What's it really like?
Brian Dalton is the Head of Learning and Development at the RSPCA office in Southwater, West Sussex, and he provides a detailed insight into the life of an animal welfare inspector.
What made you decide or choose to get into this sort of career?
Most applicants have an interest in animals and a strong desire to do something positive towards animal welfare that is outside a ‘normal’ 9 to 5 job. People can support animal welfare in so many ways but the inspector position is hands-on and challenging, both intellectually and physically. There is a real opportunity for the right type of people to make a huge difference every working day. This is a vocation, not a job, and there is a real danger that it can take over your life.
Do you have a standard day or a standard type of `exercise'?
One of the joys of the position is that there is no such thing as a ‘standard’ day. Elements may be frustrating – driving in urban areas and battling with the traffic to get to an urgent call or driving a distance to find there is nobody at home. The day is made up of responding to information, prioritising a heavy task list and making enquiries into incidents or allegations of potential animal abuse.
Other tasks can be providing advice or guidance as appropriate or, where necessary, mounting a full legal investigation and taking persons to court if they are believed to be responsible for offences against animal welfare legislation. On the other side of the coin, inspectors are called to plan and co-ordinate a variety of animal rescues from a cat on a roof to a mass cetacean (whales, dolphins, porpoises) stranding.
What is the most common type of problem/call-out/enquiry to which you must attend?
Enquiries where a member of the public has seen something they believe requires an intervention: domestic animals without shelter/food/water, horses thought to be in poor physical condition, lame or injured livestock, or any combination with any of these animals, and of course, trapped or injured wildlife.
What do you like most about the job?
The variety of the role, and being able to make a tangible difference, working with people and making a difference to their lives, as well as that of their animals.
What do you like least about the job?
RSPCA Inspectors are not always welcomed and frequently deal with difficult, confrontational situations. While this is an animal welfare career choice, the real skill is managing and de-escalating a potentially volatile situation, and achieving an amicable outcome that benefits the animal. Inspectors are tactful and professional with all people at all times, whatever the emotional challenge of the situation and whatever the individual’s personal views might be about what they may or may not have done.
It is not possible to save every animal from every situation, but an inspector will do whatever is legally possible to make even the smallest improvement. The frustration of the role comes about when simple advice is not taken, and a situation deteriorates to a degree where more formal action is required.
What advice do you have for someone who is looking to get into this as a career?
Stop; think very carefully; this is a fantastic career choice but the demands placed upon you are high. Do not get caught up in the ‘glamour’ or public spotlight aspect of the job. Research very carefully and consider the impact on your social and domestic life. There are many ways people can support animal welfare without becoming an RSPCA Officer. Exploit any opportunity to work with the public before you make an application, preferably in an area that might take you out of your comfort zone or managing potentially difficult situations. Gain experience working with animals; volunteering provides an interesting perspective.
Animal Welfare Inspector
Also known as...
- Animal rescue carer
- Animal welfare officer (AWO)
- Animal rescue operator
- Animal welfare co-ordinator
- Animal control
- Animal Handler
The animal welfare inspector is tasked with responding to public call-outs regarding possible abuse of animals. They must also assist stricken and helpless animals and facilitate their safe rescue, return to the owner or release back into the wild.
Animal welfare inspectors respond to calls placed either directly with their organisation or on referrals from external agencies (including the police). The inspector will attend the site, discuss the details of the criticism with the potential offender, offer advice and support, and where necessary, begin a legal process for the animal to be removed from the supervision of the individual.
As well as civic cases, the welfare inspector will often find themselves in rescue scenarios. Animals can become trapped, beached, injured or placed in situations of high stress, and it is the job of the animal welfare inspector to assist with the rescue and subsequent placement of the animal into a safe environment.
Requirements for the role are diverse and specific, and they necessitate a level of experience in animal welfare beyond that of a normal “animal lover”. It is a life-consuming occupation which can require changes to an individual’s personal circumstances in order to allow them to carry out their duties effectively.
Welfare Officer salary starts at £18,500 per annum plus benefits. AWOs (Animal Welfare Officers) can progress to Inspector level, from which there are various specialisations, e.g. equine officer, wildlife officer, rescue co-ordinator, specialist trainers; these will attract higher salaries. Promotion opportunities to Chief Inspector and further up the strategic management chain (to Superintendent) are achievable for the right people with the appropriate motivational attitude, skill set and level of experience.
Remuneration for the Inspector role, after progressing from an office position, begins at £19,000, and goes up to £27,900 after several years experience.
- Investigate alleged reports of animal cruelty or neglect.
- Conduct an assessment of the animal involved and proceed accordingly to prevent suffering.
- Promote good practice and compassion.
- Rescue or collect animals in immediate or potential risk and accommodate them within Society-approved accommodation for re-homing or rehabilitation.
- Educate and advise owners and carers of animals and seek to improve or maintain the welfare of the animal(s), and prevent or alleviate suffering.
- Where a breach of legislation has become apparent during investigation, compile a case file in line with PACE (Police and Criminal Evidence Act) and any other required legal process.
- Liaise with internal and external agencies and other animal welfare establishments.
- Develop and maintain effective working relationships and promote the work of the organisation.
Requirements for the role are strict, and candidates must fulfil the following requirements:
- Must have 5 GCSE’s - Grade C or above (or equivalent), to include English and Maths.
- Must hold a full, current, UK licence to drive a car.
- Must be able to swim.
- Must possess proven interpersonal skills. Experience in the successful management of confrontational situations is essential.
- Must have animal handling experience.
- Must possess good administrative skills.
- Must be prepared to work unsociable hours, including some evenings, weekends and bank holidays.
- Because of the nature of the duties of this post, candidates will be required to disclose details of any criminal record, and any offer of employment will be made subject to information given in a Standard Disclosure provided by the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB). A conviction (or formal caution) within the past 10 years for any of a number of criminal offences will mean a rejection of the application. These offences can include (but are not limited to) violent crime, public order, corruption or dishonesty.
- Will need to have a real interest in people and understand what motivates them.
- Be sympathetic and caring to a point, but completely objective in outlook.
- Be assertive, not passive, but never aggressive.
- Be able to engage with people; be curious, persuasive, positive and enthusiastic.
- Be willing to learn (sometimes the hard way). A can-do attitude is a must.
- Must be self-motivated, self-reliant, brave but not reckless.
- The most important thing is an empathy with animals and a desire to champion their cause.
This is an incredibly diverse and challenging role. The work can be physically and emotionally difficult, placing the candidate in situations where they may have to deal with confrontational members of the public, or be in hazardous environments, such as working in adverse weather, along a sea front, cliff face, mountain, or any other possible environ. A common sense approach to health and safety is required, but chiefly, the role demands that the applicant be able to demonstrate past experience of dealing with these very challenging situations. Without this experience, the candidate will not have a sufficiently broad skill set to become an AWO or Inspector.
A candidate’s successful application will depend on their ability to demonstrate past experience of being able to diffuse hostile situations (for example, public disorder cases). The candidate will also need to show they can offer support, compassion and motivation to affected individuals, so previous experience working in an advisory capacity in a public service role will be beneficial. Candidates must also show they have a responsible attitude towards health and safety, and must also have previous experience working in an animal handling role.
Career ProgressionThe entry level role in animal rescue begins with animal care; it is possible for people with little or no experience to begin building their experience in a voluntary role with a rescue centre. Animal rescue centres are often looking for people to give up their time and help without remuneration. This is a crucial stepping stone for those who do not yet have experience relevant to the greater role.
Once criteria have been fulfilled relevant to working as an AWO, the next step in the chain is Inspector, which may require the candidate to be responsible for AWOs under their jurisdiction. Inspectors will typically specialise in one specific area of animal care, and subsequently become an “expert” in their particular field. Tenacious and dedicated Inspectors then have the opportunity to progress to more demanding managerial roles, such as Chief Inspector or Superintendent.
In the UK, the RSPCA is the most well-known and supported animal rescue agency. There are, however, a very large number of independent centres operating throughout the UK on a local level. Many of the people who work for such organisations do so on a voluntary basis, although paid roles do come up occasionally with the larger organisations.
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