Running With Scissors
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.