What Does an Animal Control Officer Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

A day in the life of a animal control officer: Rescuing trapped animals, Investigating cases of animal cruelty, Providing expert testimony in court cases, Writing incidents reports

The Balance / Alison Czinkota

Animal control officers maintain public safety by enforcing animal licensing laws and humane care regulations while on patrol. Working as an animal control officer can be both challenging and rewarding, and it requires handling all kinds of animals, from pets to wildlife.

Animal control officers are generally employed by a county, a city, or the federal government. They can also work their way up from entry-level officer positions to supervisory and management roles. Upper-level animal control titles may include senior animal control officer, coordinator, superintendent, or director of operations.

Animal Control Officer Duties & Responsibilities

The job generally requires the ability to perform the following duties:

  • Capturing and impounding dangerous or stray animals
  • Investigating cases of animal cruelty
  • Enforcing licensing laws and other state, county, and city laws and regulations of that are applicable to the animal control program
  • Providing expert testimony in court cases
  • Rescuing trapped animals
  • Writing incident reports
  • Providing humane care to animals under their supervision

While on duty, animal control officers interact frequently with members of the public. They issue citations and warnings to people for mistreatment of animals in their care and may remove animals from a negligent owner’s custody. Officers may also provide educational seminars to the community on topics such as animal welfare and animal-related laws.

In the case of wildlife, officers help relocate these animals—many that have been displaced because of habitat loss or that have come into neighborhoods in search of food and shelter.

Animal Control Officer Salary

An animal control officer's salary can vary depending on location and experience.

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

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018

Education, Training, & Certification

To pursue a career as an animal control officer, applicants must be at least 18 years of age with a high school diploma or GED and some experience with animals. A college degree in an animal-related field or criminology is usually preferred. 

  • Education and training: Animal control officers must have knowledge of a wide variety of animal species, animal first aid, animal care and nutrition, humane capture tools and techniques, animal behavior, public relations, cruelty investigation procedures, and law enforcement.
  • Experience: Prior experience working as a police officer, veterinary technician, animal trainer, wildlife rehabilitator, shelter manager, or any animal-related field is a plus. Many aspiring animal control officers gain additional practical experience by volunteering at local shelters, humane societies and other rescue-related organizations.
  • Certification: Some states require completion of a certification course before an applicant can be considered for a career as an animal control officer. Those interested in pursuing a career in animal control should investigate the specific requirements in their state or locality.

Animal Control Officer Skills & Competencies

To be successful in this role, you’ll generally need the following skills and qualities: 

  • Emotional stability: Animal control officers often come across difficult situations involving animals in neglected, abused, or injured states. They must know how to work with any emotions that arise in order to be able to effectively assist these animals.
  • Interpersonal skills: This job requires interaction with the public and requires the ability to skillfully navigate difficult situations.
  • Physical agility and stamina: Animal control officers may work on their feet for long periods of time, and need to be able to bend, stretch, and climb under or over obstacles to get to animals in need of help. They must also be ready to safely handle frightened or aggressive animals.

Job Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment of animal care and services workers in general will grow 22 percent through 2026, which is much faster than the overall employment growth of 7 percent for all occupations in the country. However, the BLS doesn't offer a breakdown of employment data specifically for animal control officers.

Work Environment

People considering this career path should carefully weigh their ability to handle all aspects of the job. Some duties, such as assisting with the euthanasia of unclaimed animals, can be emotionally taxing.

They may also have to deal with animals that are strays or have been abandoned. Officers may also have to investigate and rescue animals in fight rings. This includes taking animals involved in fighting and bait animals away from the environment and into a safe place.

Animal control officers must also be careful to take adequate safety precautions when working in potentially dangerous situations with unfamiliar and unpredictable animals. There is a high potential for injury when attempting to capture an animal under stress, whether that stress arises from abuse and neglect, or from being in an unfamiliar environment.

Work Schedule

As with any animal career, working hours can be irregular. Most animal control officers are required to be “on-call” for emergency situations on some nights, weekends, and holidays.

Comparing Similar Jobs

Some animal control officers choose to transition into related positions with humane societies and rescue groups. Others go on to pursue careers in police work or veterinary medicine. People who are interested in becoming animal control officers may also consider other careers with these median salaries: 

  • Veterinarian: $90,420
  • Veterinary assistant: $26,140
  • Zoologist: $62,290

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017

How to get the job

How to Get the Job

Organizations such as the National Animal Care and Control Association (NACA) provide many resources that can be valuable to people looking to start a career in animal control. Those resources include:

NACA Institute for Professional Development

This includes a number of online training and certification programs for animal control professionals.

NACA Career Center

The job search tool allows members to search jobs by keyword, location, organization, requirements, and more.

The NACA Training Conference & Show

This allows professionals in animal control to connect in person and attend trainings and other activities.