What Does a Humane Law Enforcement Officer (HLEO) Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

A day in the life of a human law enforcement officer: Investigate animal abuse cases, issue civil fines, arrest suspected criminals, enforce laws related to the care and keeping of animals

The Balance / Marina Li

Humane law enforcement officers (HLEOs) are typically fully trained and empowered police officers. Their primary purpose is to enforce laws related to the humane treatment of animals. They investigate allegations of animal abuse and ensure pets are well cared for and protected.

In some cases, HLEOs, who are sometimes called animal cops, may take steps to remove abused or endangered animals from homes and owners. They may also file charges against and arrest those accused of cruelty to animals.

Humane Law Enforcement Officer Duties & Responsibilities

The job of an HLEO often involves the following tasks:

  • Investigate animal abuse cases.
  • Enforce laws related to the care and keeping of animals.
  • Regulate industries that work with and use animals.
  • Write reports.
  • Prepare and execute warrants.
  • Arrest suspected criminals.
  • Issue civil fines.

Animal cops may be called upon to look into a host of issues related to animal cruelty, including animal hoarding, dog fighting, puppy mills, and maltreatment at rodeos, circuses, and farms. In short, if it involves the potential for harm to animals, humane law enforcement officers investigate it.

Humane Law Enforcement Officer Salary

The salary of an HLEO depends on experience and geographical area. The figures below are for animal control workers, the vast majority of whom work for a local government.

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

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

Education, Training, & Certification

No formal education is required for humane law enforcement officers, but certification is required.

HLEOs will likely need to undergo a thorough background check.

Humane Law Enforcement Officer Skills & Competencies

Not everyone has what it takes to be an effective humane law enforcement officer. Here are the qualities and aptitudes a successful HLEO will possess:

  • Knowledge of animal behavior and human psychology: Humane law enforcement officers must understand how different animal species think and predict their behavior based on their current actions. They also must predict how highly emotional individuals who are suspected of mistreating animals might react when confronted by an animal control professional.
  • Interspecies and interpersonal communication skills: HLEOs must communicate effectively with people and a wide variety of companion, domesticated, and wild animals. They also have to deal effectively with people who may be acting cruelly toward a pet or a domesticated or wild animal.
  • Knowledge of animal safety: They must know how to remain safe around potentially violent animals and to keep bystanders safe as well.
  • Compassion: HLEOs need compassion for docile animals that are sick or injured and must be capable of handling troubled animals that could pose a threat to them or someone else.

Job Outlook

The BLS predicts jobs for animal control workers will grow 6% from 2014 to 2024.

Work Environment

Humane law enforcement officers and agents work primarily outdoors and on patrol. They may at times work from an office while they produce reports and follow up on investigations, but their primary duties are performed in the field.

Depending on the state or jurisdiction, animal cops may work directly for a police department, a sheriff's office, a local or county government's animal control office, an animal rights organization, or an animal shelter. While many jurisdictions invest their humane law enforcement officers with full police powers, some may serve as community service officers or animal control officers with limited enforcement authority.

Work Schedule

Humane law enforcement officers may have to work nights, weekends, and holidays, especially if they work for a police department or other law enforcement agency.

How to Get the Job


If you don't have previous work experience in the field, volunteering as a community service officer or at an animal shelter is a good place to start on this career path.


The NACA has a job opening search page. You'll also find open positions on job-posting resources such as Glassdoor, Indeed, and Monster.


Create a resume that highlights your strengths and sets you apart from other candidates. Write a cover letter specific to the job; don't send a generic one that shows you didn't take the time to consider the unique aspects of the job.

Comparing Similar Jobs

People interested in becoming HLEOs might also consider the following jobs. The figures provided are median annual salaries:

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018