By Heidi Zemach for SCN-
A pleasant winter hike on Sunday, Nov 29, turned into a scary race against time for Martha and Dave Story, of Cooper Landing, and their 3 ½-year old Border Collie, Bonney. The Storys were hiking with another couple and four dogs, including Bonney, on Coyote Knob, a trail at about mile 45.5 off the Sterling Highway. Bonney got caught in a powerful 330 Conibear trap, generally used for lynx, coyote, or wolves which was set slightly off the trail, 10 feet from the center of a well-used recreational hiking trail, within range of a dog on a leash.
The Conibear is a powerful trap known as a humane-kill trap as it quickly crushes the animal’s neck and chest and does not leave it to suffer drawn-out painful injuries, as some other traps do. But when it caught their Collie, and began suffocating her, it was frightening for Martha, and for
Dave Story, who had some training in working and releasing traps in college. He describes what happened next in a letter that was circulated to those on Irene Lindquist’s Chugach NF Forest email list:
Our dog, Bonney, was caught in a Conibear trap on Coyote Knob Sunday. It was set less than six feet from the trail with no flagging, other human discernible indications or notification of trapping taking place nearby on this frequently traveled trail.
Three of the four people in our party knew how to release it in a classroom setting but please understand that this is not the experience you will have if your pet ends up in a trap. Whatever knowledge you have will likely be blinded by emotion at least for a moment and you may not have many of those to spare.
All of us immediately lost and attempted to regain our composure long enough to remember what to do. All of us screamed. First in horror and more again in anger while we fruitlessly tried to squeeze the arms together with our hands as fear overpowered our rational thoughts that would eventually lead us to cinching together the arms with her leash as we had so unemotionally seen on a video or done ourselves in a warm room during an emotionally dry demonstration.
Meanwhile Bonney’s tongue, grossly forced from her mouth, was turning blue in front of our eyes and she defecated on us.
The trap will be anchored to something. You rarely see a release demonstration explaining how difficult it can be to gain access to the arms on both sides of the trap when the trap is anchored in a tight area. No demonstration will prepare you for accessing the arms when your trapped pet is the obstruction to their own release.
Bonney kept remarkably calm during the struggle. Her reaction was almost certainly atypical. Other animals might lash out or strain against the trap and their rescuers throughout the process.
The video demonstrations almost always take a couple minutes. It took us at least five. Five minutes can seem like forever. Five minutes might be too long. Bonney was fortunate that it was not too long. She was fortunate that we had knowledge and were able to access it through the fever of the moment. She was fortunate and she will probably be fine. I would not, however, wish the experience on anyone.
While this trap was almost certainly a legal set, legal and ethical are not always the same. It was less than a leash length from a regularly traveled trail and placed in a narrowing of the trail that made non-target species encounters more likely.
You may never encounter an ethically set trap. There are, however, no shortage of traps set by the unethical or uneducated.
If you trap, please educate yourself about how to do so to minimize non-target species and user conflicts.
If you live or play in Alaska with your pets, please educate yourself about how to release traps and snares. Your pet’s life may depend on it.
Dave said he knows a lot of active trappers, and is friends with a good number of them. They work pretty hard to make sure there aren’t conflicts with, he said. The Cooper Landing community has held community trainings on the matter, and the various recreational trail users often work together to assure that all can share the recreation trails safely.
“It shows this is a novice trapper who set this trap,” he said. “Somebody who didn’t think through their actions, and who expended little effort in minimizing potential conflicts with hikers and their dogs.”
Bonney managed to survive the ordeal unscathed. But the Storys returned to the area Monday with some informational items to share with whoever set the trap, informing them about trapping ethics and responsibilities to other trail users. He also feels dog owners should bring along a kit to deal with snares or traps, and the know-how to use them, should their dogs get caught.
Dave and his friend had opened the trap for Bonney together. But on Monday, Martha Story, a strong woman who has worked as a laborer for most of her adult life, spent 20 minutes trying to open the trap in order to practice, and to leave information behind for the trapper to learn from, and in that time had only been able to release one of the two springs, Dave said. “Had she been alone yesterday she would have almost certainly watched Bonney die in front of her.”
“The takeaway I hope people can walk away with is not the false dichotomy of trapping or no trapping, but that the reality of travel in Alaska means exposure to risk and minimizing those risks requires educating yourself and others so individuals are prepared and able to act quickly if circumstances require it,” Story said.
Most trapping seasons run from November 1 to the end of February, but the season for a few species lasts longer, according to USFS Recreation Staff leader John Eavis. Wolf traps could be active well into April.
Find information at the ADF&G’s page linked below or borrow the Alaska Trappers Association video from the Cooper Landing Library.
“Trap Safety for Pet Owners,” a pocket-sized pamphlet, describes the types of traps and snares that may be encountered and provides illustrated instructions on how to free pets swiftly and safely. It is produced by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) and the Alaska Trappers Association (ATA). Copies are available free of charge at department offices, or may be viewed HERE.