Animal police officers are responsible not only for the safety of the animals they rescue, but also the protection of the public from dangerous animals that may put citizens at risk. They must be able to work with animals and their owners and think quickly on their feet, because, much like their law enforcement counterparts, they can never be sure what situations they will encounter on a given day.
Animal police officers are responsible for tasks including investigating reports of animal cruelty, removing strays from unsuitable conditions, preparing cruelty cases for prosecution and educating the public about animal welfare. They are also referred to as Animal Control Officers and Humane Law Enforcement Agents.
While a high school diploma (or equivalent) is the minimum education required to become an Animal Police Officer, college coursework in criminology and animal sciences can be helpful in a career in humane law enforcement, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). As officers advance in their careers, they may complete training in CPR, first aid and animal behaviour.
Formed in 1978, The National Animal Control Association (NACA) offers a training programme leading to certification as an Animal Control Officer. The training academy is held at various locations around the United States and is designed for officers at the local, state and federal levels. It is also a way for those interested in becoming animal officers to enter the field, as no prior experience is required. Certification is earned upon successful completion of two 40-hour modules, with a passing score of 80 per cent on written examinations and perfect attendance at all training sessions. The curriculum includes such topics as animal identification, first aid for animals, capture techniques, investigative resources and officer safety.
Animal police officers can find employment with local law enforcement agencies, animal welfare organisations such as the ASPCA and animal shelters nationwide. Salaries vary, but according to the NACA, earning potential can be upwards of £32,500 for experienced investigators in major metropolitan areas.
While helping animals is rewarding work for those involved, the NACA cautions that animal control officers can suffer from depression resulting from euthanizing sick or injured animals. They also risk exposure to communicable diseases and work long hours, including being on call during nights, weekends and some holidays.