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How to Become an ASPCA Officer: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become an American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) officer. Research the job description and the education requirements and find out how to start a career helping animals and protecting animal rights.

Should I Become an ASPCA Officer?

American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) officers, also known as humane law enforcement (HLE) officers or ASPCA agents, perform duties that ensure the overall welfare and safety of animals. In many locations, ASPCA and HLE officers have similar powers to police, allowing them to investigate cases of animal cruelty, arrest suspects for violation of cruelty laws, report on crimes related to animals and testify in court. These professionals should have a thorough understanding of current laws related to animals.

Working with animals can be very rewarding, especially to avid animal lovers. However, there are pitfalls to working as an ASPCA officer, including having to witness abuse and neglect inflicted on animals, working at all hours and possibly being injured by frightened, confused or aggressive animals.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Varies based on state and agency
Degree Field Not specific; courses in criminology and animal sciences are helpful
Certification Required in some states
Experience Prior experience requirements can vary by agency; experience working with animals or in a law enforcement position may be helpful and attractive to employers
Key Skills Comfortable working with animals, knowledge of animal control regulations and laws, patience and coordination, as well as skills in critical thinking, active listening, problem solving, decision making and service orientation
Salary $32,560 was the median annual salary for animal control workers as of May 2014

Sources: ASPCA, Various state agencies and departments, O*Net Online, Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Step 1: Gain Experience

Many ASPCA officers or HLE officers gain experience by working or volunteering in animal shelters, veterinary clinics or law enforcement agencies. To obtain these positions, prospective volunteers typically fill out an application and attend an orientation session. Some groups or agencies may also require an interview and criminal history search or fingerprinting. Once selected as a volunteer, the individual may be required to complete training sessions to learn animal behavior, safe handling techniques and proper feeding procedures.

Success Tip

  • Study animal behavior. Paying close attention to the way animals behave in certain situations can give prospective officers experience needed to predict behavior and become comfortable working with animals.

Step 2: Complete Officer Training

Specific education requirements and training for ASPCA officers or HLE officers depend on the state in which one chooses to work. Coursework in animal science, criminal justice and criminology may be beneficial. Additionally, previous experience as a park ranger, police officer or peace officer is helpful. Although most candidates are not required to graduate from the police academy, New York ASPCA officers are required to prove eligibility for New York peace officer certification. Note that those holding the specific title of ASPCA officer are only employed within the state of New York.

Success Tip

  • Contact state animal organizations. Some states have specific training or career placement programs. These organizations provide information on the required training and available positions. Prospective officers in the state of New York can contact the ASPCA Humane Law Enforcement Division directly.

Step 3: Obtain Peace Officer Certification

ASPCA HLE agents in New York must receive New York State Peace Officer certification. This requires completing training approved by New York's Office of Public Safety. Other states and animal welfare agencies may have different requirements, such as meeting law enforcement training or required courses.

Success Tip

  • Determine training or certification eligibility. Peace officer and training requirements may vary by state. It can be beneficial to check with the state or local law enforcement agency for specific information.

Step 4: Obtain Employment

Animal welfare groups and agencies, such as the National Control Association, offer job boards for related positions. Prospective candidates may need to submit a resume and cover letter to the agency for review. When hiring a new HLE or animal control worker, some animal welfare agencies prefer to hire volunteers or workers with the requisite experience.

Success Tip

  • Be competitive. Because working as an ASPCA officer, or in a related position, is prestigious and desirable to many candidates, it is important to have the skills, experience and training needed to stand out among other applicants.

Step 5: Advance in the Field

There are opportunities to advance as an HLE or ASPCA officer. One such upper level position would be Senior Manager of the Animal Crimes Division. An upper level position as an animal cruelty officer may require additional education, such as a bachelor's degree, as well as several years of experience.

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