What Does a Humane Law Enforcement Officer (HLEO) Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

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Humane law enforcement officers (HLEOs) are typically fully trained and empowered police officers. Their primary purpose is to enforce laws related to the humane treatment of animals. They investigate allegations of animal abuse and ensure pets are well cared for and protected.

In some cases, HLEOs, who are sometimes called animal cops, may take steps to remove abused or endangered animals from homes and owners. They may also file charges against and arrest those accused of cruelty to animals.

Humane Law Enforcement Officer Duties & Responsibilities

The job of an HLEO often involves the following tasks:

  • Investigate animal abuse cases
  • Enforce laws related to the care and keeping of animals
  • Regulate industries that work with and use animals
  • Write reports
  • Prepare and execute warrants
  • Arrest suspected criminals
  • Issue civil fines

Animal cops may be called upon to look into a host of issues related to animal cruelty, including animal hoarding, dog fighting, puppy mills, and maltreatment at rodeos, circuses, and farms. In short, if it involves the potential for harm to animals, humane law enforcement officers investigate it.

Humane Law Enforcement Officer Salary

The salary of an HLEO depends on experience and geographical area. The figures below are for animal control workers, the vast majority of whom work for a local government.

  • Median Annual Salary: $36,330 ($17.47/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $58,220 ($27.99/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Less than $23,160 ($11.13/hour)

Education, Training, & Certification

HLEOs must have a strong working knowledge of problems related to animals and a proven track record of safely handling animals. They must be able to interact with a wide variety of companion, domesticated, and wild animals.

Training or education in animal behavior or science is very beneficial to a successful career as an animal cop. A bachelor's degree in criminal justice or a four-year degree in criminology may also be helpful. In any case, a high school diploma or the equivalent will be necessary.

  • Police academy: Animal cops with full police powers will be required to attend a police academy and become certified officers.
  • NACA and NACHO training and certification: All HLEOs, including non-sworn animal control officers, must receive specialized training for job tasks specific to their field. The National Animal Care & Control Association (NACA) provides certification as an animal control officer. The NACA and Code 3 Associates have partnered up to create the National Animal Control and Humane Officer (NACHO) Academy, which provides more training and certification in animal care and animal cruelty investigation.

    HLEOs will also likely need to undergo a thorough background check.

    Humane Law Enforcement Officer Skills & Competencies

    Not everyone has what it takes to be an effective humane law enforcement officer. Here are the qualities and aptitudes a successful HLEO will possess:

    • Knowledge of animal behavior and human psychology: Humane law enforcement officers must understand how different species of animals think and be able to predict their behavior based on their current actions. They also have to be able to predict how potentially highly emotional individuals who are suspected of mistreating animals might react when confronted by an animal control professional.
    • Interspecies and interpersonal communication skills: HLEOs must be able to communicate effectively with people and a wide variety of domesticated and wild animals.
    • Knowledge of animal safety: They must know how to remain safe around potentially violent animals and to keep bystanders safe as well.

    In short, HLEOs need compassion for docile animals that are sick or injured but also must be capable of handling troubled animals that could pose a threat to them or someone else. They also have to deal effectively with people who may be acting cruelly toward a pet or a domesticated or wild animal.

    Job Outlook

    The BLS predicts jobs for animal control workers will grow 6 percent from 2014 to 2024.

    Work Environment

    Humane law enforcement officers and agents work primarily outdoors and on patrol. They may at times work from an office while they produce reports and follow up on investigations, but their primary duties are performed in the field.

    Depending on the state or jurisdiction, animal cops may work directly for a police department or sheriff's office, a local or county government's animal control office, or an animal rights organization or animal shelter. While many jurisdictions invest their humane law enforcement officers with full police powers, some may serve as community service officers or animal control officers with limited enforcement authority.

    Work Schedule

    Humane law enforcement officers may have to work nights, weekends, and holidays, especially if they work for a police department or other law enforcement agency.

    How to Get the Job


    If you don't have previous work experience in the field, volunteering as a community service officer or at an animal shelter is a good way to start on this career path.


    The NACA has a job opening search page. You can also find open positions on job-posting resources such as Glassdoor, Indeed, and Monster.


    Create a resume that plays up your strengths and sets you apart from other candidates. Write a cover letter specific to the job; don't send a generic one that shows you didn't take the time to consider the unique aspects of a given job.

    Comparing Similar Jobs

    People interested in becoming HLEOs might also consider the following jobs. The figures provided are median annual salaries: