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

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

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.

Some duties, such as assisting with the euthanasia of unclaimed animals, can be emotionally stressful for animal control officers. Those considering this career path should carefully consider their ability to handle all aspects of the job.

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 that is 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 generally be at least 18 (preferably 21) years of age 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. Through January 2010, over 9,300 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.


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 (in 2012) of $16.52 hourly or $32,560 annually. 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 (up to 21%) through 2018. Nationally, the BLS survey reports that there are 16,000 animal control workers, with at least an additional 5,800 jobs expected to be created from 2008 to 2018.

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 that animal control positions will show solid growth nationwide.