Do You Have What it Takes to be a Humane Law Enforcement Officer?

February 3, 2016

HLE HugoBy Linda Cole

There is a wide variety of career choices for someone who is passionate about animals, and some don’t require a college degree. Working with animals has its rewards and challenges, but if you have what it takes to be a humane law enforcement officer, you will be on the front lines helping to protect and save the lives of dogs, cats, other pets and wild animals.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) is a non-profit national organization based in New York City. The goal of ASPCA agents is to ensure the safety and overall welfare of animals. People who work in this field have a love for animals and a passion for humane treatment of all critters. It’s a rewarding career, but it’s not all fun and roses. ASPCA officers have to deal with a variety of situations, good and bad.

In December of 2013, ASPCA officers in New York City were laid off and the NYPD took over their duties, but there are still plenty of opportunities for people wanting to get into this line of work. ASPCA officers are also known as humane law enforcement officers and many have similar powers as police, which aids them in investigating and reporting on issues related to animals. Only agents employed by the state of New York hold the title of ASPCA officer.


A high school diploma is required. A college education isn’t a must, but having a degree is certainly a plus. Potential employers look for knowledge in emergency medical care, animal science, criminology and criminal justice. The more knowledge, training and experience you have working with animals, the more you will stand out from other applicants.
Get Experience

The best place to start is volunteering or working at an animal shelter, veterinary office, humane society or law enforcement agency. Working with animals gives you the opportunity to study animal behavior, learn how to safely handle them, learn the proper way to feed, and be comfortable working with animals. Experience working as a police officer or park ranger can also be beneficial.

Communication Skills

As an animal agent, you may be called to testify in court and must know the proper procedures to follow, how to document your case, and be able to communicate any findings effectively to both court officials and the police. In addition, you need good communication skills to interview witnesses or suspects, and write comprehensive reports of complaints and investigations. There may be times when you are invited to give speeches at schools or other organizations about animal welfare. Other skills include patience, understanding, compassion, being a good listener, problem solving, critical thinking and good decision making.

Physically Fit

You don’t need to be a marathon runner or able to lift 500 pounds, but you do need to have good stamina, strength and eye-hand coordination. There will be times when you need to track an animal before you can capture it. It may be necessary for you to react quickly to protect yourself, an animal or a bystander to prevent injuries.

Applying for a Job

The job market for humane law enforcement officers is growing, and the average salary nationwide is around $40,000 a year. It may vary depending on the position, experience, benefits, company and location. Animal control officers make on average around $31,000 annually, which can also vary.

You will need a well written resume and cover letter. A training program may be required before or after you find a position, and you will need to pass a background check. HLE agents with police powers will be required to attend a police academy and be certified HLE rikki'sas an officer. Completion of a certification program may also be required depending on where you are. The ASPCA and the National Animal Care and Control Association are two organizations offering certifications, and both have listings of job opportunities. The National Animal Care and Control also offers training classes.

To be an official ASPCA officer, you must live in New York state, be a legal U.S. citizen, be at least 21, have a valid current New York driver’s license and a high school diploma, and pass a background check. Check with your local Chamber of Commerce, humane society or animal shelter for any available jobs in your area for HLE officers or animal control officers. There may not be any available positions in your area, but employment at any animal facility gives you experience you can use when you do find an opening or decide to move to New York to become an official ASPCA officer.

Top photo by Hugo A. Quintero G./Flickr
Bottom photo by Rikki’s Refuge/Flickr

Read more articles by Linda Cole

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  1. De Moya says:

    Why just NY? What about opening this up state wide. Work withDAs and A/c encompassing all levels of animal advocacy