December 16, 2011
Pet Industry Profile: Humane Officer
Looking for a new career that includes animals? Consider becoming a humane officer. Once connotatively known as a “dogcatcher,” the rewarding work of a humane officer varies as much as the job’s hours and pay.
Before making this career switch, get experience handling animals, as this career takes talent working with dogs, cats, and even snakes, advises John McDowell, field office supervisor at Milwaukee Area Domestic Animal Control Commission (MADACC). “What you’re doing with your pet at home is not the same as on the job. That’s the toughest thing people learn.” Jill Posanski, a humane officer in Waukesha County, echoes John. “Know what to expect. My job is nothing like the one portrayed on television. The cases I work on do not typically wrap up with great outcomes in 45 minutes.”
“The show ‘Animal Cops’ is accurate to a degree. What you’re not seeing is 85 percent of what goes on in between,” John says. “No clean uniforms,” he jokes. And, unfortunately, most endings aren’t happy.
So volunteer, work part time with your local humane society or another organization like wildlife rehabilitation, or seek opportunities at dog shows. Once you’ve determined you’ve got that mental toughness and can get down and dirty, it’s time for training! After almost 40 years into his career, John says he began his sworn position through the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s department when humane officer work was done as part of a law enforcement job duty. It was a law enforcement or police position at that time.
To become a humane officer today, you can still work in law enforcement, but you must complete 40 hours of training. In fact, anyone can take this training, but it must be followed by continuing education. Then you need to be appointed by a governing body (i.e., your employer), Jill says. Whether it’s a shelter, law enforcement agency or local government, “you cannot be a humane officer in Wisconsin without being appointed.”
Depending on where and who you work for, pay can vary “from minimum wage to over $30 per hour,” Jill notes. For higher pay, a bachelor’s degree could work in your favor. Also, expect to work atypical hours. MADACC has both full- and part-time positions, with eight-hour shifts, which results in employees that are on-call and in the field every day. In Waukesha County, Jill works on-call 24/7 through the non-emergency dispatch.
As with any job, there are downsides, including those unpredictable hours. Diseases passed from animals to humans are another risk. Dealing with very dangerous animals, like venomous snakes or dogs ready to attack, is yet another possibility, John says. But “training employees keeps everybody in one piece.” Jill adds that she receives many calls about unsocialized pets. “What was a cute antic at 8 weeks of age is obnoxious and sometimes dangerous when the kitten or pup becomes an adult.” She advocates training to ensure a well-mannered pet. Finally, animal-owner conflicts happen but can be solved using people skills.
There’s plenty to enjoy about being a humane officer. The variety and independence makes it fun and interesting. No two calls are the same, John says, whether they involve crime scenes or law enforcement. Then there’s the paperwork and returning of phone calls. Jill’s office is also in charge of Waukesha County’s Rabies Control Program so she receives numerous wild animal calls and bite reports.
Another perk is saving animals from cruelty or neglect. In these situations, Jill educates owners, often getting them to surrender an animal “when they realize they are unable to provide for it properly. I know the local animal shelters will give the animal the care and respect all animals deserve.” Away from her desk, she attends animal-related events and speaks with others “about everything from county dog park use to concerns with their neighbor feeding feral cats”. Jill says she enjoys feedback from fellow animal lovers. “It helps balance out the sometimes hostile reception I receive on neglect or cruelty complaint calls.”
John loves the humorous, amazing things he’s seen animals do such as the almost-100-pound dog that left MADACC one night. Climbing his walk-in kennel’s walls and over its covered top, the dog escaped out the back doors to the employee parking lot and went on a short adventure. (He was safely returned the next day.)
Teaching enthusiastic kids and others excites Jill. But saving animals like her own dog, Rebi, is what makes Jill’s week. In 17 degree below weather, the dog was found tied outside of a barn without shelter and was very thin. Once he was surrendered to Humane Animal Welfare Society (HAWS) in Waukesha, Jill adopted her pup. “Not everyone is as lucky as I am to have a living success story hogging their bed every morning. Rebi is my daily inspiration to change lives for the better.”
Jessica Pairrett is a writer who has never known life without a dog. She and her husband, Paul, live in Waukesha with their two fluffy boys, Buddy and Lucky.