Learn About Being an Animal Control Officer

Get career info including job duties, salary and more

Hamilton County Animal Control Officers posing with captured dog
••• Cincinnati Museum Center / Getty Images

There are a lot of job prospects for people who love working with animals. Moreover, those who are passionate about the well-being of animals would benefit from diving into a career in animal control.

Animal control officers maintain public safety by enforcing animal licensing laws and humane care regulations while on patrol. Animal control officers are responsible for capturing and impounding dangerous or stray animals, investigating cases of animal cruelty, enforcing licensing laws, providing expert testimony in court cases, rescuing trapped animals, writing incident reports, and providing humane care to animals under their supervision.

Duties of an Animal Control Officer

Working as an animal control officer can be both challenging and rewarding, and will require handling all kinds of animals from pets to wildlife.

While on duty, animal control officers interact frequently with members of the public. They issue citations and warnings to individuals believed to be involved with mistreatment of animals in their care, and may remove animals from a negligent owner’s custody. Officers may also provide educational seminars to the community on topics such as animal welfare and animal-related laws.

People considering this career path should carefully weigh their ability to handle all aspects of the job — both good and bad. Some duties, such as assisting with the euthanasia of unclaimed animals, can be emotionally stressful for animal control officers. They may also have to deal with animals that are strays or have been abandoned. Officers may also have to investigate and rescue animals in fight rings. This includes taking animals involved in fighting and bait animals away from the environment and into a safe place.

In the case of wildlife, officers help relocate these animals — many that have been displaced because of habitat loss or that have come into neighborhoods in search of food and shelter.

Most animal control officers are required to be “on-call” for emergency situations on some nights, weekends and holidays. As with any animal career, working hours can be irregular.

Animal control officers must also be careful to take adequate safety precautions when working in potentially dangerous situations with unfamiliar and unpredictable animals. There is a high potential for injury when attempting to capture an animal under stress, whether that stress arises from abuse and neglect, or from being in an unfamiliar environment.

Career Options

Animal control officers are generally employed by a county, a city or the federal government. They can also work their way up from entry-level officer positions to supervisory and management roles. Upper-level animal control titles may include senior animal control officer, coordinator, superintendent or director of operations.

Some animal control officers choose to transition into related positions with humane societies and rescue groups. Others go on to pursue careers in police work or veterinary medicine.

Education & Training

To pursue a career as an animal control officer, applicants must be at least 18 years of age — although applicants are preferred to be 21 — with a high school diploma or GED. A college degree in an animal related field or criminology is preferred. Prior experience working as a police officer, veterinary technician, animal trainer, wildlife rehabilitator or any animal-related field is a plus. Many aspiring animal control officers gain additional practical experience by volunteering at local shelters, humane societies and other rescue-related organizations.

Animal control officers must have knowledge of a wide variety of animal species, animal first aid, animal care and nutrition, humane capture tools and techniques, animal behavior, public relations, and cruelty investigation procedures.

Some states require completion of a certification course before an applicant can be considered for a career as an animal control officer. Those interested in pursuing a career in animal control should investigate the specific requirements in their state or locality.

The National Animal Control Association (NACA) offers certification as an Animal Control/Care Officer through completion of a two level course (40 hours per level) and passage of a written certification exam. As of December 2016, over 12,500 officers have been certified through the NACA animal control certification program.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the American Humane Association (AHA), and various technical and community colleges also offer specialized training classes and educational seminars on a variety of topics for those seeking to enhance their knowledge in the field.

Salary

According to data from the National Animal Control Association and U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, experienced animal control officer positions carried a median wage of $17.08 hourly or $35,520 annually in 2017. Upper-level management and investigator positions can carry compensation of $50,000 to $85,000 in major cities. New officers can expect to initially earn a salary closer to minimum wage, though this may be higher if the candidate has significant education and certification training in the field.

Job Outlook

According to the BLS, employment opportunities for all animal care and service workers are expected to grow faster than the average — roughly 22% — between 2016 and 2026. Nationally, the BLS survey reports that there are 12,700 animal control workers, with the highest number working in California, Texas, New York, Florida and North Carolina.

Animal shelters are expected to show a steady demand for employees as funding for prevention of animal abuse trends upward. Most job opportunities will continue to develop in major metropolitan areas. Organizations such as NACA expect animal control positions will show solid growth nationwide.