My father, #b#John Saccenti#/b#, didn’t get his first dog until about 12 years ago, when he adopted a Yorkshire terrier named Max from owners who could no longer take care of him.

“We just kind of fell in love with him, he was adorable,” he said. Before Max, the pets in our home were parakeets, hamsters, Guinea pigs, and fish, most brought in to keep his children happy. It seems that before getting his four-legged friend, my father was never really much of an animal person.

But in 2001 he embarked on a career that would touch the lives of thousands of animals throughout New Jersey, when he founded the Career Development Institute in Kendall Park. CDI provides, among other services, instruction and certification in animal control and animal cruelty investigation, and my father will be running a Saturday course on the latter at Mercer County Community College from March 27 to May 15, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.. Cost: $699 for the animal cruelty course, $749 for animal control. Visit www.cditraining.org or call 800-244-6924. You can also register at www.mccc.edu, or call 609-570-3311.

An animal control officer course will then begin on Saturday, May 22, and run for seven weeks. Those who complete the courses are certified by the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services. However, both courses contain material that goes beyond the minimum state requirements for certification.

CDI also offers courses in such diverse subjects as bioterrorism, grant writing, interview and interrogation techniques, and counter-terrorism awareness.

But it is the animal control and animal cruelty courses that occupy most of my father’s time. With classes throughout the year, including a series being held in Puerto Rico, my 63-year-old father has gone from being a not “much of an animal person” to being the go-to-guy for how to handle them.

After running the program successfully in New Jersey for several years, he was approached by the World Society for the Protection of Animals to run a course in Puerto Rico. To get it up and running he did the same thing he does — he researches the rules, laws, and statutes, and picks the best instructors in the area.

He held his latest course at Metropolitan University in San Juan. “We had 67 graduates and was the first of its kind in Puerto Rico,” he says.

My father grew up in upper Manhattan in a fifth floor walk up a block from the “L.” His father held a variety of jobs, struggling to make ends meet. It’s during these years, while a student at Fordham Prep, that he developed a philosophy that would guide him through a lifetime as an educator.

“From the time I was in prep school I always wanted to be an educator,” he says. “I always remember that one old phrase, ‘If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, but if you teach him how to fish you feed him for the rest of his life.’ I know people have heard it, but it’s true. There’s a tremendous amount of satisfaction giving someone the skills and knowledge to help them achieve everything they can be in life.”

In addition to receiving a bachelor’s degree in education, a master’s degree in education and political science, and an educational specialist’s degree from Fordham University, my father served as an officer in the U.S. Army and conducted special assignments with the FBI. After working as a teacher and educational administrator, he spent 15 years with the Police Training Commission and the Division of Criminal Justice, where he developed all basic law enforcement training, including designing and writing the basic course for investigators and police officers. He also served as president of the national Association of Local Boards of Health and has advised the United States Surgeon General and the White House on public health policy.

My father admits he has high expectations of his students, including professional dress codes and attendance policies. Still, he and his instructors like to establish a non-adversarial learning atmosphere to “ensure that the students we have master the skills that will be required for them to do their job.”

“They learn constantly as they go,” he says. “They master one building block of knowledge before going on to the next. Every hour of instruction is important.”

#b#Filling a need#/b#. With the economy struggling and unemployment rates high, many people are looking for new careers. But those studying to become animal control officers or cruelty investigators usually do so for other reasons.

“Most of the people come because they have a love of animals and would like to have a career path that will give them the satisfaction of working with and protecting animals and still be able to support themselves,” he says.

Under state law, all municipalities must have an animal control officer of its own, or provide for one through another service. The officer’s primary public health function is based on rabies control, and his responsibilities include animal control, education, and enforcement of local ordinances. Animal cruelty investigators, which are not required, have the authority to enforce animal cruelty statutes through summons or arrest.

The Animal Control Course includes animal behavior and control, shelter regulations, wildlife regulations, and role and authority; the investigator’s course includes arrest, search and seizure, use of force, court room testimony, evidence collection, and packaging and handling crime scenes.

“There are job openings, but they may not be right next to you, so you may have to go to other parts of the state to start your career,” he says. “We notify graduates of any job openings we hear of.”

#b#Continuing education#/b#. Like many fields of law enforcement, the rules and regulations regarding animal control and cruelty investigation are changing. To keep up, students who graduate are welcome to return to attend future classes.

“An animal cruelty investigator may want to refresh his knowledge of search or seizure, or something else,” he says. In addition, he advocates networking and making connections withyour coursemates. Upon graduation, students get class rosters and contact information for the fellow graduates.

“We do an entire section just on networking because they’re going to continue to learn from each other in the future,” he says. “If a situation comes up that one of them doesn’t know how to handle, they can contact another of their colleagues and ask them for assistance.

Which brings him back to one of the reasons he first got into the business of education — life long learning is key too future success.

“Life is too short to be working everyday at something you feel is not personally rewarding,” he says. “It may be time to switch careers to something you really want to do, something that each day will make you feel good about yourself and your accomplishments.”

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