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

Learn how to become an animal cop. Research the education, training, and certification information and find out what experience is required for starting a career in animal control.

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Do I Want to Be an Animal Cop?

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. Animal control officers need to be comfortable making decisions because they may work out in the field, with minimal supervision. This job exposes animal control officers to people and animals in stressful situations. Good communication skills are essential.

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.

Job Requirements

Work as an animal cop often requires animal control certification as well as experience in handling animals. The following table details the requirements needed to become an animal control officer:

Common 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/or Certification Many states require certification in animal control***
Experience Animal handling*
Key Skills Interpersonal communication, decision making, perceptiveness, conflict resolution**
Technical Skills Broadcast communication systems**

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

Step 1: Get an Education

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

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 NACA certification. Courses cover topics such as 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 NACA could provide additional knowledge and skills for use on the job. Topics such as euthanasia of animals, how to immobilize animals for self-protection and/or capture, emergency animal sheltering and advanced investigation techniques are all explored in programs offered by NACA.

Step 3: Get Experience

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.
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