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When You Least Expect It SNAP! Traps Maim and Kill like LANDMINES

From Animal Issues, Volume 40 Number 1, Spring 2009

Published 03/16/09
By Barbara Schmitz, Senior Program Associate

Excruciating pain. Lost limbs. Even death. These are the results of trapping ... not only for the wild animals whose furs are stripped from their bodies, but also for family dogs and cats and even endangered species who are “incidentally” caught in the remorseless jaws of leghold traps, Conibear traps, or snares (cable nooses).

In a recent letter to 20,000 activists, Born Free USA CEO Will Travers warned of the potential for horrible damage to dogs and cats from these body-crushing devices. His dire predictions proved right. During the last year alone, we have received news of at least 44 “non-target” animals (and 1 human) being caught, injured or killed in traps across 16 states* and Canada. Sadly, dogs are the most frequent unintended victims of these non-selective contraptions, as the following two recent tragedies demonstrate.

In mid-November 2008, while walking with his guardian along a golf course path in Vernon Hills, IL, Rupert, a 55-pound chinook, was choked to death when he investigated a trap baited with fish oil. Rupert was a therapy dog for children with disabilities. The trap was set forty feet off the path in the woods. After trying in vain to free Rupert from the trap, the Poska family called 911. Police responded quickly, but Rupert died anyway. It took three men to pry the trap’s springs open in order to release Rupert. The trapper, hired by the golf course, laid the traps for muskrat and skunk, but no warning signs were posted.

Grizzly, a 4-year-old family Rottweiler, was playing with another dog in front of his house in Anchorage, AK, in November 2008 while his caregiver shoveled snow from the driveway. Grizzly apparently smelled meat used as bait in a bucket on a neighbor’s porch. He was gone just moments, but returned running covered in blood and crazed with pain with a Conibear 220 trap locked on his head. Sadly, Grizzly died in transit to Pet Emergency. It took four people to get the trap off the dead dog’s head.

These real incidents are horrifying, tragic, and completely unnecessary.

Traps Are Still Out There

Although this year’s recreational and commercial trapping season has ended, traps are still out there, and animals will still be caught. During the season, hundreds of thousands of body-crushing traps and snares are baited and set, but not all of them are retrieved by the trappers. Some trappers set the traps and then walk away because the traps they use are inexpensive and they simply can’t be bothered to collect the ones they’ve set. Meanwhile, the unretrieved traps wait like landmines, primed and ready to explode into deadly action. Other trappers simply choose to set the traps illegally.

Then there are the damage control trappers. Each year, more than four million animals are trapped and killed in the U.S. — eradicated in the name of livestock or game protection or eliminated as part of nuisance control measures. Many of these animal control programs are funded with taxpayer dollars.

A branch of the United States Department of Agriculture, ironically called “Wildlife Services,” spends $100 million annually on its chief goal of killing wildlife in enormous numbers. In 2007 alone, 2.4 million animals were destroyed by Wildlife Services because they were deemed a “nuisance” to ranchers, farmers, or municipalities.

Wildlife Services kills this staggering number of animals using cruel steel-jawed traps, other body-gripping traps, and snares. In addition, it shoots animals from the air and lays deadly poisons. All of these techniques, but particularly traps and poisons, are largely random and non-selectivity. This results in the killing of many “non-target” species, as well. The species killed, both intentionally and “by mistake,” include dogs, cats, birds, coyotes, bears, river otters, foxes, turtles, rabbits, bobcats, raccoons, and squirrels. For a chart of this information, as compiled by Wildlife Services, click here.

Wildlife Services’ work is conducted on behalf of the livestock industry. However, data show that wildlife plays an insignificant role in livestock losses.

Reduce the Suffering

So, what can be done to reduce the suffering animals in cruel traps? And, more specifically, what is Born Free USA doing about it?

Born Free USA is a recognized leader on the issue of trapping. We expose the awful truth and work to eliminate cruel and archaic leghold traps, vicious wire snares, and Conibear kill-traps used to inflict pain, suffering, and death.

We actively work with legislators and government policymakers to enact stronger laws, ensure state agencies are rigorously enforcing existing protections, and we champion alternative methods of animal control that don’t hurt or kill animals. In a given year, we weigh in on about 30 pieces of state legislation that relate to trapping, with our focus being the handful of bills that will either hurt or help the most animals. Often, we find ourselves fighting against legislation advanced by trappers who want to weaken existing laws. As this article goes to press, we are challenging legislation being promoted by trappers in Nebraska and South Carolina and several other states. We have successfully defeated bad legislation in Illinois and Minnesota in recent years and we are now preparing to fight regressive trapping legislation in California for the fourth year in a row.

We also have successfully sued the states of Maine and Minnesota to limit their use of traps in order to protect threatened and endangered species.

To achieve concrete results for the animals, we work in concert with other organizations and also serve as active members of coalitions.

Amazingly, State Wildlife Agencies don’t track data on the unintended victims of trapping — but we do. It is estimated that thousands of “non-target” animals fall victim to snares and leghold and Conibear traps each year. We track trapping incidents right across the country and maintain a database of incidents reported to us where a dog, cat or other animal was trapped, and we use that information to educate lawmakers and others to help prevent other animals from suffering a similar fate in the future.

You can help: Simple changes in your daily habits can make a difference — and maybe save an animal’s life. Here are some simple guidelines:

  • Warn your friends about the possibility of hidden traps, especially if they hike with their dogs
  • Report incidents to us at www.bornfreeusa.org/trappingreport or call (916) 447-3085 x208
  • Join our Action Alert Team to help support stronger laws and to challenge the trappers’ efforts to weaken existing laws
  • Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper, raising this important issue
  • Avoid buying anything made with fur
  • Encourage your local community to utilize nonlethal methods of dealing with “nuisance” wildlife (See our Humane Ways to Live with Wildlife brochure)
  • If you own property, clearly post signs prohibiting trapping on your land. Prosecute violators
  • Share this information with others

* Non-target animal trapping incidents were reported in the following states: Alaska, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, and Virginia.

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