Become a Cruelty Investigator: Education and Career Roadmap

Should I Become a Cruelty Investigator?

Cruelty investigators are responsible for ensuring animals are cared for properly. Many cruelty investigators are part of police forces or other similarly-empowered agencies. Job duties include interviewing suspects of animal cruelty, rescuing abused animals, and testifying in court cases.

The majority of investigators work on a full-time basis, although some night and weekend shifts may be required. Some of an investigator's time is spent in an office or cubicle setting, as they file reports on findings, but the majority will be spent in the field. Those employed by police forces and publicly-funded agencies should enjoy good benefits and job security.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Some organizations may prefer candidates with college-level coursework
Degree Fields Law enforcement, criminal justice, animal science
Certification Varies; some organizations prefer candidates who have completed a training program
Experience Experience working with animals is required
Key Skills Good communication and problem-solving skills, know local animal control and related ordinances
Salary (2014) $32,560 per year (median salary for animal control workers)

Sources:, Cruelty investigator job postings from November 2012, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Step 1: Take Informal Courses in Animal Care

Since most entry-level animal care jobs only require a high school diploma to obtain, prospective cruelty investigators should initially consider taking informal courses in animal care. Some animal shelters and animal organizations may offer courses in animal grooming and care, as well as handling. This can be a helpful first step in gaining experience in working with animals.

Step 2: Earn a Degree

Each cruelty investigations agency mandates its own education requirements, but many prefer candidates who have taken college courses in animal science, criminal justice, or law enforcement. An associate's or bachelor's degree in animal science teaches students about the biology, breeding, and purpose of domestic animals. Courses generally include anatomy and physiology, animal nutrition, animal management, genetics, and animal behavior.

An associate's or bachelor's degree program in law enforcement or criminal justice also prepares students for careers as cruelty investigators. Law enforcement curricula typically discuss community policing, evidence gathering, firearms training, and criminal justice. Criminal justice classes discuss criminal procedure, police administration, criminal investigations, criminology, and government.

Step 3: Obtain Work Experience

Previous paid or volunteer experience with animals is necessary to obtain any cruelty investigation jobs. Employees learn about animal diseases and treatments as well as proper animal care for a variety of species and breeds. Many non-profit animal shelters count on volunteers for animal care responsibilities such as walking, grooming, and feeding animals. This can be a good way of initially obtaining some work experience. Practical animal care experience is also available at veterinary clinics. Entry-level positions in these settings can include technician and receptionist roles.

Employers also prefer those with some type of law enforcement experience, whether it's as a police officer, peace officer, or park ranger. These positions use skills and knowledge that relate to the job duties of a cruelty investigator.

Step 4: Complete a Training Program

Most animal cruelty investigation agencies prefer job candidates who attend training programs available through state and county agencies. However, some animal organizations provide paid on-the-job training to new hires that have yet to complete a training program. Training curricula typically address state or local laws, search and seizure, investigation techniques, the Animal Welfare Act, animal anatomy, nutrition, courtroom procedures, evidence rules, and ritual animal crimes.

Step 5: Gain Experience for Career Advancement

Experienced cruelty investigators may have options for career advancement in supervisory positions. Investigators in larger jurisdictions will have more opportunity and cruelty investigators who have devoted themselves for many years and have gained significant experience may have the option of advancing to the roll of administrator.

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