Career Profile: Animal Control Officer

Get Career Info Including Job Duties, Salary, and More

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Working as an animal control officer can be both challenging and rewarding, and will require handling all kinds of animals from pets to wildlife. Animal control officers maintain public safety by enforcing animal licensing laws and humane care regulations while on patrol.

Duties of an Animal Control Officer

They're often 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.

While on duty, animal control officers interact frequently with members of the public. They issue citations and warnings to people for 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.

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 and 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 2—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.

Salary

According to data from the National Animal Care and Control Association and U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, 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. Where the officer is located and which city or town he works for will also have an impact on the salary.

Job Outlook

Animal shelters are expected to show 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.