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Education & certification for animal welfare professionals


MIAMI––Advertised as paying the successful applicant from $82,403 to $130,446, depending on qualifications and experience, the open executive director’s job at the Miami/Dade County Animal Services Division is among the most demanding positions in the animal care-and-control field.

The hiree will supervise 70 people, from veterinarians to low-wage cage-cleaners. Serving one of the most culturally diverse communities in the U.S., the new executive director will be expected to perform as a top-drawer white-collar professional.


New Los Angeles Animal Services general manager Guerdon H. Stuckey (LAS photo), superimposed in front of shelter vandalized after his hiring (Phyllis Dougherty photo).

Yet, like most similar posts, the Miami/Dade job is described to applicants as a senior post for personnel of mostly blue-collar background. Some formal education, is expected, but the job description anticipates that most applicants will have worked their way up through the ranks, like master sergeants, not graduates of officer candidate school.

Contacting ANIMAL PEOPLE as part of her search for qualified applicants, Sandra L. Jackson of the Miami/Dade County Personnel Services Division stipulated that the position “requires a bachelor’s degree and a minimum of five to nine years of progressively responsible managerial and administrative experience within animal control or animal welfare agencies.”


Those typical and traditional requirements describe most of the people who have been hired to head humane societies and animal control agencies during the past 25 years. Before that, holders of bachelor’s degrees were fewer.

Changing demands

Under a decade ago, a shelter executive director with an advanced degree was almost always a shelter veterinarian or humane educator who was promoted to the top from within the agency, or an attorney who took the job after serving on the board of directors.

That seems to be changing. As public expectations of animal care-and-control agencies increase, along with the size of their budgets and the numbers of personnel the executive director is expected to handle, successful applicants for the best paying and most prestigious jobs are increasingly often not promoted through the ranks.

The most successful and longest-tenured executive directors are more and more likely to have earned management and fund-raising skills outside the animal control and animal welfare fields, while search committees seeking an executive director are increasingly aware that the ever more specialized key positions within an agency are less and less likely to equip the people who hold them to supervise the workers in other positions.

Nothing in shelter vet work, kennel management, animal-related law enforcement, humane education, fundraising, public relations, or adoption promotion intrinsically prepares someone to be the boss.

Thus the qualifications the City of Los Angeles recently sought in a nationwide search for a new Animal Services Department general manager were not remarkably different from those sought in Miami, but the profile of the successful applicant came as a surprise to both Los Angeles Animal Services personnel and local activists, who had speculatively tossed names about for months.

Los Angeles offered “$120,436 to $180,612, commensurate with experience and salary history,” to supervise 250 employees. The search committee wanted “a bachelor’s degree…preferably with a concentration in public administration, human services, animal @services, health services or a related field. @A master’s degree is a plus,” the job description said. “At least five years of significant, high-level management experience is required in a public agency, private sector firm, or an animal services/welfare organization.”

The search committee, headed by SPCA/LA president Madeline Bernstein, selected Guerdon H. Stuckey, previously director of neighborhood and community services for Rockville, Maryland.

Stuckey has never worked in animal services before, but holds a master’s degree in public administration from the University of North Carolina, and has nonprofit experience as assistant to the president of the Urban League in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Stuckey’s appointment was greeted with a graffiti attack on one Los Angeles shelter, apparently by some of the activist faction whose home demonstrations, vandalism, and other harassment drove predecessor Jerry Greenwalt into early retirement.

But Stuckey was hired in part because his personal history in resolving housing-related conflicts suggests that he is not likely to be intimidated by nightrider tactics.

SAWA certification

The professional organizations in the animal care and control field are not just standing by while top-paying jobs go to outsiders.

Formal efforts to improve the qualifications of animal care and control directors may have begun with the 1970 formation of the Society of Animal Welfare Administrators. The smallest professional organization of note in the field, with just 364 members, SAWA functions much like a trade guild. Membership meetings have traditionally (but not always) been held in conjunction with the training conferences offered by national animal advocacy groups.

On August 10, 2004 SAWA unveiled a “national certification program for animal welfare professionals,” intended to provide a credential that SAWA president Gary Tiscornia hopes will be accepted as the equivalent of possessing a master’s degree.

To become a Certified Animal Welfare Administrator, via SAWA and a partnering agency, CPS Human Resource Services, candidates must pass a 100-question multiple choice examination covering five subject areas: administration and management (22%), personnel supervision and leadership (24%), public relations and fundraising (21%), animal care and treatment (19%), and reasoning (15%).

To take the test, candidates must have served a minimum of three years in a senior executive capacity with an animal sheltering organization, within five years of the test date, plus three years of experience managing paid staff in any field, within 10 years of the test date. [Info: 877-477-2262, x220.]

“Though animal welfare and protection is a highly specialized field,” Tiscornia said in announcing the certification program, “there is currently no master’s degree program” for potential shelter executives.

Tufts M.S.

That could be debated. The Tufts Center for Animals and Public Policy, founded in 1983 as a part of the Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine, has offered a Master of Science degree in Animals and Public Policy since 1995.

Focal topics for successful Tufts M.S. candidates have included pet overpopulation and current trends in animal sheltering, the role of animals in childrens’ lives, veterinary forensics and recognition of animal abuse, animal fertility control, state and federal wildlife management policy, preservation of endangered species, the impact of ecotourism on endangered species such as gorillas, humane strategies for nuisance wildlife control, comparative study of religious and cultural views of animals, and professional ethics for veterinarians.

Tufts promotes the required course work as “a full-time program (32 credit hours) that is expected to take no more than 12 months to complete. This is a program in residence,” Tufts warns. “There is no distance learning option. Scheduled classes run from the end of August through May. During the summer, students are expected to work on final projects and wrap up any outstanding tutorials. It is rare for a student to have completed all requirements by the end of classes in May, so all applicants are encouraged to include time during the summer months into their financial and personal planning.”

Serious planning is essential, because tuition and living costs to attend Tufts will approximately equal a year’s salary for the executive director of a mid-sized humane society or animal control agency. Since the M.S. candidate will not be earning an income during the year in residence, pursuing the degree will in effect bet the equivalent of several years’ income for someone below the executive director level against the chances of getting a job that pays substantially more, and then keeping it, in a field notorious for rapid executive turnover.

[Info: Tufts School of Veterinary Medicine, 200 Westboro Road, North Grafton, MA 01536; <>.]

Humane University

The Tufts Center for Animals and Public Policy and the M.S. program were both begun by Andrew Rowan, now senior vice president and chief of staff for the Humane Society of the U.S., and chief executive of Humane University, the umbrella for a fast-expanding set of training opportunities.

On September 17, 2004 Humane University publicist Valerie Sheppard announced a 33-credit hour Master of Arts degree program in Humane Education & Character Development, “for certified teachers and humane educators.” The M.A. is to be earned entirely through online course work, and is accredited by Webster University.

Humane University will also be offering an 18-credit graduate certificate in organizational leadership for animal advocates, to be earned online via the Duquesne University School of Leadership and Professional Advancement, beginning in January 2005.

In addition, Humane University in January 2005 will begin offering an online undergraduate degree in humane leadership. Course work will cover “Animals and Interpersonal Violence, Animal Health & Behavior in the Sheltering Environment, Studies in Humane Education, Animal Protection as a Society Movement, Health & Safety Management in the Sheltering Environment, and Current Topics in Animal Sheltering,” according to the prospectus, as well as four classes in nonprofit management. [Info: <>.]

Other programs under the Humane University banner include a variety of one-day and multi-day regional workshops for animal shelter personnel, plus six specialized online courses. These are similar to the seminars presented by HSUS personnel at national and regional conferences for decades before Humane University was formed.

Cruelty Investigation

Incorporated into Humane University as well are the National Cruelty Investigations Schools, begun in 1990 by HSUS and the University of Missouri Law Enforcement Training Institute

“The National Cruelty Investigations Schools were designed for animal cruelty investigators at the federal, state, and local levels, animal control officers, police officers and sheriff’s deputies, humane society board members, and other individuals interested in learning a systematic approach to animal cruelty investigations,” says the NCIS web site.
Second and third levels of classes for more advanced students were added to the program in 1993 and 1996, respectively.

Representatives of more than 1,000 organizations have participated, NCIS claims, indicating that about 20% of the humane investigators in the U.S. may have some NCIS training. Because each session is five days in length, attendees lose only one week of work.

[Info: Law Enforcement Training Institute, University of Missouri, 321 Hearnes Center, Columbia, MO 65211; 573-882-6021; fax 573-884-5693.]


There is at least one strong international contender in online education for animal welfare professionals. University of Cambridge post-doctoral student Anabela Pinto in February 2004 began directing an independent online course in animal welfare while volunteering at the university’s Animal Welfare Information Center.

“The university wasn’t keen to support me,” Pinto told ANIMAL PEOPLE, so with a grant from the Universities Federation from Animal Welfare to buy the necessary software plus much help from her husband, she founded the Cambridge E-Learning Centre to host the course.

Pinto describes her offering as “a postgraduate course for professionals with a degree in any science involving the use of animals. It is also aimed at those professionals already working with animals who do not yet have a degree. This course complies with the requirements for the Certificate in Animal Welfare Science, Ethics & Law awarded by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons Postgraduate Education,” Pinto stipulates.

The eleven weeks of instruction begin with a general introduction to animal welfare, proceeding to such topics as “The Biology of Stress,” “Behavior and Animal Welfare,” with a week each spent on normal and abnormal activity, a week each on farm animals, wildlife, lab animals, and companion animals, and a concluding week exploring “Animals, ethics, and society.”

The Pinto program is endorsed by the World Society for the Protection of Animals and Compassion In World Farming.
[Info: <>.

Special seminars

As training programs offering academic credentials and credit proliferate, one might suppose that the weekend seminars and week-long training conferences that have historically shared most of the corpus of animal welfare and advocacy knowhow might diminish in importance. Actually, the opposite seems to be occurring.

While the paid workforce in animal care and control and animal advocacy approximately doubled from 1980 to 1990, and has doubled again since then, volunteer participation has increased at least as rapidly.

The volunteer-oriented Best Friends regional “No More Homeless Pets” conferences, held twice a year, are often bigger now than the national American Humane Associat-ion and National Animal Control Association conferences were in the early 1990s.

Until the early 1990s only HSUS presented a year-round series of regional and local training workshops. Then Alley Cat Allies and the United Animal Nations disaster relief training program separately showed that small groups with specialized missions could build nationally visible programs by holding frequent local and regional workshops too.
Now many specialized organizations are doing it.

Some, like the National Institute for Animal Advocacy founded by Julie Lewin [see contact info on page 5], hold workshops in partnership with local groups that invite them and help make the arrangements.

Others, like the International Institute for Humane Education, announce an ambitious traveling schedule and trust that if their instructors show up, an audience will be there. IIHE coordinator/trainer Kathy Kandziolka on September 17 sent ANIMAL PEOPLE a list of 12 weekend “Sowing Seeds” seminars for would-be humane educators, to be held during the next 12 months in West Palm Beach, Chicago, San Diego, Seattle, Boston, Washington D.C., Orange-ville (Ontario), Albuquerque, Cincinnati, Corvallis (Oregon), Los Angeles, and San Francisco. [Info:>.]

If each seminar attracts 20 people, that one traveling program may train more humane educators, offering more instructional hours, than all of the training opportunities combined that were available to humane educators circa 1990.
––Merritt Clifton