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Animal Cruelty Investigator

If you love animals and want to begin saving helpless creatures as soon as possible, learn how to become an animal cruelty investigator. Depending on where you live and whether or not you'd like to work under a law enforcement agency, your requirements may vary.

To learn how to become an animal cruelty investigator, contact the schools featured below to learn more about the law enforcement programs they offer.





Animal Cruelty Investigator Job Description

Any type of criminal justice job requires an ability to handle difficult or upsetting situations, but this is particularly true for an animal cruelty investigator. Animal cruelty investigators may respond to calls from residents about animal abuse, animal hoarding or animal neglect. While you may find situations in which the animals are safe and healthy, you may often run into situations where animals are in bad health due to mistreatment. While this may be tough criteria for animal lovers, it can make you feel good to rescue animals who are living under poor or inhumane conditions.

Animal cruelty investigators do a fair amount of research into each report. They may delve into the animal protection laws of a specific city, keep files on repeat offenders and learn how to assess animals' health to determine whether or not they need immediate veterinary care. Before removing an animal or animals from a home or business, they need to be able to prove that the animals are living in unsafe, abusive or illegal conditions.

There are many educational routes to this career. Some investigators work in the veterinary field first, as a veterinary technician or assistant. Others begin as police officers or other criminal justice professionals. Whichever route you take to get into this field, you'll likely need to attend an animal cruelty investigation school. This type of education may build on your veterinary or criminal justice education to flesh out your knowledge in both areas.



How to Become an Animal Cruelty Investigator

While each program and school may require different courses for your degree, most schools follow the same basic guidelines. The following is a list of the most common animal cruelty investigator requirements in three simple steps:

1. Earn your degree - Some states may only require a high school diploma to get started in the field, but most employers will look for a college degree in animal science or criminal justice.

2. Gain hands-on experience - Whether through a job, volunteer work or an internship, begin working in the field to gain relevant experience. Look for veterinary office jobs or farm work if you have trouble finding an internship or apprenticeship.

3. Become certified - Certification is required if you work for law enforcement, so you'll need to become certified in basic police training. Some states, like Wisconsin,may also require humane officer certification even if you don't work for a police agency. Additional training is typically required to earn certification, and additional voluntary certification, such as from the Law Enforcement Training Institute, shows employers you're a serious professional.



Education Requirements for Animal Cruelty Investigators

Many police departments and animal welfare agencies have small animal cruelty investigation teams, so investigators must be trained in all aspects of animal welfare. There are two main ways to get started in this field: a veterinary technician program or an associate degree program in criminal justice.

Since this job combines animal care and criminal justice, an educational background in either field can provide the knowledge base necessary for this career. In many cases, a criminal justice degree may be more beneficial in this field. But if your employer requires you to carry a gun, you'll need the firearms training provided by a criminal justice program.

The courses and topics you are likely to study are described below.

Nutrition and Anatomy

Eating is essential to life. In a Nutrition and Anatomy course, you'll dive into what makes a balanced diet, why healthy eating is so important (with plenty of fruits and veggies), and how food affects your body and the physiological functions it performs every day.

This course will go through some of the chemical reactions that are required for all life. You'll learn about metabolism, anabolic reactions, catabolic reactions, and examine chemical reactions needed to sustain life such as oxygen and the importance of metabolic vitamins.

Animal Handling

If you want to work with animals, you need to earn a certificate showing that you completed a course in animal care and handling. This course will help you gain the essential skills you need to effectively handle and restrain animals in a humane and safe way.

In this course, you will learn how to deliver first aid, groom with animal care products, identify diseases and verify health information, and understand correct nutrition needs. You'll learn how to work with common domestic animals including:

  • Cats
  • Dogs
  • Birds
  • Fish
  • Horses

Animal Behavior

Also known as ethology, this course is the study of how animals behave in their natural environments. Everything from their social interactions, communication methods, emotions, responses to threats, mating rituals, and so much more is studied.

Breed Identification

With hundreds of different breeds of dogs alone, this course teaches you how to classify different traits required to determine an animal's breed. You may learn more about DNA testing to find an animal's ancestry or learn other ways to determine breeds, such as the shape of the head or ears, type of fur, or even the way the animal moves.

Animal Law

In an animal law course, you will learn the legislation surrounding different types of animals in your state. This may include companion animals, farm animals, entertainment animals like those at zoos and aquariums, animals used for scientific experiments, and even wildlife. Topics may cover topics like what animals deserve protection and which animals need to be protected more heavily than others as well as international and cultural differences in pets versus food.

As you progress to advanced investigation and expert investigation, you may tackle fewer common crimes and types of animal cruelty. Coursework at these levels includes:

Compassion Fatigue

Designed to help both trauma survivors and professionals or volunteers who work with animals, programs like this work to boost resiliency and help those who deal with serious cases day in and out. Because compassion fatigue can lead to burnout, courses like this help animal care workers handle the negative impacts of their professional lives.

High-Volume Breeders

Also known as puppy mills or commercial kennels, high-volume breeders have been known for cruel animal treatment while the animals who come from these mass production places are unsocialized and often sick. Some states regulate the number of breeders allowed, and as an animal cruelty investigator, you would crack down on inhumane treatment facilities.

Confinement Operations

Large-scale livestock operations often take place on farms, where large numbers of animals like pigs or cows are confined. Some communities require permits for these operations and additional training to work in them. This course will teach you the laws concerning animal farming operations, depending on your state.

Animal Sexual Abuse

Recognizing sexual abuse in animals takes a trained eye. Unlike humans, animals can't explain what happened to them, so investigators need to determine whether a crime like bestiality or dog fighting has occurred based on the evidence. Laws concerning animal abuse may change based on the state as well, and this course is often found in law enforcement programs.

Ritual Animal Crimes

In ancient rituals, the slaughter of animals was common. Today, most states have laws against sacrificing animals to rid the nation of this type of cruelty. In this course, you will learn about the cultural divides that lead to ritual animal crimes.



Animal Investigator Training

Prior to beginning a career as an animal cruelty investigator, your department or agency may send you to animal cruelty investigation training. Since this can be a fairly small unit in most areas, you may have to travel for your training. TheNational Animal Cruelty Investigations School hosts training classes all over the country, and they offer scholarships to applicants interested in becoming animal cruelty investigators. To graduate, you must attend class for 40 hours per week for three weeks.

Since some departments may require animal control workers to perform arrests and use a firearm, you may need to attend police academy training on top of your other training requirements.

If you know where you would like to work, you may wish to look at animal cruelty investigator job listings in that area to find out what the specific requirements are in your region. Some states may pay higher than others based on their need, but they may also add requirements.



Animal Training Certification

To become an animal cruelty investigator, there are three types of certification you need to know about. Which certification you need can change depending on the requirements of the state you work in or your work setting.

If you go on to work for the police or another law enforcement agency, for example, you will need to earn certification as a basic police officer. This requires attending the police academy and completing physical strength training while learning about animal safety.

To be admitted to the police academy, you will need to meet the following requirements:

  • 21 years of age
  • Clean drug test and a background check
  • Good hearing and vision exams

Other states require animal cruelty investigators to earn certification as a humane officer, which requires training in animal care and criminal investigation. You must pass an exam to earn licensure.

Finally, if you want to obtain voluntary certification, it's a great way to further your career and show you're a serious professional. Some law enforcement agencies will look for job candidates with certification from the Law Enforcement Training Institute from the University of Missouri.



Animal Cruelty Investigator Salary and Career Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statisticsreports that animal control workers in the United States earn an average salary of $37,580 per year (2017). Across the nation, an animal control worker's salary can vary quite a bit. Animal control workers in the state of Washington make the highest wages, with a median salary of $51,990 per year, whereas the same workers in Mississippi make around the lowest wages at an average salary of $24,350 (BLS, 2017). Some states, such as Colorado, Nebraska, North Dakota, or Hawaii don't have any information released on average salaries.

The following states pay the top wages for this occupation, according to the BLS:

  • Washington
  • California
  • Nevada
  • Connecticut
  • Oregon

Your salary potential may increase if you have more education credentials, and police departments may offer a salary differential for animal cruelty investigators with different levels of education completed. Typically, the higher the level of education you have, the higher wages you can earn. There are many jobs available in animal control beginning with a high school diploma as well.

With training and on-the-job experience, you may work in a variety of settings as an animal cruelty investigator. In some cities, cruelty investigators are part of the police department. In other areas, animal cruelty investigators are part of the ASPCA or another animal protection agency. Overall, O*Net expects job openings for people in this field to increase by 5-9% between 2016 and 2026.

If you are looking for a law enforcement career that helps animals, learn more about becoming an animal cruelty investigator today. Contact the schools listed here to get started now!



Animal Cruelty Investigation Resources



Featured Schools Accepting Students from Across the US:

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