What Does a Pet Adoption Counselor Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

A day in the life of a pet adoption counselor: Match owners with shelter pets, screen potential adopters, educate owners about proper pet care

The Balance / Theresa Chiechi

Pet adoption counselors are responsible for facilitating the adoption of cats and dogs at animal shelters, working with shelter managers. They must have a love for and understanding of animals and empathy for those that are sick or injured and abandoned.

These counselors must be able to assess the personalities and needs of animals and determine whether a potential human adopter or family of adopters is a good match. If they don't think an adopter is right for a given animal, they must be able to explain their decision and direct the adopter to an animal that's a better fit or to a different shelter.

Pet Adoption Counselor Duties & Responsibilities

This job generally requires the ability to do the following tasks:

  • Review applications.
  • Observe interactions between pets and potential adopters.
  • Educate owners about proper pet care.
  • Train and supervise volunteers.
  • Process adoption fees.
  • File paperwork.

Pet adoption counselors may perform other duties, such as answering phones, arranging appointments for veterinary procedures, updating records, walking dogs, cleaning and sanitizing the adoption facility, fundraising, and helping with mobile adoption drives at off-site locations.

Those who work in this field are critical to ensuring pet adoptions result in lasting bonds between humans and animals. Some dogs and cats will always be returned to the shelter, perhaps for reasons beyond the control of an adoption counselor. But highly skilled counselors can minimize returns and make sure most adopted animals have been matched with owners committed to their lifelong care.

Pet Adoption Counselor Salary

A pet adoption counselor's salary is affected by the amount of prior experience and geographic location. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not compile salary data specifically on pet adoption counselors. Instead, the BLS has a broad job category called nonfarm animal caretakers.

  • Median Annual Salary: $23,760 ($11.42/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $37,250 ($17.91/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Less than $18,160 ($8.73/hour)

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

Education, Training, & Certification

Experience working with animals and a passion for rescue work are more important than education in this career, and a high school diploma or equivalent is usually sufficient. Many pet adoption counselors start out as volunteers. They may also transition from working as kennel assistants, dog trainers, pet groomers, or veterinary technicians.

  • Helpful courses and training: Although an associate's or bachelor's degree typically isn't required for this job, successful completion of courses in animal behavior would prove useful. Pet adoption counselors may also benefit from a dog training program at a reputable school.

Pet Adoption Counselor Skills & Competencies

Successful pet adoption counselors should possess or be able to acquire the following skills and traits:

  • Knowledge of animal behavior and human psychology: Pet adoption counselors must understand how animals think and predict their behavior based on their current actions. They need to evaluate people and determine whether a potential adopter is capable of taking care of an animal in general and the animal they are drawn to specifically. They also must figure out whether the animal and the person are a good match.
  • Interspecies and interpersonal communication skills: Counselors must be able to communicate effectively with dogs, cats, and people.
  • Knowledge of animal safety: They must know how to remain safe around potentially troubled and violent animals and to keep visitors safe as well.
  • Compassion: They must have empathy for the animals in their care.
  • Passion: Because the job typically doesn't offer a lot in terms of compensation, they must have passion for their work that carries them forward.

Job Outlook

The number of animal care and service workers is projected to rise by 22% from 2016 to 2026, according to the BLS. That's much faster than the average job.

Work Environment

Pet adoption counselors work in animal shelters or similar facilities. These shelters are generally run by nonprofit animal welfare organizations.

Work Schedule

Counselors' working hours coincide with the hours their facility is open. Since many potential adopters have typical Monday-through-Friday workweeks, pet adoption counselors may be required to work some nights, weekends, and holidays as the adoption schedule demands.

Mobile pet adoption drives tend to require evening or weekend staffing, though these are usually held as special events and do not occur frequently.

How to Get the Job


If you don't have prior job experience as a counselor, volunteer at an animal shelter. That's a good way to get your foot in the door at a potential employer and to demonstrate you have what it takes to do the job.


The Humane Society of the United States has a jobs website for those who want to work on behalf of animals. You'll also find open positions on job-posting resources such as Glassdoor, Indeed, and Monster.


Human resources representatives and hiring managers often ask the same types of questions when conducting interviews. To prepare for your interview, learn what those questions are and practice the best responses to them.

Comparing Similar Jobs

People who are interested in becoming a pet adoption counselor might also consider the following jobs. The figures given are median annual salaries:

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018