ASBURY, Ala. (WHNT) - A Marshall County man said he knew it was against the law to have two raccoons as pets, but he said he rescued them and was trying to raise the wild animals until they were big enough to go off and live on their own.
Marcus Carter told WHNT News 19 he was heartbroken when Conservation Enforcement Officers took the raccoons and killed them due to state law and policy.
"They were part of our family," Carter said. "[Officers] come into my home and they took my family, and they went and murdered them for no reason. They didn't have to kill them."
He has 11 dogs and three cats, and said the raccoons were like any other family pet.
"It's hard to explain," Carter said. "I know people have dogs and cats, but Smoky Bandit and Maliwan, they were, they were intelligent, they were very smart, they were very loving."
Carter said he got the raccoons from his sister in April 2012, after a man shot an adult raccoon for getting in the trash. That man later found four baby raccoons under his porch.
He said he researched raccoons on the Internet and found articles that said raccoon mothers usually care for their young for about a year. Carter and his wife Jodi tried to fill in as mother, as they fed the raccoons milk with bottles and trained them to climb trees.
"From our understanding that around about a year, we could start working them into the wild and that they would be able to survive and maintain as long as we kept the bare necessities there for them," Carter said, and the raccoons turned one year old this month.
"They slept under our bed, on our mattress, they didn't stay locked in cages," he said.
"They were pretty much free. They did go and come as they wanted to. Sometimes they choose to sleep in the house and sometimes they would choose to sleep in the little building I built out back for them in a tree."
Conservation enforcement officers went to the Carters' home in mid-April to warn them that it was illegal to have raccoons as pets in Alabama, according to state law.
"It's against the law to have any type of wildlife captive," game warden Jim Kirkland said.
"Mainly for a safety issue. They're wild animals. There's always a potential that they could hurt you intentionally. Also, veterinarians are not supposed to treat them or vaccinate them for rabies or anything. Basically you can't get any type of shot to prevent rabies," he said.
A few days after the warning, the District Attorney issued a search warrant for the home, and several conservation enforcement officers and sheriff's deputies went to the home.
"We only make an arrest as a last resort," Kirkland said. "It's not anything we really want to do. It's probably our least favorite part of our job is having to deal with captive wildlife."
The investigators took the animals and euthanized them in order to test for rabies. The most common method of testing raccoons for rabies is by taking a brain sample.
"They have to be put down to be tested. Before the test can be performed, they have to be euthanized, so that's why that has to be done," Kirkland said.
"We just can't take a chance when human life is at stake like this," he said. "The health department tests it. If a human catches rabies from an infected animal, it's pretty much deadly to the human" the conservation enforcement officer said.
Carter said rabies was a risk he was willing to take to care for the baby raccoons.
"Everybody has choices to make, we all have our own life choices to make where we put our life in our own hands. I think that was our decision," Carter said.
"Me and my wife took the chance that if we would have rabies and we raised them, that was our choice. Nobody else was affected because these animals stayed in our home."
Carter said he kept close watch over "Smoky" and "Mally" to make sure they did not come in contact with other wild animals and said he would have known if they caught rabies.
He is looking for an animal rights attorney to stand up for his animals, and said he intends to file a lawsuit against the game wardens as he believes they used excessive force in the removal of the animals, and also claims they violated his due process. He said the conservation enforcement officers are supposed to protect wildlife, not euthanize it.
Kirkland said euthanasia is unfortunate but necessary. He said the simplest advice to people who want to rescue wildlife is to leave it in the wild and not try to make it a pet.
"The best thing to do is leave it there. Its best chance is to leave it there. Often times they're not in distress, often times the mother is going to return to them. Taking them and trying to make a pet out of them is not going to end well for the animal at all. Its best chance is to leave it there and let Mother Nature take its course."
Marcus Carter is charged with Illegal Possession of Wildlife, which is a misdemeanor.
MyPetRaccoons.com has a list of the state laws regarding keeping raccoons as pets.