[Annual Wildlife Control Issue] Find Answers Over the Phone

Features - Annual Wildlife Control Issue

Getting a handle on your client’s wildlife problem before you arrive at the job site is important and can save you time and money.

September 26, 2013
Stephen M. Vantassel

Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from “The Wildlife Damage Inspection Handbook, 3rd Ed.” To order, visit http://bit.ly/15kDJfn.

When your customer calls about a wildlife problem, it is necessary for you to gather information that will assist you in being prepared to respond to their particular situation. Like a reporter, you need to get as accurate a perspective on the story as possible. Keep the client focused on the present. I have found that customers like to begin talking about their first encounter with wildlife five years ago. Coach the client to talk only about the present situation, preferably within the last 30 days. Remember, your client will be quite distressed. Don’t be surprised if the client overstates the problem. A small problem to you will be a huge problem in the mind of your client. Never forget, reality is whatever you perceive it to be, so don’t get into arguments with your clients. Let them vent a little. Nevertheless, keep your client focused, especially on the events of the past 30 days.

The first rule in animal damage inspections is to know what species exist in your part of the country. Obviously, an animal that doesn’t live in your region couldn’t cause the damage.

Information Needed from Clients. The client should provide you with the following information:

I. General Information. The general location of the problem: structural (such as an attic, basement) or non-structural (such as a garden, lawn, trees or near livestock and pets).

II. Questions for Structural Problems:

a. When did the client first notice the problem, and is the problem noted on a consistent basis? Do they hear noises regularly? If so, when? At night or during the day?

b. What kinds of noises are being heard? Cracking, scratching, grinding, growling, thumping, screeching, etc.?

c. What species of animals have been seen on the property? Have neighbors noticed anything?

d. Does the customer have pets or bird feeders?

e. Have they seen anything unusual lately, such as their dog’s food being scattered about or missing? Items missing or damaged?

f. Have they noticed any signs, such as tracks, scat, middens, damage from chewing, etc.? Have they saved or photographed any of this evidence?

g. Has there been any construction or landscaping work done in the area during the past several months? New construction, tree removal, sewer work?

h. How have they responded to the problem so far? This question is critical because it could help you rule out certain species and also warn you about the possibility of an educated animal.

III. Questions for Non-Structural Damage:

a. When did the client first notice the problem? Is the problem noted on a consistent basis? At night or during the day?

b. What plants or animals have been affected? Have they noticed any evidence, such as tracks, scat, middens, damage from chewing? Have they saved or photographed any evidence?

c. What species of animals have they seen on their property? Have their neighbors noticed anything?

d. Has there been any construction or landscape changes in their area during the past several months?

e. How have they responded to the problem so far? Again, this question is critical because it could help rule out certain species and warn you about the possibility of an educated animal.

With answers to these questions in hand, you are now ready to make an appointment and inspect the property.

When you make your inspection appointments, avoid scheduling them when it is raining or snowing. This optimizes your inspection because you will have improved visibility. Also, avoid inspections when there are strong contrasting shadows. A high sun casts heavy shadows, making it difficult to evaluate dark spaces. Inspecting in daylight hours will not only help you see the outside of the house, but the light will help illuminate holes in the attic when inspecting there. Before ending the call, ask the client to remove any barriers to crawlspaces and attic hatchways before you arrive. Having this done before your arrival will assist you in making the best of your time inspecting.

Finally, handling phone clients requires finesse. You cannot diagnose a problem over the phone every time, nor should you provide free advice, unless of course you recognize that the problem is non-animal related (or another, similar reason). Also, there may be an occasional client that, based on the initial phone conversation, will not be one that you should work with. Clients with aggressive personalities or with extreme concerns about costs may best be avoided.


Qualities of a Good Wildlife Control Technician

Despite all the similarities between pest control and wildlife control activities, important differences remain between these two businesses. Just as the businesses are different, so the characteristics that are needed for the technician are different. Here are a few suggestions regarding the qualities of a good wildlife control technician.

1. Attention to Detail. You probably think this requirement is no different than for pest control technicians. But you would be wrong. If your pest control technician forgets to treat cockroaches at a restaurant, you may lose a client. But if your wildlife control technician forgets to check a trap (and the animal dies), you might be on the front page, face cruelty charges, or both.

2. Persistence. In wildlife control, reducing the number of animals to a tolerable level will not satisfy clients wanting bats eliminated from the house. Wildlife control technicians can’t rely on an insecticide’s residual effects to finish the job for them. They have to work until the last animal is out of the house.

3. Endurance. Wildlife control is physically demanding. Good technicians must be willing and able to carry 32-foot ladders on the first job of the day as well as the last. The day your technician cuts corners and leaves the ladder on the truck is the day when you begin to lose money.

4. Wisdom. Wildlife control evokes strong emotions in your clients as well as nosy neighbors. Your technician needs to have the wisdom in how he answers the question: “What are you going to do with that squirrel?” An insensitive answer and you can expect angry phone calls from clients.

5. Ethics. Today, with the ubiquity of cell phones able to take pictures and video, your technician must be acting as if people are watching, because they might be. The pressure to cut corners is strong, particularly when a client is complaining about how long the removal process is taking. Your technician has to have the moral courage to follow the law and good practice no matter the pressure. Compromise on this issue can cause your company some serious harm.

These five qualities are not the only ones needed in worthwhile employees, but they are certainly among the most important. Keep them in mind when you describe your perfect candidate for a wildlife control technician position. — Stephen M. Vantassel


Act with Caution. Some phone calls require immediate action in order to protect the client from tragic consequences. We cannot provide a comprehensive list as there are too many to consider, but some situations merit special attention.

If the client is calling about a bat in the living space of a home, for instance, then you must inform the client about the risk for rabies exposure. Assume that a bat exposure has occurred if any of the following scenarios have occurred:

  • Client awoke to find a bat flying in the room;
  • Client found a bat in a room with an unattended child (younger than 8 years old);
  • Client found a bat in a room with someone who was mentally unable to assess whether he or she was bitten.

If any of these scenarios has occurred or if your client suspects that a bat exposure has taken place (pets included), you must convince the client to not allow the bat to leave the building. The bat must be captured, without damaging its head, and then tested for rabies. This means no tennis rackets to stun it! Remember, rabies is carried in the saliva and nerve tissues of its victim. If your pet has bitten the bat or has been bitten, you won’t know where the saliva of that bat might be on your client’s pet. If you client has handled the pet without proper protection, I would suggest that you refer your client to a qualified infectious disease specialist. While the likelihood of rabies transfer is low, legal prudence would suggest that you have an expert weigh in and offer their professional advice. Taking extra precautions now will save you a world of regret later.

Another situation that should cause you to immediately warn your client is airborne risk. Say a client called asking about droppings they found while tearing down a wall or other structure. Since most people fail to wear proper personal protection during home remodeling projects, you need to warn your client that he or she (or others involved) may have been exposed to fungal spores of histoplasmosis, for instance, or other airborne infectious agents.

There are many more similar situations. My point is that you need to warn your clients regardless of whether or not you get the job. Be sure to document your conversation as well.


The Problem of Exotics

Regrettably, people are obtaining and releasing exotic pets (like snakes, lizards, etc.) and these can cause conflicts, so you must always keep them in the back of your mind. This advice is particularly important for those residing in warmer climates, because warmer temperatures increase the chances that exotics could survive the winter.

One exotic animal you should think about is the ferret. As they become more popular as pets, we will start seeing more escapees and owners who eventually abandon them. You will have to start learning more about this animal and others, and keep them in mind when inspecting property damage.


The author is a master NWCOA instructor and the recipient of the 2008 and 2012 NWCOA Educator of the Year Awards. He runs the firm Wildlife Control Consultant and is program coordinator for Wildlife Damage Management at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Email him at svantassel@giemedia.com.