What Does an Animal Cruelty Investigator Do?

Puppy sits in pound
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Animal cruelty investigators must investigate reports of animal cruelty and enforce the laws related to such criminal acts.


Animal cruelty investigators are responsible for investigating accusations of animal cruelty to determine whether or not the claims are justified. Animal cruelty investigators may encounter many difficult situations such as animal abandonment, neglect, and abuse on a daily basis. Each case must be thoroughly documented so that it may be used as evidence by prosecution teams. If the claims of animal cruelty can be verified the investigator may confiscate the animal and coordinate with local law enforcement offices to make an arrest in the case.

While the majority of an animal cruelty investigator’s work occurs in the field while pursuing leads, they also do spend some time in an office setting to complete paperwork and compile case logs. They also may do some work as humane educators, providing information on animal welfare to the public.

Investigators must have excellent communication skills and be able to interact with animal control officers, shelter managers, volunteers, rescue groups, humane societies, veterinarians, lawyers, and law enforcement agencies. They must also be prepared to work with pet owners that may be uncooperative or openly hostile during investigations. 

An investigator must be sure to take adequate safety precautions while working in the field, as they will be in close contact with unfamiliar and potentially abused animals. Animals may be injured, living in very poor conditions, or even deceased. The investigator must be able to assess the situation and act quickly to remedy it if possible through proper legal channels.

Due to the nature of the job, some evenings and weekend hours may be required.

Career Options

Animal cruelty investigators may be employed by local or state governments, humane societies, rescue organizations, and other related groups.

Animal cruelty investigators can readily transition into a variety of leadership positions with humane societies, rescue groups, and government agencies. The skills of an investigator are also transferable to positions such as animal health inspector or police officer.

Education & Training

An animal cruelty investigator will ideally have a degree in either criminology or an animal science related field. Some localities require basic police officer certification. While police training is not necessary for most locations, it certainly helps a candidate’s chances if they have some sort of law enforcement background before applying. Experience working as a veterinary technician, humane educator, dog trainer, or animal control officer is also a big plus, as it gives the investigator a good working knowledge of animal behavior.

In addition to having a strong background in animal behavior, investigators must be familiar with many different species of animals, know first aid techniques, be well versed in animal care and nutrition, can use humane capture tools and techniques, and be able to follow proper investigation procedures. Aspiring animal cruelty investigators can gain valuable practical experience by volunteering at local shelters, humane societies, and other rescue-related organizations.

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 passing a written certification exam. Through December 2014 more than 11,000 animal control officers had successfully completed the NACA animal control certification process. This is a valuable certification that enhances a candidate’s qualifications and employment potential.


According to data from the National Animal Control Association (NACA), animal cruelty investigators can expect to earn $50,000 to $85,000 in large metropolitan areas, $30,000 to $45,000 in mid-sized communities, and $12,000 to $24,000 in small communities.

Job Outlook

While the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not separate out animal cruelty investigators into their own category, it does include them in the more general grouping of animal care and service workers. The BLS survey results indicate that employment opportunities for all animal care and service workers will grow faster than the average for all professions, at a rate of approximately 11 percent, through 2024. 

Demand for animal cruelty investigators should continue to show growth, especially since the general public has become increasingly concerned with animal welfare and humane treatment issues. Media coverage has put a spotlight on animal cruelty in recent years, and communities have increased their response to animal abuse accordingly due to this pressure.