Preventing and Saving Trapped Dogs | Glacier City Gazette
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Preventing and Saving Trapped Dogs

Preventing and Saving Trapped Dogs

By Marc Donadieu
Glacier City Gazette

The snare snaps! Your dog is trapped! Do you know what to do?

The first step is to stay calm and think clearly, as difficult as it may be when seeing your dog in pain and struggling for life. A dog senses your panic.

Knowing how to release a trapped dog may mean the difference between life and death. Even if you have this knowledge, you have a tough task ahead. Without the knowledge, the chance of a rescue becomes much more difficult figuring out how to release a trap on the spot.

Becky Shaffer, an Anchorage Skijor Club Board Member, gave advice about dealing with any injured dog at an hour-long class at Marlow Pavilion in Girdwood’s Forest Fair Park to learn how to prevent dogs from getting trapped and how to rescue them if they are. The class was offered by Four Valleys Community School as part of its summer program. The informative, hands-on class was taught by Shaffer, who teaches skijoring and ended up teaching about dogs and trapping.

“If you come across a dog that is injured by a car or something like that, assessing the situation and calming your own panic is the most important thing. Then being able to think through clearly, like putting the leash on the dog and caring for the dog even though you’re in doubt. It’s almost like pretending things are better than they are.”

Shaffer’s healthy dog was trapped in a conibear trap a few years ago while skijoring and died two months after the incident. Shaffer described how her dog was caught in a trap set for marten in a tree. Fish heads were placed on the traps tines, and marten traps are supposed to be five feet off the ground.

“I’m sure the trap my dog was caught in was not five feet off the ground,” Shaffer said. “The five-foot rule is to prevent dogs from getting caught.”

Shaffer’s first demonstration was with a leghold trap, a spring-loaded, circular metal trap that snaps in half when triggered. She used a three-foot long, three-quarter-inch thick stick to snap the trap.

“It’s designed to hold the animal,” Shaffer said. “These traps are used for most types of animals, wolves, coyotes, minks, muskrat, marten and wolverine.”

Shaffer described the Conibear 330, the biggest foothold trap. “Each of these springs has about 75 pounds of force, so once it’s snapped, you’re trying to […] pull apart 150 pounds of force, which no one can really do. There was an instance in Seward where a dog stuck its head in a trap. It took four people prying at these bars to make enough space for the dog to get its head out.”

The owners told Shaffer that the dog was never the same again after its release, and its behavior was affected. Then she used a stuffed toy dog to demonstrate the trap, which is a body grip trap an animal walks through to get the bait or scent.

The class attendees practiced releasing stuffed animals from the trap using trap setters, 2½-foot long aluminum bars with square notches on one end to grip the trap’s springs and give leverage to set them.

Shaffer then demonstrated how to use a leash to release a dog from a conibear trap. A packing strap or bungee cord can also be used, but it needs a loop on the end for leverage. The next demonstration was how to release a #3 foothold trap. Shaffer stood on the trap’s spring levers to open it and said hiking boots work best for this method.

Shaffer said sometimes a trap catches a dog’s neck and nose, leaving it unable to communicate and breathe effectively with likely lethal injuries, even if released.

“In Palmer, I talked to a dog owner whose dog was trapped like this. He found the dog, but it can’t vocalize. He told me if he had known, if he had attended a class like this and saw the way the dog was caught, they would have calmed down and said their goodbyes rather than freak out and try really hard to get the dog out and have the dog’s last minutes be that end. He talked about accepting that his dog was going to die or was injured enough that it wasn’t going to make it.”

The class moved into describing snares, which are wire cables attached to trees along game trails. Snares are designed to catch part of an animal’s body as it leaps through, causing the cable to constrict as the animal struggles.

The next part of the class focused on preventing a dog from becoming trapped in the first place. Shaffer recommended that pet owners be aware of individual animal trapping seasons are, their length and where traps will likely be set. Each game management unit has areas open and closed to legal trapping, and regulations vary in each unit. She suggested recreating in areas when trapping is not allowed. However, there is no guarantee against illegally set traps.

To learn more about traps, the Gazette spoke with Chugach State Park’s Chief Park Ranger Ben Corwin. He said awareness and prevention are key to keeping dogs out of traps.

“The onus is on both the trapper and the pet owner,” Corwin said. “It doesn’t necessarily all fall on the pet owner’s responsibility. Good trappers have to be responsible out in the field. In areas that are open to trapping, inside and outside the park, pet owners need to be aware of how people trap. There are baits and other scents that would lure just about anything into an area. In areas open to trapping, I keep my pet on a leash.”

Corwin recommends that pet owners pick up the Alaska Department of Fish and Game pamphlet about how to release an animal from a snare.

Trapping is allowed in certain parts of the park, Corwin said, but traps must be set a quarter-mile from an established trail and have to be a half-mile from a developed facility like a parking lot, trailhead or a public use cabin. In CSP, trappers must register trap sets with the state park office.

“That way, we have an idea about who is out there and where they are at, so if a concerned citizen pulled up a trap and brought it to the state office, we can sometimes identify it by its location. If there are any violations associated with it, we can address the trapper it belongs to. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.”

For more information, check the following links.

Trapping Code of Ethics –
Trap Safety Pamphlet –
Check the ADFG website for current trapping regulations for locations, seasons and species.

Marc Donadieu / Glacier City Gazette
Instructor Becky Shaffer demonstrates how to open a leg hold trap.

Marc Donadieu / Glacier City Gazette
Becky Shaffer uses a stick to trigger a leg hold trap to show how it works.

Marc Donadieu / Glacier City Gazette
Small stuffed animals are used to to show a conibear 330 in action and how to release them.