The young mother was working in the garden, toddler playing nearby. "Look Mommy, doggee!" She looked up to see a raggedy looking raccoon, lips curled back, drool dripping from its toothy mouth, wobbling towards her little one. She went into "Momma bear" mode and did what had to be done to protect her child with the only weapons she had. She grabbed the raccoon by the neck, and while it was savaging her arms, hands and mid section, she strangled it to death. This is not an American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) approved method for euthanizing wildlife.
Every ten years the AVMA GUIDELINES for EUTHANASIA are updated. AVMA is finally on board with the fact that a Nuisance Control Wildlife Operator (NWCO) may have to deal with a dynamic situation that may not be controllable, and that some fluid situations require a response that may seem outside the bounds of humane treatment.
In some states it is legally required to put down certain wild animals. Most often this is due to rabies, most notably in the raccoon, which has a species specific variant of the virus. In areas having rabies outbreaks a local raccoon population will eventually be significantly reduced, thus nature solves the "too many raccoons" problem. In ten to twenty years, the population increases again, and the cycle repeats.
Any warm blooded creature will get rabies when bitten by a rabid raccoon. Prior to the disease knocking down their population, reports of creatures acting weird, and outright attacks on people and pets, becomes a routine for NWCO professionals. After so many of these calls, you will have protocols for most situations involving a potentially rabid animal. When the public is exposed to regular media coverage of rabies incidents, the public becomes somewhat paranoid, causing your call volume to increase.
Calls come when a nocturnal animal is seen during daylight hours. But, this is not always an indicator of something wrong, as it may have been chased from its hidey hole, or is hungry and hunting for a snack. You need another clue - ask if they see the animal staggering, being aggressive, falling, or foaming at the mouth. Ask the caller if the animal seems to be going somewhere or just stumbling around, aimles. Have a plan if you decide to go.
There are two ways to capture sick wild animals: shoot, or capture it alive somehow. Shooting is the first, quickest and safest option and approved by the American Veterinary Medical Society (AVMA.) The only weapon safe to use in populated areas is a 12 gauge shotgun, because of its low velocity. An adequate shell is a low brass target load with size 6 or smaller shot. The shotgun's choke should be either open or improved-cylinder. The most important ingredient is common sense. A raccoon on the ground presents a downward angled shot, where the pellet trajectory is into the ground. Any other trajectory is not safe.
A shot from 20 yards aimed at the center mass will kill raccoon or fox sized animals instantly. Bag the carcass and clean up any body fluids, blood, hair or feces. Spray the area with a mild bleach solution. The job is done at this point. If there has been human or pet exposure, you may have to process the raccoon for rabies testing - the protocol for this varies among the states but generally involves testing brain tissue. In this case the kill shot should NOT be to the head.
If shooting is not feasible, the second option is live capture. This can be a challenge so having help is better than doing it alone. A rabid raccoon can exhibit wildly contrasting behavior, one moment lethargic and friendly, then suddenly vicious. A net is the preferred tool used to control such a creature. Tranquilizer injection (darting) is another option but you would need access to a controlled drug such as ketamine from a Veterinarian, along with a dart gun. There are seminars held on darting techniques held at various NWCO conventions and elsewhere.
Where shooting is not an option, a gas chamber is AVMA approved. These can be either portable or set up at a fixed location. There are a variety of gasses listed for use. Another method of euthanasia is by injecting an overdose of a drug. Again the substance used is a controlled substance, such as a barbituate. The AVMA is not clear on injecting a fast acting toxin such as a ketone.
The AVMA publishes extensive guidelines for euthanization of all creatures great and small. The Nuisance Wildlife Control industry has followed these guidelines as they pertain to free ranging wildlife. Individual states have their own rules. However, the unpredictable nature of a free ranging wild animal creates problems that cannot be forced on what cannot be controlled and in the latest edition of their guidelines recognizes this reality. In the field it is a judgement call, sometimes made in the heat of a moment and like the "Momma bear," you do what needs to be done.
There are some NWCO's who never euthanize anything no matter what the law or circumstance, while others are at the other end of the spectrum. Never say never. Google "AVMA Guidelines for Euthanasia." for a PDF file of the 9th update (2020 edition.) The section pertaining to wildlife starts in Part III, Section 7.6, on page 97.