Animal Shelter Worker/Animal Services Officer

Animal shelters may be either run by government (eg. A municipal council), or a community organisation such as a charity. They may undertake some or all of the following tasks:

• Animal rescue of abandoned, mistreated or injured animals
• Controlling stray or feral animals
• Licensing or registration of domestic animals
• Enforcing laws relating to animals
• Relocation of abandoned animals through adoption programs
• Relocation of wild animals
• Euthanasia and disposal of dead animals


A lot of the work involves dealing with the public This may include people who have mistreated animals, others who are regretfully in a position that requires them to surrender their animals; the general public who report strays or nuisance animals, and people visiting the shelter to register pets.

Part of the work also involves caring for animals (feeding, watering, exercising and grooming), and part is dealing with administrative tasks behind a computer or desk.


Where Do they Work

In the USA there are more than 2,000 animal shelters. Most major cities in Australia, the UK and other developed countries will operate animal shelters. Organisations such as the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) also operate animal shelters.
Many animal shelters employ paid staff, but also welcome assistance from volunteers. Often volunteering can be a good way to get experience, and improve your opportunity to eventually get paid work.



A small shelter in a small rural municipality might only have one employee (eg. The local Dog Catcher), who does everything at the pound or shelter; but larger shelters can employ many staff and volunteers, starting with low level jobs such as kennel worker or clerk. Often these lower level jobs lead to promotion to better paid and more involved positions such as an Animal Services Officer or Animal Complaints Investigator, which involves responding to complaints and when necessary, retrieving animals and bringing them back to the shelter.

Other jobs can involve:

  • Management - Medium size shelters may employ a single CEO to oversee the entire operation; but larger shelters may employ an Executive Manager, as well as other managers such as a Director of Animal Services and an Administration manager.
  • Health Services – larger shelters may employ a veterinary nurse or veterinarian to attend to the health and welfare of animals in its care.
  • Education Services - Visiting schools and community groups, educating people about animal welfare).
    Some shelters will specialise in dealing with certain types of animals; such as a marine animal rescue service that may deal primarily with marine animals.

Many people have built very successful long term careers working in animal shelters; however, this is an industry sector that depends upon outside funding, usually from either government budget allocations or donations from the public and benefactors. Whenever animal care is high in the public consciousness, funding is good and career prospects strong; but there is always a risk of career opportunities decline, if and whenever the public interest in animal welfare declines.


What’s Needed

People find their way into this time of work by a large variety of paths. People tend to think the obvious way to enter a career in animal welfare is by undertaking a veterinary science qualification. This may be one pathway, but it is not necessarily the most common pathway.
A knowledge of animal care and behaviour is a big advantage; but equally important is an ability to communicate with people and an appropriate attitude. Animal shelter workers need to have a real concern for animal welfare, but an ability to deal with upsetting situations that will almost certainly keep arising at work. If you cannot cope with seeing abused animals or needing to euthanize animals in a pragmatic but still caring way; you are probably not suited to this type of job.


Starting Point

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