Running With Scissors

December 29, 2009 at 4:02 am 9 comments

This week local newspapers carried the latest in a string of stories about dogs killed by body-gripping or conibear-type traps.

Body gripping traps are designed to prevent game from escaping and to kill animals quickly.  Bait lures game to the trap and a wire trigger springs it closed.  The trap crushes the neck or body of the animal and kills it quickly by suffocation or fracturing the vertebra.  This is a good thing when your goal is to kill wildlife humanely.  It is a very bad thing when a beloved pet takes the bait.

Because they’re often set on public lands and baited with the kinds of things that dogs find attractive, conibear traps are a potential danger to any dog running at large.

Sixteen years ago one of my dogs lost his life in a conibear trap.  It was a horrible experience.  A beautiful dog died in my arms because I didn’t know how to save him, so I’m going to tell you how to protect your dog:

  • Don’t turn your dog out and let him run loose.  He doesn’t need that kind of freedom and a free-ranging dog that gets caught in a trap is a dead dog.
  • Learn how to open a trap and carry the equipment you need to do it (two light leashes or strong boot strings) with you every time you go into the field with your dog.
  • If your yard isn’t securely fenced and you live in an area where you may have neighbors that trap, talk to them about trapping.  If there is any chance traps are set near your property, walk with your dog any time he’s off leash during trapping season.  Keep your dog in sight and out of ditches, brushy areas and tall grass on adjacent properties.
  • Since (at least in Minnesota) trapping seasons cover about nine months of the year, if you hike or hunt with your dog it is almost impossible to avoid the woods and fields when traps can be set.  So when you’re out with your dog, make sure you know where he is.  Keep him in sight or use bells, a beeper or GPS to keep track of his location.  Then, if he is trapped, you may be able to release him in time to save his life.
  • Don’t decide that your dog has to be on a leash or in a fenced yard for the rest of his life.  Your dog needs a chance to run loose and risk is a natural and important part of life.  Accept it responsibly.

I admit that for a while after Roy died I was terrified to let Roo run loose.  I imagined threats everywhere.  But the feisty red dog Roy left behind wasn’t about to be denied the freedom she loved – so before long, Roo and I were back on the trail.

I take my dogs for an off leash hike almost every day.  There are risks involved, but we’re ready for most of them.  I carry a small first aid kit with boot laces, tweezers and vetwrap (I don’t need much else on a short hike). My dogs are well trained – they come when they’re called, even when big distractions like deer, people and other dogs are around.  They’re all trained to stop and sit at a distance – a potential lifesaver if one of them accidentally ends up on the wrong side of a road or some fast water.  And while they are generally allowed to run where they want, I make them stay in sight.  Even when they’re not wearing them, I carry a leash for each dog, because I never know when I’ll need one.

I can’t eliminate all risks to my dogs and I can’t be prepared for everything — but I’m sure that the dogs agree that the joy we find in the free-ranging, off leash walks we take together are worth every bit of the risk we take.

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Entry filed under: dogs, minnesota, safety. Tags: , .

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9 Comments Add your own

  • 1. H. Houlahan  |  December 29, 2009 at 5:09 am

    I strongly recommend BUYING a conibear trap and practicing opening it with the tools that you will carry (e.g. bootstraps or thin, strong leashes). I also have several types of leghold trap for opening practice.

    They are not expensive. If you are a member of a dog-related club, get together and do a workshop with them.

    Be careful. You do NOT want to be the person whose arm is caught in the demo trap while your friends fumble to release you. This happened to one of my friends, and she said the pain was comparable to childbirth.

    Also, know the trapping laws in your jurisdiction — seasons, permissible placements and equipment, maximum intervals for checking traps, tagging requirements. When I find a trap that is illegal in any way, I become a burr in the butt of the Game Commission enforcement officers. And I TAKE THE DAMNED THING. It’s illegal to tamper with a trap in PA — but not with an ILLEGAL trap.

    Every trap I have ever found with my foot or my dog’s foot has been illegal in some way. Illegal placement, illegal equipment, no name and address on the trap, improperly secured, exposed to raptors, land set of a trap permitted only in water. If nothing else, the snow will show the evidence that the lazy shit who set it hasn’t been by for days, content to sit in his warm house and let animals suffer in the cold.

  • 2. perri  |  December 29, 2009 at 5:20 am

    Thank you for the information, I’m passing it along to family who – I hope – will never need to know, but are in the position where it’s entirely possible. And thank you, as well, for facing the horror you and your dog experienced, and teaching us how to increase our chances of success.

  • 3. Christina  |  December 29, 2009 at 8:00 am

    I have been reading your blog for a couple weeks now, and it has become one of my favorites (I linked you!). I just wanted to take this moment to say THANK YOU for this very thoughtful post. This is a very important topic for me. I will reply again soon…..hopefully on a lighter subject……but this is an important subject that needs to be brought up again and again. The humane society near me recently put on a seminar by the fish and game, and they educated dog owners about traps and also gave folks the opportunity to practice opening them.

  • 4. Rob McMillin  |  December 29, 2009 at 8:37 am

    … and then there are times I’m glad I DON’T live in the country.

  • 5. Viatecio  |  December 30, 2009 at 2:10 am

    The only country we go out to is our private land…we don’t allow trapping (not that there’s anything significant to trap), but the dog is still supervised as she runs free just in case something comes up. Heather’s idea is a good one, and I’ll probably invest in a few traps on which to practice some day.

  • 6. retrieverman  |  December 30, 2009 at 3:48 pm

    Are conibears legal for ltrapping on land in Minnesota?

    They aren’t legal here, except for water sets for muskrat and beaver. (And hope to hell you don’t catch an otter on them, because otters are a protected speces here!)

    The trap size used for beaver is big enough to kill just about any dog.

    I’ve heard of people illegally setting them at the opening to groundhog burrows, which is very bad if have a small dog that will go to ground after them.

    Modern coilspring leghold traps are not that bad. If a dog gets caught in one, it just holds them, and because most states have a law that requires daily checks to traplines, the chances of a dog being severely injured or killed in one is very low– although I’m sure it does happen, especially in states where this requirement doesn’t exist or isn’t enforced.

    I’ve heard of hound people buying traps and setting them for their dogs in order to teach them to avoid them.

  • 7. SmartDogs  |  December 30, 2009 at 4:28 pm

    Conibear traps up to 7 1/2 inch size are legal for land use in MN. Since the traps are typically baited with meat, catfood, donuts and other things that dogs find extremely attractive, I would not trust trap-proofing for most dogs.

    My kelpie is probably safe because she is an extremely fussy eater and very flighty and neophobic. Audie is bold and food-driven, so much more at risk. I’ll rely on knowing where he is, knowing how to open a trap and carrying the right equipment with me.

  • 8. retrieverman  |  January 5, 2010 at 7:31 pm

    By trap-proofing, I mean actually catching your own dogs in a trap.

    My grandpa’s dogs always avoided leg hold traps after one treatment.

  • 9. SmartDogs  |  January 6, 2010 at 5:03 am

    Yikes! There’s no way I’d even consider trying that with a potentially lethal trap like a conibear!

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