© chrisroosfotografie | Adobestock

One-third of PMPs said they emphasize humane practices when marketing their wildlife control services, according to the PCT 2019 State of the Wildlife Control Market survey, which was sponsored by Veseris and conducted by independent market research firm Readex Research.

But what, exactly, does this mean? “That’s a gray area. Who decides who’s humane and who’s not? Is there a definition for that?” asked Phil Clegg Jr., vice president, Clegg’s Pest Control, Durham, N.C.

If you don’t put “humane” in your company name or on your website, does that imply your practices are not?

PMPs said much of what they’re already doing — regardless of how it’s labeled — is humane. Live trapping is the primary nuisance wildlife control method for 48 percent of PMPs, found the survey, and PMPs reported in follow-up interviews that their goal is to relocate trapped animals to natural habitats. This may require special permits to transport the animals, as well as written permission of the landowner on whose property the critters are being released.

Sometimes states do not allow the release of certain species, such as vectors of rabies, and so PMPs are required to euthanize the animals. Then it becomes an issue of “dispatching it the quickest way and the most humane way. We don’t want anything to suffer,” said Kevin Hudson, who manages wildlife control services at Advanced Services, Augusta, Ga.

“If we do have to euthanize an animal, it’s never performed at the customer’s location,” said Joseph Edwards, president, North Fulton Pest Solutions, Alpharetta, Ga. The company has a CO2 chamber at its warehouse in which it places the caged animal; the gas puts the animal to “sleep.” Thirty-nine percent of pest management companies have wildlife euthanasia capabilities on site, according to the survey.

“Sometimes the control measure is simple exclusion,” said Greg Bausch, operations manager of American City Pest & Termite in Los Angeles. In fact, exclusion is the primary method used by 35 percent of PMPs to control nuisance wildlife, found the survey.

By sealing roofline gaps and entry points and screening vents, animals can no longer enter the structure and become a problem. For some customers who don’t want skunks trapped and euthanized, Bausch has built one-way doors to let the critters out of the crawlspace but not back in. Those access points are sealed once the skunks have left.

PMPs also engage in practices like cultural control/landscape management (47 percent) and habitat modification (45 percent) to encourage wildlife to live and feed elsewhere.

HAVE THE CONVERSATION. Clegg’s customers “most definitely” want nuisance wildlife dealt with humanely; they also want the critters gone. “Honestly, most people, once they have the animal, they want it out fast,” Bausch said.

It is crucial to be up-front with customers about how you’re going to solve the wildlife problem, as well as why you must take certain actions.

Clegg, for example, explains to clients in advance if he’s required to euthanize a trapped animal. “The first thing I do is ask how do you feel about this?” he said. If a customer has a problem with it, he’ll decline the job. It’s not worth losing his license to release a trapped raccoon down the road just to make the client feel better. “If I don’t euthanize a possible vector of rabies, then I’ve actually spread a vector of rabies,” he said.

PMPs also need a strategy to deal with groups opposed to wildlife control in general, said Clegg. He ran into this after trapping and relocating a family of gray foxes that were living near the Durham Bulls minor baseball league stadium in downtown Durham.

“I hated taking them from there but I took great care and released them in a good place where I knew they wouldn’t be bothered and knew they could be together,” he explained. The job generated some local news coverage. That coverage made the move public and raised the ire of local activists who believed “a different story” of what happened, he said of the groups opposed to removing the animals.

“There’s a misconception with a lot of people when they see wildlife control. Everybody thinks that we are just killing animals,” said Clegg.

Train employees to treat animals with respect at all times; it only takes a photo of one technician doing the wrong thing to create a storm on social media, reminded Clegg, who has turned away jobs he thought would generate negative publicity.

“You’ve got to be ready for both sides” of the discussion, he said.

The author is a frequent contributor to PCT.