HD6 - Animal Control Officers in the Commonwealth

    Executive Summary:
    House Joint Resolution 116, introduced by Delegate Terry G. Kilgore and passed during the 2006 Virginia General Assembly Session, directed the Virginia State Crime Commission to study the need for regulation, training and funding of animal control officers and also their duties, responsibilities and budgets.

    The Code of Virginia, § 3.1-796.104, states that each county or city shall appoint an officer to be known as the animal control officer who shall have the power to enforce all ordinances enacted pursuant to this chapter and all laws for the protection of domestic animals. Staff conducted a comprehensive analysis of animal control responsibilities, and duties, as well as a review of training requirements and curriculum. Currently, the State Veterinarian is charged with the establishment of training criteria, as well as maintaining records of training compliance.

    In 2006, based on recommendations from the National Animal Control Association, minimum training standards for the basic animal control officer course were expanded from 40 hours to 84 hours. Animal control officer training includes courses in animal related law, basic law enforcement, public safety and recognition of child abuse and neglect. Animal control officers are required to complete basic training within the first two years of appointment and to fulfill additional animal control and protection training courses every three years.

    Staff created and distributed a brief questionnaire statewide to each locality’s City and County Administrator directly addressing the study mandates. The survey was designed to gather information regarding the number of animal control officers employed by each locality, routine responsibilities, specific budgets and funding sources, oversight department and various training issues. Seventy-eight percent (104 of 134) of localities responded to the survey, representing a total of 361 animal control officers. Sixty percent of localities employ one or two certified animal control officers and/or deputies. Ninety-three percent of animal control officers regularly perform animal control duties and, of those, 34 percent are certified law enforcement officers.

    Funding for animal control officers is determined by each locality and varies greatly. The survey indicated that the amount spent per locality on animal control ranged from a low of $2,000 to a high of $2.5 million.

    Seventy six percent of localities reported that their training was adequate, however, 53 percent reported that not enough training opportunities exist. Survey results indicate that training, both the adequacy of training and the availability of regional training opportunities, were concerns for the majority of localities. In response to those needs, staff convened a workgroup to discuss the issues cited in the survey and to develop recommendations for improving animal control issues in the Commonwealth. The agencies that participated were the:

    Department of Criminal Justice Services;
    Department of Game and Inland Fisheries;
    Humane Society;
    Office of the State Veterinarian; and,
    Virginia Animal Control Association;

    The workgroup developed two recommendations that were unanimously approved by the Crime Commission. The first recommendation involved the creation of a Memorandum of Understanding between the agency heads of the participating agencies (with the exception of the Humane Society) to facilitate agency awareness, collaboration and cooperation regarding animal control officer issues.

    The second recommendation was to create a standing Committee to address animal control officer issues. The Committee will meet four times a year, preferably once each quarter and report to the Crime Commission annually. The workgroup identified agency participants as the:

    • Department of Criminal Justice Services;
    • Department of Game and Inland Fisheries;
    • Humane Society;
    • Office of Risk Management;
    • Office of the State Veterinarian;
    • Virginia Animal Control Association;
    • Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police;
    • Virginia Association of Counties;
    • Virginia Municipal League; and,
    • Virginia Sheriff’s Association.

    The Commission would like to acknowledge the assistance of the individuals, agencies and localities who participated in this important study.

    The Crime Commission does not intend to submit further reports for publication.