During the past several weeks here in Minnesota I’ve been reading about sportsmen occasionally dealing with a pet that has become caught in an animal trap, often set legally, albeit sometimes not placed with the absolute best judgment on the part of the trapper. It’s a situation that has created somewhat of a stir in the local outdoors community, even though, I must say, such unfortunate incidents remain quite rare no matter how you choose to look at the matter.
I haven’t personally “set any steel” for a number of years now but I surely remember those early years with a deep fondness for the activity. In particular, I can recall over the years two different neighbors who got their dogs caught in a trap (not mine), but contacted me only to vent their frustration with the situation. It happens! In both cases the neighbors removed the dog and the trap…and subsequently gave me the trap probably believing I would be more responsible with it. Truth is no matter how careful a trapper tries to be you cannot totally eliminate the possibility of a non-target animal stepping in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Yet, a smart and conscientious trapper shouldn’t put themselves into that sort of situation. If you choose to set a trap near roads or farmyards the trapper only invites trouble. My rule of thumb has always been that if you can see a home from where you are setting a trap it is likely not the wisest location to be placing a set. Furthermore, as a trapper, one must choose equipment and set locations with the utmost care. No furbearer is worth the risk of trapping or perhaps accidentally killing someone’s beloved pet.
It all comes down to education. Not only on the part of the trapper, but yes, to some degree on the pet owner, as well. In Minnesota a new law goes into effect this year requiring all new trappers born after December 31, 1989, to attend a trapper education course and get a certificate. The exception is if a young trapper can present a trapping license held from a previous year this will serve in lieu of the education certificate. I think this is a fine start…but we must also realize that with the ever challenging problem of urban encroachment the incidence of trappers conflicting with humans and their pets will likely not be going away anytime soon. I can think back to where I trapped 25 years ago and many of these once “prime spots” would not now meet my definition for being a safe place to trap.
All of this is good…but the education does not end with just the trapper. Sportsmen who have no interest in trapping should also spend a few minutes necessary to understand how traps work. Next time you go to the hardware or sporting good store…go over to the trapping section. Pick up a few traps and look them over carefully to understand how they function. Do you know the difference between a conibear and a leg-hold trap? You certainly should…a well rounded sportsman will have the most basic understanding of equipment even if the person does not choose to partake in that activity. Knowing how to release a dog from a conibear trap requires quick thinking action. It also requires a fundamental understanding of how the device works. When time is critical and a dog is suffocating that is not the time to determine how such devices work for the very first time. It is prudent upon all sportsmen to, at the very least, learn how the tools of the trapper’s trade operate.
I know it can be frustrating when a loved pet encounters a trap. It has happened to me…fortunately it was not a conibear set but rather a leg-hold trap. If you’re not a trapper it is easy to condemn this century’s old sportsman tradition and make waves about how its a sport that does not belong in a modern world. To do so, I strongly believe, would be completely wrong and irresponsible. At the time of such an incident emotions often run high on the part of the pet owner…and that is certainly understandable. Still, I have always lived by the credo that my best decisions or actions made in life were not those that were based (or guided) strongly by my emotions. And I believe this holds true even when non-targeted animals are accidentally trapped and the pet owners quickly condemn.
Trappers and pet owners need to both do a better job understanding one another. To sum it up, both parties need to be held to a higher level of responsibility and accountability for how they carry out their activities. It’s easy to condemn the trapper…as is often the case. But the pet owner needs to sometimes look at how their actions may have put their pet into that situation in the first place. Was the dog allowed to roam free? Could the situation have been avoided by simply taking a different route that day? Sadly, we live in a world where it is always the other guy’s fault and rarely do people assume their fair share of the responsibility and blame when perhaps they should.
As fur prices begin to inch back toward those historic high levels of the late 70’s, we can reasonably expect that trapping will entice more novice participants who are eager to try a new sport about which they likely still have much to learn. Now would be a good time for both pet owners and trappers alike to share in the responsibility of keeping pets safe. Our sportsman community doesn’t need the continuing bad publicity that has recently been generated…and I believe with a bit of education and common respect it will go a long ways toward minimizing these negative encounters for the future.
© 2007 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction Allowed Without Prior Permission.