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Animal Control Officers

What is an Animal Control Officer?

Animal Control Officers (ACOs) are employed by governmental animal care and control agencies or private animal welfare organizations with contracts with cities or counties to provide animal control services.


Officers may be a part of the law enforcement branch of the government or housed in another department.  


The duties of animal control officers are highly variable and include patrolling neighborhoods for stray, injured and abandoned animals, investigation of animal neglect and cruelty concerns, pick-up of deceased animals, community mediation around animal issues; such as feral cat populations, animal noise complaints or instances of animal hoarding. ACOs respond to emergency calls including injured animals, loose animals in traffic, stray livestock, investigations of bites to humans involving both domestic or wild animals, and vicious animals posing a public safety risk. ACOs generally provide 24/7 services by working shifts throughout the day or by being on call for after-hours emergencies involving animals. These emergencies include reports of injured or sick animals, assistance to law enforcement, such as responding to arrests or hospitalizations where an animal may also be involved and other urgent safety risks, including loose animals, including livestock, in traffic. Another important role of Animal Control Officers is in disaster response and coordination of evacuation of animals during an emergency. 

Want to learn more about Animal Control Officers? Check out our Animal Control Officer FAQs below.

Animal Control Officer FAQ
  • What is a humane officer?
    Humane officers investigate situations of animal abuse and neglect as well as enforce anti-neglect and anti-cruelty laws. In California, humane officers must be employed by a humane society or SPCA.
  • What is an animal control officer?
    Animal control officers work under the authority of city and county governments to ensure the health and safety of both humans and animals while enforcing animal-related laws. Officers may work for law enforcement or other government departments, or may be employed by a humane society or SPCA that contracts with the city or county to provide animal control services within its jurisdiction. An animal control officer uses education and intervention to promote the well-being of domestic animals and responsible pet ownership. If you are interested in becoming an animal control officer, each city or county has its own requirements. To learn more about the duties and responsibilities of animal control officers, please visit our Animal Control Officers page. Job openings for animal control agencies can be found at our Career Center.
  • Why become a humane officer?
    Some people who choose to become a humane officer already work for a law enforcement agency or animal shelter, and the opportunity for this new role becomes available to them. Other people decide to undergo a major career change in order to make a difference in the lives of humans and animals. Often people are driven by a strong desire to help animals and educate the public about the humane treatment of animals, sometimes combined with an interest in law enforcement.
  • What does a humane officer do?
    Humane officers in California have law enforcement powers for issues pertaining to animals. They have the power to enforce these laws and to investigate situations of animal neglect or cruelty, including issuing citations, collecting evidence, confiscating animals and property, making arrests and appearing in court. Often this is done in cooperation with local law enforcement agencies. Many situations are not so severe and simply require educating pet guardians on the proper treatment of animals. Officers may also provide support to other law enforcement agencies, which may include the removal of animals or capture of dangerous animals. In some cities and counties, humane officers are contracted to perform animal control functions, such as impounding stray animals or rescuing injured animals. Officers may also be required to write reports and do work in the animal shelter. Some humane officers, who have received advanced training, carry firearms; but most officers do not carry guns. Officers must report child or elder abuse when encountered in investigative situations.
  • What are the rewards of a career as a humane officer?
    Humane officers are rewarded daily making a difference in the lives of both animals and people. They are able to remove animals from abusive situations and help the animals find new, loving homes. Education is a large component of the work and is important for making a lasting, long-term impact in the public’s attitude towards animals. Humane officers also derive satisfaction in knowing that they helped convict those people who mistreat animals.
  • What are the challenges of a career as a humane officer?
    Working with the public, especially when they are concerned about their safety or their pets’ well-being, can be difficult if the situation is stressful or emotional. Under these circumstances the public may not understand or appreciate the work of humane officers. Because humane officers are recognized by the state as officers in the private sector, some difficulties exist in doing their job if they are denied access to resources or respect given to police officers. Frustrations can also arise when existing laws may be inadequate for the situation at hand.
  • How does one find work as a humane officer?
    Since there are a limited number of organizations that employ humane officers in California, anyone interested in this career should contact several organizations to find out what options might be available. In some cases, a prospective officer is first hired by a humane society/SPCA and then undergoes the required training, which is paid for by the employer. In other cases, a prospective officer pays for their own training in hopes of finding employment afterward. This person must then seek out an organization that employs humane officers. If a job is not immediately available, a prospective officer should consider working in a shelter in another job position until further opportunities are available. You will need to contact humane societies and SPCAs in California to determine which ones employ humane officers. CalAnimals members with humane officers include: Central California SPCA, Haven Humane Society, Humane Animal Services, Humane Society of San Bernardino Valley, Humane Society of the North Bay, Humane Society of the Sierra Foothills, Humane Society of Ventura County, Inland Valley Humane Society & SPCA, Northwest SPCA, Pasadena Humane Society & SPCA, San Diego Humane Society and SPCA, SPCA for Monterey County, and spcaLA.
  • What are the steps to become a humane officer in California?
    It is important to understand that a prospective officer must be appointed as a humane officer by a humane society or SPCA either before or after taking the required coursework. Most people start out with the Basic Animal Law Enforcement Training Academy, either on their own or with the support of a humane society/SPCA. A law enforcement course pertaining to arrest laws is also required. Some organizations even require a basic police academy certificate. Even if this is not a requirement, some law enforcement training is beneficial, especially in the areas of investigations and self-defense. Some organizations first offer staff positions that do not include any law enforcement capabilities in order to allow employees to become familiar with the work. The employees can begin to undergo humane officer training and gradually work their way up to full humane officer status. Prospective officers must be citizens of California. Each person must submit fingerprints and undergo a California Department of Justice background check (which can take a few months). Humane officers must satisfy the requirements of Government Code sections 1029, 1030, and 1031, which include being of good moral character; being free from any physical, emotional, or mental condition that might adversely affect the exercise of the humane officer’s powers; and not having been convicted of a felony (with limited exceptions). All humane officers appointed by humane societies/SPCAs must be approved by a Superior Court judge in the county where the officer will be employed. Keep in mind that the appointment is only good for 3 years and then additional training will be required. This allows humane officers to receive updated training in new laws and techniques and allows the state to record that the officer is still in good standing. The Advanced Animal Law Enforcement Training Academy is available for continuing education and includes courses on special topics, such as animal handling, animal disease, animal hoarding and weapons training.
  • What training is required for appointment as a humane officer?
    Training must include: 20 hours of animal care training provided by an institution approved by the California Veterinary Medical Association 40 hours of state humane law training provided by CalAnimals, a law-enforcement agency or an accredited postsecondary institution. 40 hours of peace officer training in the arrest component of the Penal Code 832 course Information about CalAnimals-sponsored training opportunities can be found here: Training | California | California Animal Welfare Association ( **The Academy is intended to provide the 20 hours of training in animal care and the 40 hours of training in California humane laws related to the powers and duties of a humane officer required for appointment as a humane officer under California Corporations Code section 14502. Information about many of these courses can be found on our Training page and information about the peace officer training can be found on the POST website. In addition to the CalAnimals-sponsored training, a Level 1 humane officer must satisfactorily complete the basic training for a Level 1 reserve officer by the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) pursuant to Penal Code section 13510.1. Visit the POST website for more information, including a catalog of course offerings.
  • What training is required for humane officers’ continuing education?
    During each three-year period following the date on which the humane officer was confirmed, 40 hours of continuing education and training relating to the powers and duties of a humane officer is required. Under Corporations Code section 14502, a course will satisfy the continuing education requirement if it is provided by a postsecondary institution, law enforcement agency, or CalAnimals. Approved training courses include: Animal Law Enforcement Training Academy Basic in Marin County or San Diego (80 hours)** Animal Law Enforcement Training Academy Advanced in Marin County (40 hours) California Animal Care Conference spcaLA Animal Protection Services Training Courses (various 1-day courses throughout year) Information about CalAnimals-sponsored training opportunities can be found here: Training | California | California Animal Welfare Association ( If an officer is authorized to carry a firearm, the officer must complete ongoing weapons training and range qualifications at least every 6 months.
  • Do humane officers carry firearms?
    There are two types of humane officers, Level 1 and Level 2. While both may exercise peace officer powers to prevent animal cruelty, make arrests, and serve search warrants, only a Level 1 officer may carry a firearm. Because Level 1 officers are permitted to carry firearms, the training requirements for becoming a Level 1 humane officer are much more rigorous. Level 1 humane officers must complete the basic training for a Level 1 reserve officer. If an officer is authorized to carry a firearm, the officer must complete ongoing weapons training and range qualifications at least every 6 months.
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