Five Reasons to Become CAWA Certified

About a decade ago, I was sitting at a table at our Annual Conference with a SAWA legend: John Nagy. John was looking for a sponsor for this thing he was working on, a certification for animal welfare. Of course, SAWA was a healthy organization back then and the conferences were starting to pick up steam. But the visionaries who ran SAWA wanted more. That generation of leaders committed to excellence knew there was a way to ensure the health and development of our industry and our individual members — Certified Animal Welfare Administrators (CAWAs).

Becoming a CAWA is not easy. Preparation takes a long time, and the test is difficult. And it should be. In order for any kind of a certification to be meaningful, it must fulfill three key objectives:

  • Candidates must demonstrate a mastery of the concepts
  • The certification must be aimed at moving the industry in a positive direction
  • Certificate holders should have a heightened status and influence in the industry

So, what are five reasons to get a CAWA?

  1. A CAWA will make you more attractive. Resume-wise, that is. CAWAs don’t have bad hair days. Their teeth are whiter; their breath is always minty-fresh. Just kidding. Your physical appearance might change a little because people who achieve things typically look a little more satisfied and happy, but really it’s those four letters — CAWA — that will greatly enhance resume. Put yourself in a hiring manager’s shoes; industry certifications, particularly difficult ones to earn, are difference-makers.
  1. A CAWA will positively impact your paycheck. Probably. No guarantees here and bigger paychecks are not why we are in this business, but our own annual salary survey suggests CAWAs earn more.
  1. CAWAs get a seat at the table. Having a CAWA after your name suggests a couple of things: You’re all in, and you’ve demonstrated acumen around the practices and concepts that drive our industry. There are lots of ways to earn a seat at the table, but achieving CAWA status is a really good way to make sure your voice is heard. 
  1. CAWAs think differently. Here’s a secret: The goal of the CAWA exam is not to create people who are good at regurgitating things they have read. In my view, the goal of any successful educational endeavor is to create critical thinkers — professionals who can distill large amounts of facts and use that knowledge to make important decisions. Successful education teaches us how to think and not necessarily what to think.
  1. The industry needs more CAWAs. Ever heard the term “SME”? It’s a term — subject matter expert — that popped up with the rise of the internet. Most industries have no way of identifying the SMEs, but ours does: CAWA. Certified Animal Welfare Administrators are animal welfare SMEs, well-armed with the tools and the demonstrated motivation to make things happen.

So there you have it: five reasons to go after your CAWA. The next exam will take place in June — use our online resources and start studying now.

Good luck!


Tom Tholen

Tom Tholen is SAWA's Senior Vice President of Marketing & Development. The SAWA member has served as President of Companion Channel, a cloud-based digital screen media service that streamed into partner shelters. Tom is perhaps best known in the animal welfare industry as the former President & Chief Marketing Officer for Callahan Creek, which was the agency of record for Hill’s in the early days of their shelter program. Over the years, he has worked for several agencies, as well as major corporations including Hallmark, Sprint and General Electric. A Colorado native, Tom received his BS in Journalism from the University of Colorado at Boulder, and he lives with his family in the Kansas City area.


2016 Copyright Society of Animal Welfare Administrators