How Can I Become A Utah Animal Cruelty Investigator?

You are here

Thank you for your interest in becoming a Utah animal cruelty investigator. Unfortunately, I am the only investigator employed by the Humane Society of Utah and it is unlikely that we will hire any additional investigators in the foreseeable future.

To try and clarify things from an organizational standpoint: There are several "National / International" animal welfare / animal rights organizations which usually focus on wide, far-reaching issues of public interest, such as animals in research, endangered species (elephants, whales, tigers, etc,) factory farming, puppy mills, pound seizure, vivisection (animals in research,) etc. These include groups like the American Humane Association (AHA), People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), American Society for the Protection of Animals (ASPCA), The Fund for Animals, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), and others. They typically operate one main office with several, to numerous field offices in different areas of the United States. (SPCA's are the equivalent of Humane Societies, depending on where in the country you live.)

The next group includes a few state-wide or many local area (a single city, county, or multi-city/county) organizations with specific jurisdiction or areas of influence. They may also conduct other tasks, such as pet-facilitated therapy, humane education, outreach adoptions, pet sterilization clinics, animal abuse investigations, lobbying, public relations, membership offices, etc.

The next group consists of groups of organized (some incorporated and some simply ad hoc) people that choose to work on one or more local issues. They rarely have paid staff, rarely operate their own shelter (although they may work with another animal group or animal control agency,) and work to place unwanted or homeless pets into new homes. They may also operate feral or community cat colonies with trap, neuter, and release (TNR) policies. Many include "rescue" or "foster" groups, which take animals which have not been adopted in a regular shelter and are slated for euthanasia to make room for new, incoming animals, and attempt to place them into temporary homes until a permanent home can be found.

With respect to investigations, there are two main divisions: the first has some form of statutory legal authority given to them by the state, county, or city, which allows them to enforce provisions of certain portions of the law, generally restricted to the animal protection laws of the city, county, or state. The second division has no lawful authority to enforce the laws and must, therefore, work with animal owners to attempt to educate them about the laws, alternatives to animal husbandry issues, or offer solutions to reported violations. If education is not sufficient, the investigator must then use his/her relationship with animal control or law enforcement (police or sheriff) officers to obtain follow ups and/or actual enforcement, citations, filing of complaints, search warrants, animal seizures, or judicial action.

Up until 1998, Utah statutes had a 100-year old provision which allowed animal welfare organizations incorporated in Utah to appoint people from their organization to become either a deputy sheriff (from 1880 until the mid-1980's) or a special function Utah Peace Officer. From 1972 until the law was repealed in 1998, I had been appointed either a deputy sheriff and/or special function peace officer in 16 of Utah's 29 counties. This entailed attending the Utah Peace Officer Standards and Training (Utah P.O.S.T.) academy, including education in Utah's laws, arrest and control techniques, interview and interrogation, search and seizure, crime scene / evidence gathering, forensic photography, firearms, etc.

Following the repeal of the statute in 1998, I joined other investigators across the country with no actual law enforcement authority and now have to survive on my wits, my persuasiveness, or my contacts with animal control agencies, law enforcement agencies, health departments, zoning offices, and others to accomplish my work.

Based on my experience, most animal cruelty investigators get into the field from already working inside the agency in some other capacity. This allows the agency to know the person's work habits, their ability to communicate with others, their knowledge of the organization and their policies and procedures, animals, breeds, husbandry, etc. In Utah, I am the only full-time, paid cruelty investigator. Several other volunteer groups attempt to handle some local complaints and work to learn how the laws and the judicial system function.

Historically, there are relatively few jobs available in this field and they are notorious for being low paid, with long hours, and few benefits - - other than the satisfaction of doing the job. There are substantially more positions with animal control agencies, which also perform animal abuse investigations as part of their overall job. The larger agencies may even have one or more officers with specialized training in this field.

The two best "schools," in my opinion, for animal abuse investigators are the three-level classes run by the Law Enforcement Training Institute (LETI), School of Law - Extension Division, University of Missouri-Columbia, in Missouri, and the National Horse Abuse Investigators School, levels I and II, which is run out of Durango, Colorado, in association with Code 3 Associates. There are also additional seminars and classes run by local animal welfare and animal control associations.

The general requirements for this type of work would include no serious criminal background, a good driving record, minimum high school diploma, a second language, such as Spanish, would be a plus; good communication skills, a strong work ethic, honesty, being a self-starter who can work without constant supervision, and strong math, science, and computer skills. A background in how the judicial system operates would also be helpful, as well as the ability to work under occasional instances of extreme stress in conditions where answers and solutions are ambiguous at best.

The show "Animal Precinct" is not indicative of how such work is performed by the Humane Society of Utah. It would be more typical of how things are done in some of Utah's larger animal control agencies, where their field officers have full peace officer authority.

I hope that this information proves useful to you. Good luck. Sincerely,

John Paul Fox
Chief Investigator