Business Practices, Professionalism and Ethics

In this module…
Learning Objectives
Terms to Know
Professionalism and Customer Relations
Preparation for meeting with clients
Business Practices
Develop a Wildlife Control Solution
Study Questions for Business Practices

Learning Objectives

  1. Know what questions to ask to identify the needs and desires of a client.
  2. Understand what it means to be a professional wildlife control operator.
  3. Explain why ethics and the public attitude are so important for WCOs.

Terms to Know

Mal-occurrence   A negative event that happens unexpectedly through no fault of the WCO.

Mistake   Sloppy work, carelessness, or insufficient knowledge that results in a negative event.

Professionalism   Throughout a WCOs working life, the WCO works to improve his or her knowledge, skills, wisdom, and conduct.

Resident damage   Damage by an animal that lives on the client’s property.

Transient damage   Damage by an animal that does not live on the client’s property.

Professionalism and Customer Relations

“Half your business is wildlife—the other half is people,” advises one professional. Your success will probably depend as much on the way you talk to customers and treat other professionals as the clever ways you assess situations or modify cage traps and use other control methods.

As you ask customers questions about the job and describe the options for solving the problem, you’ll probably gain a sense of your customers’ values and how they want wildlife conflicts handled. In most cases, you’ll be able to tailor services to meet their needs, but there are two times when you can’t: if doing so would violate a law, or when public health or safety is threatened. You are legally required to follow the health department’s directions about what to do with captured animals (in addition to wildlife agency rules). If the health department wants an animal killed and tested for rabies, you must do this, even if your customer requests that you use only nonlethal techniques.

That explains why you’ll probably get to know some health department staff, but you’re likely to interact with many other professionals on a regular basis, too. Some, such as local police and animal control officers, may assist during an emergency.

Many seasoned WCOs advise new professionals to develop networks right from the start. Win the trust and respect of your regional wildlife and law enforcement staff, local police, animal control officers, health department staff, wildlife rehabilitators, veterinarians, staff at local animal shelters, town clerks, and your fellow WCOs. You should be aware of the practical reasons to maintain friendly relations and use opportunities to market your business. Many people don’t know who to contact for help with a wildlife damage problem so they may turn to any professional who works with animals, building departments, contractors or law enforcement. If you win the trust and respect of these professionals, they may refer customers to you.

Wildlife control is not a 9-to-5 job, especially during the busy season. Some people refer jobs to other WCOs when they’re too busy to handle them. Or maybe you’re suddenly confronted with a big, really big snake in someone’s apartment, and you’re not quite sure what to do with it. You may want to call someone who is more experienced with exotic species. Some WCOs partner with construction professionals or trappers who specialize in predator control. Maybe you’d rather remove the bats from a building and leave the repair work of plugging entry holes to someone else, so you’re not tied up at one site doing carpentry work.

Become a Certified Wildlife Control Operator

“A professional wildlife control operator is a person with demonstrated expertise in the art and science of applying the principles of wildlife damage management to the sound resolution of wildlife conflicts with humans.”

—excerpted from the National Wildlife Control Operators Association’s (NWCOA) application for professional certification.

Let’s talk about what professionalism means for WCOs. Are you proud of your work? Do you have good reasons to be proud? Professional WCOs must be knowledgeable about wildlife species and their habitats, well trained in control methods, and confident in their ability to safely and effectively carry out a wildlife damage management solution.

Be polite and businesslike regardless of what others say or do. Public attitudes vary. Understand what you are doing and why. You are not “killing animals.” You are protecting agriculture, property, human health and safety, and the natural resources of the state. You work in a highly regulated profession in conjunction with the fish and wildlife agencies in your state.

Understand the objectives of the control program before you begin. Be aware of the laws and regulations that govern vertebrate pest control. Know the liability of your actions. Follow the rules.

Know what kinds of toxicants you are using. Be aware of what these chemicals can and cannot do and what license you need to use them.

Know the vocabulary of the profession. Do not use the word “poison” when talking about toxicants. When you use chemicals correctly, public exposure and threats to non-target animals should be minimal.

Understand the label. Be aware of other labeled uses for the materials you are applying. You can use many vertebrate pesticides on a variety of animals but only if the label specifies that species and the state laws allow the use of that toxicant..

If you apply toxicants keep product literature, a copy of the toxicant label, and its Safety Data Sheet (SDS) handy when you are at an application site.

Use practical and humane methods to achieve control. Often, several control options are equally effective. Use the one that is least harmful to the animal and to the environment.

Know when to answer a question and when to defer to a supervisor, a colleague, or a state or federal agency.

Preparation for meeting with clients

Make the public aware of your commitment to safety and to the environment. You can furnish background information to help educate people at the grassroots level. If possible, meet and discuss the control program with nearby landowners before starting the program. It is best to deal with concerns early on. Sometimes, an onsite visit may be important. You can describe the pest problems you are dealing with and explain how your wildlife management program will help.

Talk to landowners before starting a wildlife damage management program. Use these pointers in your discussion:

  1. Tell the truth about your operation. Explain what you plan to do, when, and why. Describe the potential effects that may result. Discuss different control options. Explain why the control method you chose is suitable for the situation. If the area has been treated in the past, explain how often. Describe successful outcomes. Be truthful about disposition of trapped animals. WCOs who lie and tell clients they translocate wildlife just to gain an unfair business advantage over those who truthfully acknowledge that animals will be humanely dispatched are exhibiting unethical behavior.
  2. Ask the landowners about potential areas of concern (sensitive areas). Are nearby non-target animals, streams, drainage or irrigation ditches, or wells at risk? Are there concerns about personal safety?

Be prepared to answer questions like these:

What control method are you using, and why are you using it?

Will the control method affect pets or other wildlife?

Can other animals die if they eat an animal killed by a toxicant?

How can you be sure the toxicant will not get into our water supplies?

If my cattle eat treated bait, will they suffer harm?

What risk does the toxicant pose to my family and me?

What happens if animals that eat the toxicant leave the area?

Are the toxicants humane?

Are lethal traps dangerous to other animals?

Do trapped animals suffer?

What sort of euthanasia procedures do you use?

How do you plan to dispose of euthanized animals?

Answer all questions politely. Ask questions to clarify any concerns. Listen to what they say. Spend only a reasonable amount of time explaining. Be clear, concise, and complete. Do not argue. Leave your name and office phone number so residents can contact you or someone else for more information.

Professionals in Integrated Wildlife Damage Management are careful to point out the positive aspects of all species. They also understand and stress the need for humane treatment of animals.

Don’t be afraid to refuse a job if you don’t know how to provide the service requested properly and effectively. Likewise, do not be afraid to refuse a job if the client demands that you do something illegal or unethical.

Defuse the tension from wildlife damage

Your primary task as a WCO is to help clients manage their wildlife damage conflict. You begin to put clients at ease the moment you begin providing realistic solutions to mitigate and resolve the wildlife problem. Display the five behaviors of effective service listed below. When you meet with client, act with respect and purpose. Bring the necessary equipment, introduce yourself, and hand the client your promotional materials.

Five behaviors determine how clients perceive the effectiveness of service

  1. Setting service expectations
  2. Providing ample service time
  3. Demonstrating technical knowledge
  4. Punctuality
  5. Listening to clients.

Figure 1. An example of a WCO truck: 4-wheel drive extended cab with ladders and a topper over the bed.

Business Practices

Suggestions for Vehicle Setup

Setup of your vehicle is complicated because wildlife control requires a great deal of equipment. Many companies have an equipment yard where you may need to go to get a specialized product. The truck of a WCO is large (Figure 1), contains many compartments (Figure 2), and is fully loaded. Equipment is bulky; access to it requires many openings. A variety of tools are needed to provide one-stop service.

Suggested Equipment

The following is a list of suggested equipment for your truck:

  1. 24- and 32-foot extension ladders and an 8-foot step ladder.
  2. ridge hook and corner stabilizer bar;
  3. safety equipment;
  4. catch pole, cat grasper, snake tongs, snake hook, hand net, and gloves for animal handling;
  5. tree branch trimmer and 32-foot painter’s pole;
  6. traps, baits, lures, trap covers, plywood boards, shelf brackets, trap wire, stakes, cage traps in several sizes, and stainless wire to secure traps to buildings;
  7. hand tools, including a portable power drill, wood and metal saws, tin snips, vise-grips, assorted drill bits, ratchets, wrenches, screwdrivers, pointed awl, mirror, shovel, measuring tape, stud finder, square, and level;

Figure 2. Side panels of a typical WCO truck.

  1. flashlights, inspection equipment, and inspection checklists;
  2. rolled aluminum flashing in several colors, ¼-inch hardware cloth, assorted fasteners (including cotter pins), roofing cement, builder’s adhesive, foam, crevice filler (e.g., Copper Stuf-it®, Xcluder®), duct tape, all-weather tape, high quality color caulks and sealants, and rope;
  3. chimney caps and vent screens;
  4. work gloves, water-proof and chemical resistant gloves, respirator, Tyvek® suits, headlamp, and appropriate footwear for climbing on roofs;
  5. forms, brochures, and educational literature;
  6. fire extinguisher (ABC rated), first aid kit, disinfecting hand wipes, extra keys, and other emergency equipment; and
  7. the vehicle should be configured to power battery chargers and a light for the topper.

Develop a Wildlife Control Solution

Identify the Problem Animal

After introductions, you must determine whether the job involves damage from a transient or resident animal. Proper identification of the type of damage is essential, as it directly relates to what control measures you can propose to the client. Successful elimination should NEVER be guaranteed.

Transient damage involves situations in which one or more animals harm the client’s property but do not reside on the client’s property. For example, a skunk that grubs in the front yard (Figure 4) but lives two blocks away is committing transient damage. Another example is bark stripping by squirrels.

Resident damage occurs when one or more animals actively live on the property belonging to the client, such as a raccoon in an attic (Figure 3) or a skunk under a deck. Damage by resident animals usually can be resolved, provided the law allows the home of the animal to be disturbed. Transient damage is much more difficult to control.

Figure 3. Entrance to the den of a raccoon. Photo by Stephen M. Vantassel.

Managing Client Expectations

Many clients want an instant solution. They may believe you have some magic potion capable of driving wildlife away or luring an animal into a trap. It is very important that you propose client expectations that are realistic. Explain in detail the service you will be delivering, verify that the client understands, and answer any questions they may have.

Understand Client Needs

Before offering control options, be sure you understand the needs of the client and the relationship of those needs to the animal damage you are trying to mitigate or control. There is a difference between being asked to catch squirrels and getting squirrels out of the house. The client may not understand the distinction and you may need to help them. Squirrels can be eliminated from buildings by trapping and the use of one-way doors. The client probably is more interested in controlling the damage, not the animal. Emphasize that you help resolve problems in addition to trapping animals. Explain how conflicts might be prevented in the future.

Selling the Job

Damage inspections are the foundation for effective wildlife damage management. Inspections also lay the groundwork for you to provide options to your clients. Inspections provide the information you need to advise the client about the nature of the problem, the damage that resulted, and how the problem should be resolved. The following discussion lists tools that may help you close a sale.

Digital cameras allow you to document your findings and can be powerful tools for showing clients what is happening in remote areas of their home. Take photos of structural damage (soiled and torn insulation, feces, gnaw marks, urine stains) and structural needs (screens, chimney caps, holes, and areas that wildlife can exploit).

Photo albums are essential to WDM. They provide a visual presentation to reinforce your verbal descriptions. When clients hear about caps, screens, and fences, they may worry that the look of their home will be negatively impacted. Photos that show how something looks after installation can go a long way in alleviating the concerns of a client.

Explain Control Options

How you explain the options for control is driven as much by marketing and psychology as by education. Sometimes you can provide clients plenty of choices, but in some situations, you should provide the quickest solution. Ultimately, you must educate clients enough so that they take control of the problem.

Customer Demands of Services Not Recommended by a WCO

A job does not necessarily need to be declined just because the client does not want to follow your recommendation. You should be very clear about the limits of your work. For example, a client’s garden is being ravaged by a woodchuck and you recommend that a fence be installed. Instead, the client demands that the woodchuck be trapped because she does not want to fence her garden. You explain that the woodchuck does not live on her property and that transient woodchucks are difficult to capture when food is readily available from the garden. She, however, does not care and wants you to trap anyway.

When the client makes a request that does not quite fit your original recommendation you will have to decide whether to accept the terms of the client

An important consideration when making this decision is determining if the request is reasonable. Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Is the request consistent with the business practices of your company? The protocols of your company are designed to protect the client and your business from unreasonable risk and poor service.
  2. Will your company reach its profit goals? If the request diminishes the standard margin, the job is not suitable for service.
  3. Will the client still be happy if the suggestion fails to resolve the complaint?

The last question may seem strange, but people are not always logical. Customers make demands and they sometimes remain unsatisfied even when those demands are met. It is important to be flexible while performing wildlife control, as animals do not always follow expected behavioral patterns. When in doubt, do not hesitate to contact your supervisor or colleagues.

Client Obligations

Responsibilities of the client should always be kept to a minimum so you may perform you job effectively. Reliance on a client frequently results in reduced quality of work and profitability.

  1. Avoid setting traps in areas where you do not have direct access, such as inside a locked building. Exceptions include businesses that have regular hours that ensure someone will be there or when you have been given keys.
  2. Encourage clients to call if a problem arises, such as a bat flying inside a living room.
  3. Clients should be held responsible for disturbing your equipment. This is particularly important for business sites, where some of the workers may oppose control methods. Clients should understand that failure to protect equipment might result in cancelling the job and involve additional charges. Some states have laws against disturbing lawfully set traps and wildlife control equipment.
  4. Clients should not hire another WCO while you are working on the problem. It is better to resign from a job than to be in competition with another company on-site.

If you decide to take a job, explain both verbally and in writing, the limits of your work. Also, make a note if the client refuses your recommended management solution.

Your Obligations

You are required to provide professional service to clients in accordance with regulations and industry standards. The following guidelines may be helpful:

  • Discretion is important, as people love wildlife. Neighbors may want to learn about what you are doing. Be cordial but respect the privacy of the client. Refer the neighbor to the client for more information. Work quickly and without drawing attention.
  • Attractive nuisance is a legal term normally associated with swimming pools. For example, the presence of a pool will draw children to it. To prevent drowning, pool owners must install gates around pools. In other words, you can be held responsible for other people’s irresponsibility. To reduce risk:
  1. use exclusion techniques (Figure 4);
  2. secure traps in locations that are difficult for the public to access;
  3. use solid wall traps and camouflage them in high traffic areas; and
  4. perform services when fewer people are likely to be present.
  • Think about the “what-ifs.” If it’s windy, can a strong gust of wind take the trap off the roof? Is the ladder secure?
  • You are always being watched. Act professionally and ethically and you should not have a problem.

Figure 4. A squirrel that has been excluded into a transfer cage. Photo by Tomahawk Live Trap Co.

Do not promise what you cannot deliver. Clients may press you to provide guarantees and assurances regarding their situation and your service. What you can promise is that you will work until the job is done and that you will stand by the quality of your work.


You are responsible for educating your clients about preventing future problems, which is why thorough inspections are so critical. Inspections help you identify areas of potential concern. Examples of issues you likely will discuss include chimney caps, deck or shed screening, vent screening, crack and crevice filling, tree trimming, habitat modification, and bird feeder modification. Even if you do not perform the service, tell the client what should be done.

Unforeseen Events

Two kinds of unforeseen events typically affect WCOs: mal-occurrences and mistakes. Mal-occurrences are negative events that happen unexpectedly. They may be regrettable and unfortunate, but they did not occur because of sloppy work practices. For example, a tree falling on your trap and killing an animal inside is a mal-occurrence. An animal that is killed because a trap fell off the roof because you did not secure it properly is a mistake. Accidents often are the result of carelessness.

Consider what might go wrong during the time you are working and when you return. For example, when trapping on roofs, check that traps are secured so they cannot fall off the roof. Make sure that you can access a trap if an animal is caught, even if the weather turns bad.

Mistakes include:

  • setting kill traps in public view,
  • forgetting to check traps,
  • dropping traps,
  • failing to secure vent screens properly,
  • dropping a ladder through a picture window, and
  • falling through an attic floor due to misplacement of feet.

When a mistake is made, several steps can be taken to rectify the situation.

  • Acknowledge the error. A cover-up often carries consequences worse than the original mistake. It may help to let the client know that you are aware of the error and that you have corrected it.
  • Apologize if appropriate. Correct the error and its consequences with due haste. Clients understand that “things happen.” They want to know what you will do to make it right. If you satisfy their problem with speed and quality, angry customers can quickly become your best clients and promoters.
  • Notify your manager if a mistake has resulted in property damage, personal injury, regulatory violations, or media attention.
  • Establish a system to ensure that the mistake does not happen again.

High-risk Jobs

High-risk jobs are those in which the wildlife problem is occurring in an area of high visibility or access, such as a shopping mall, theme park, or city park. Sometimes, a high-risk situation is nothing more than a family that cannot or will not keep their children away from your traps. The risks involve the potential for injury to those who have contact with a caged animal, and negative publicity.

  • Work and set traps out of public view. This may involve working beyond normal working hours.
  • Camouflage traps when you cannot hide them.
  • If you set traps, have the client call you as soon as an animal is caught, but do not depend on the client to call. Consider using a trap notification device, which will call your cell phone when the trap is triggered.
  • Work even when the business shuts down for vacation, holidays, or weekends.


The public cares about wildlife. Ethics are principles that can guide the way you conduct your life. A belief in the ethical and humane treatment of animals should guide your behavior. Your work with animals must follow the highest ethical and humane practices because the public holds wildlife in such high regard. Consider how your actions affect the client and the animal. Many traditions teach that proper ethical behavior requires us to treat others the way we would like to be treated. This requires you to look at the situation from both the perspective of the client and animal. Be empathetic and respectful of clients and you are likely to make good decisions.

An understanding of people’s feelings and values will help you navigate the emotionally charged nature of WDM. It is important to appreciate the wide range of attitudes and values that people show for wildlife. Some clients, even those suffering severe damage, may have conflicting attitudes toward offending animals or consideration of lethal termination. They want the animals removed but they may feel guilty for causing the animal harm.

Ethical Guidelines for performing  Wildlife Damage Management

  1. Obey the law. Laws reflect societal standards for the treatment of wildlife. Failure to obey the letter and the spirit of the law exhibits contempt for public values and exposes you to criminal and civil liability, including but not limited to, having a criminal record, prison, and economic loss due to fines and penalties.
  2. Behave professionally. Just because something is legal does not mean it is right or advisable. Education, experience, and good judgment will help you to maintain high professional standards.
  3. Treat clients and wildlife with respect. Behave in a manner that onlookers would agree is appropriate and fair. We recommend that WCOs act in a way that assumes every action will be front-page news or on video. If you do not want it seen in the media, do not do it.
  4. Be sensitive to other viewpoints. Do not argue with clients about wildlife control issues. Explain the law and try to fulfill client expectations as much as is legally and practically possible. Be discrete with neighbors.
  5. Develop your professionalism by improving yourself and the image of the industry. The day you think you know everything about WDM is the first day you step back from being a full professional. Wildlife damage management is an extremely diverse field requiring knowledge about animal behavior, equipment, construction, laws, and public relations. The profession is in constant change.
  6. Avoid the temptation of speaking poorly about your competition. Instead of emphasizing what they do wrong, emphasize how your company does it right.
  7. Your job is to control damage to a level that the client finds tolerable. Encourage clients to see the benefits of enacting long-term solutions, such as exclusion and habitat modification.
  8. Use techniques that have the highest likelihood of catching target animals in the safest and most cost-effective manner.
  9. Participate in trade associations and training opportunities. Encourage others to use the highest ethical standards in WCO work.

Act reasonably, honestly, and ethically,

Wildlife damage management is a complex business with numerous laws and ethical considerations. Use an integrated and humane approach to solving human-wildlife conflicts. Always consider how your actions will affect: the client, your employer, neighbors, on-lookers, the environment, and the animal being controlled. Consider how it will play out on the evening news. Sometimes no “perfect” solutions exist, but you can choose the options with the fewest negative consequences. While your company wants to service client requests, sometimes those requests are unreasonable, dangerous, or illegal. In those situations, the ethical response is to walk away. Do not take money from a client when you do not reasonably believe you can provide effective service.


Evaluations help you to improve your control techniques and your business planning. Success can be evaluated in many ways. A low-key approach might simply be to give customers your card, and ask them to call if they have any problems. Keep in mind that many people don’t return to a business if they’re unhappy — they go to someone else and often tell others about the raw deal that they believed they received. In other words, no news is not necessarily good news.

You could plan a follow-up visit to evaluate your success personally. This, of course, takes time, but you could view this as marketing. Many customers will appreciate this extra effort and that could lead to great word-of-mouth advertising. Also, you see the situation yourself, instead of relying on someone else’s description. Be sure to leave a written inspection report with the client.

If you can’t invest the time to go back to all these sites, you could call or email your customers, or leave them a brief evaluation form to fill out and return. Use a stamped, self-addressed postcard. Then all your customer has to do is fill out the form and drop it in the mail.

If you are performing wildlife control work to make money, you’ll want to know how well you’re doing. Your income minus your costs of doing business is your profit margin.

Once you know your profit margin, think of questions that might affect how you run your business. For example, are you consistently making money on certain types of jobs while losing money on others? Consider focusing on the profitable work or increase the price for the less profitable jobs. On the other hand, some WCOs consider low-cost, less profitable jobs as a way to build their client base.

Check and evaluate your work to become a better WCO so that you have happy customers and you prevent future problems. No matter how often you perform your job, you can always learn something new, or a way to work more efficiently and effectively.

Study Questions for Business Practices

Questions for Reflection

  1. Describe some ways you can help a client feel more in control.
  2. Why is it a poor practice to place many obligations on the client?
  3. You set live traps at a manufacturing facility and repeatedly find the trap doors closed but the traps are empty. What should you do?
  4. The client wants a guarantee that the raccoons will be out of the attic by Friday. How should you respond?
  5. Discuss how you would use traps in a high traffic area such as a mall.

Objective Questions

  1. Of the following actions, which one is the most effective in putting your client at ease?
    1. fulfill expectations
    2. wear the uniform
    3. appear confident
    4. use scientific and technical terms
  2. Identify the job type as either most likely a transient or a resident animal (answers can be used more than once)
  3. resident_____ raccoon in attic
  4. transient_____ raccoon eating garbage
  5. transient_____ skunk damage to grass
  6. resident_____ gnawing on a garage door
  1. Of the 2 types of problems, transient animals or resident animals, which is the easiest to resolve? 
    (circle one)? 
    Transient or Resident

  1. When would it be acceptable to set a trap where you do not have direct access?
  2. whenever the client requests it
  3. if there are no other options
  4. if you are given keys to the locked building that contains the trap
  5. none of the above
  1. Which of the following is an appropriate reaction if a client demands a service that is not recommended?
  2. refusing the job
  3. accepting the client’s terms
    (if the actions are legal)
  4. arguing with the client
  5. call the game warden
  6. a and b
    1. none of the above
  7. Individual grave burials should be at least ____ inches below the soil surface.
    1. 12
    2. 24
    3. 30
    4. 36
  8. True or False – Drowning is an acceptable form of humane dispatch.