized communities might pay you between $30,000 and $45,000 per year, and in big cities you can earn between $50,000 and $85,000, annually.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for animal control workers was $32,560 in 2014. Employment of animal control officers is expected to increase by 8% between 2012 and 2022 (about as fast as average). You might work for government-operated animal control departments or for privately run humane societies with joint service contracts for animal control. In small cities, you might work for a department alongside only one other person, whereas in bigger cities there is more variety and opportunities for advancement in larger organizations.

What Are the Requirements?

Education and Training Requirements

Typically, a high school diploma and experience with animals are the minimum requirements for securing a job. However, requirements vary with each state and additional training might be necessary. For example, in the state of Michigan you must complete 100 hours of training before being employable in any village, township or city. The 100 hours is typically a combination of logged and verified hours spent caring for animals and learning restraint techniques in veterinary hospitals, riding along with animal control officers and with police officers and working in an animal shelter.

Different employers have different requirements, as well. Some might prefer hiring those with a degree, whereas some might require certification from NACA or a similar program. The curriculum in training programs like NACA is normally focused on topics such as animal first aid, animal diseases, basic investigations and law, capture techniques, evidence collection, professionalism and ethics, officer safety and defense techniques, dog and cock fighting (blood sports), breeders and puppy mills, shelter operations and stress management.

Specializations

Many jobs might require continued education and training. For instance, you might become a certified euthanasia technician or certified in chemical capture. Other areas you can also specialize in include using the bite stick (tactical baton) and pepper spray (capsicum aerosol).

Job Listings from Real Employers

While employers might prefer to hire animal control officers with additional training or experience, it is possible to find entry-level positions with just a high school diploma or GED. It is common that prospective employees must pass a criminal background and drug test as well as have a valid driver's license. The following are just some examples of the things real employers are looking for in May 2012.

  • A police department in Kansas is looking for an animal control officer to perform fieldwork and law enforcement duties related to animal control and licensing ordinances. The selected candidate must be able to deal with animals humanely and effectively. Certification through NACA is preferred, but a high school diploma or GED is required at the minimum.
  • A police department in California needs a few animal control officers to perform duties such as collecting stray, sick and abused animals from veterinary hospitals, homes and the streets. The animal control officer will be responsible for issuing warning and citations. Caring for sheltered animals and maintaining records and reports are also some of the listed job duties. Applicants must have a high school diploma or equivalent, be 21 years old and meet California Peace Officer Standards and Training within the probationary period. They are also looking for at least one candidate who can communicate in another language.
  • The animal control department of a city in South Dakota needs an animal control officer who is willing to work evenings, weekends, holidays and overtime hours, when needed. The chosen applicant must have a high school diploma or GED and one year of experience working with animals and the public; a combination of education, training or experience might be considered as well. Within one year of hire, certification from NACA must also be obtained.

How to Get an Edge in the Field

Although completing a training program may be voluntary where you live, doing so can make you a more desirable candidate. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) advises that prior experience as a police officer, park ranger or peace officer can also help you secure the job you want. Coursework in animal science, criminology and laws as they pertain to animals might be particularly beneficial as well.

Developing Related Skills and Gaining Experience

Employers tend to search for candidates that possess good oral and written communication skills - speech and communication classes can help you develop those qualities. Because you will be interacting so frequently with the public, knowing how to speak in another language might also give you a leg up. Prior work or volunteer experience in an animal shelter or veterinary hospital can also help your resume shine; and since this is often mentally and emotionally draining work, the exposure to such environments can help you better evaluate if you really want to pursue this career field. Last, but certainly not least, keeping up your strength and endurance is especially important in this physically demanding line of work.

Other Career Options

Animal Care and Service Worker

If certain aspects of becoming an animal cruelty officer don't appeal to you, but you'd still like a career involving animals, then perhaps becoming an animal care or service worker is more up your alley. Animal care workers encompass a wide range of potential job roles, including kennel attendant, animal trainer, pet groomer and pet sitters. General job duties may include feeding, bathing and exercising animals, but other roles might involve learning specific skills, such as pet grooming or training. Most of these positions don't require you to have a formal education and typically include on-the-job training.

Overall employment for animal caretakers is projected to increase 23% between 2010 and 2020, which is faster than the average for all occupations, according to the BLS. The prospects for some positions will fare better than others; for example, there is an expected 28% employment increase if you take care of nonfarm animals, versus the 3% employment increase for animal trainers. Some jobs might require you to work nights, weekend, holidays or irregular hours, since animals require around-the-clock care. In May 2011, the median annual wage for animal caretakers was $23,000, which is considered below average for all occupations.

Veterinary Technician

If you're more interested in the health and medical aspects of animal care, then a career as a veterinary technician might be the job for you. Veterinary technicians' job duties are very similar to the duties of nurses that take care of humans. You might collect laboratory samples, such as urine or blood, for testing. You might also take and develop x-rays or administer medications and other treatments prescribed by veterinarians.

The BLS reports that most technicians earn a 2-year degree from an accredited program and, depending on the state, might need to become licensed, certified or registered in order provide care. Job opportunities in this field are excellent (particularly in rural areas). Employment growth is projected to increase by 52% between 2010 and 2020. On the downside, the annual median pay was $30,000 as of May 2011. Additionally, you may have to work nights, weekends, holidays or irregular hours.

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Colorado State University Global

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Ashford University

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Strayer University

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  • B.S. in Criminal Justice: Homeland Security and Emergency Management Concentration
  • B.S. in Criminal Justice: Computer Security and Forensics Concentration

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Saint Joseph's University

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Capella University

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Grand Canyon University

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  • Bachelor: Public Safety and Emergency Management
  • BS in Justice Studies

What is your highest level of education?

University of the Rockies

  • Doctor of Psychology - Criminology and Justice Studies
  • Master of Arts in Psychology - Criminology and Justice Studies

What is your highest level of education?