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Become an Animal Cop: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Interested in becoming an animal cop? Research the education, training and certification information, and find out what experience is required for starting a career in animal control. View article »

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  • 0:03 Animal Cops
  • 0:51 Get an Education
  • 2:12 Earn Certification
  • 3:15 Get Experience

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Video Transcript

Animal Cops

Animal cops, more frequently referred to as animal control officers, perform a wide variety of duties related to preserving the welfare of animals and enforcing state and city animal welfare regulations. They help stray animals, investigate reports of abuse, and sometimes remove uninvited animals from people's homes.

Workers must take precautions against common hazards, whether physical risks found in the places they investigate or health-related risks from sick or injured animals who may bite, scratch, or kick. In addition to fieldwork, animal cops must also write reports and maintain paperwork related to their investigations and activities. According to PayScale.com, animal control officers earn a national average of about $31,000 per year.

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Career Requirements

Degree Level None required, though an associate's or bachelor's degree can provide useful training
Degree Fields Law enforcement or an animal-related field
Licensure and Certification Many states require certification in animal control
Experience Animal handling
Key Skills Written Communication and decision making skills; ability and patience to work with animals and the public
Median Salary (2015) $30,680

Sources: Job postings by employers (August 2012), O*Net OnLine, National Animal Control Association, PayScale.com

Step 1: Get an Education

The first step to becoming an animal cop is to earn an education related to the field of animal control. Aspiring animal control workers can begin a career path by earning an associate's or bachelor's degree in animal science, animal management, or another animal-related field. Coursework in these programs may include genetics, animal behavior, nutrition, physiology and biology. There are also programs that offer concentrations on certain types of animals, such as companion animals, aquatic animals, horses, or wild animals.

Another option is to pursue a degree in administration of justice, in which studies focus on law enforcement and its procedures, such as securing a crime scene and gathering evidence, as well as on the court system. These degrees are not required for all animal control officer positions, but they form a knowledge base that is useful on the job and could improve chances for employment.

Success Tip:

  • Complete an internship in animal care or law enforcement. Since most animal control positions require previous experience working with animals, candidates can look for an internship at a veterinary clinic, animal shelter, or other animal care facility, such as a dog kennel. For experience with law enforcement, opportunities may be available with the local police or sheriff's office or the animal control department.

Step 2: Earn Certification

The second step to becoming an animal cop is to gain the proper certification. Many states and employers require animal cops and control officers to be certified, with specific requirements varying by state. Though some states have their own training programs, the National Animal Control Association (NACA) is often the primary source for certification. It offers two different week-long courses of training, and completion of both is required for certification. Course topics include animal diseases and injuries, animal welfare laws, investigation, animal cruelty, capture, ethics, and dealing with exotic or wild animals.

Success Tip:

  • Get advanced certifications in animal control. Although not required for animal control positions, advanced training and certification from the NACA could provide additional knowledge and skills for use on the job. Advanced topics include euthanasia of animals, how to immobilize animals for self-protection and/or capture, emergency animal sheltering, and advanced investigation techniques.

Step 3: Get Experience

The third step to becoming an animal cop is to obtain experience working in the animal control field. Employers may require applicants to have on-the-job animal handling experience before applying for an animal control position. Some options for work include animal shelters, zoos, animal rescue agencies, pet stores, aquariums, horse stables, and farms. Tasks could focus on animal care, feeding, or training. Prospective animal control officers may also get experience handling animals through volunteer work.

Success Tip:

  • Work with as many kinds of animals in as many situations as possible. Animal control involves many different circumstances, events, and people. It can be dangerous, with officers vulnerable to bites, scratches, and kicks from fearful or aggressive animals. Exposure to pets, livestock, exotic pets, and wild animals, as well as dealing with the public, can help candidates develop the versatility to handle whatever arises more safely and effectively.

Becoming an animal cop involves three basic steps: (1) earn an education; (2) gain the proper certification; and (3) obtain experience.

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