Uptick in dogs caught in traps this winter
February 11, 2021
Three dogs have been caught in traps during the past two months. Most recently, on Jan. 30, Bodhi, a husky mix, got his foot caught in a leg-hold trap on the river bank roughly one-quarter mile from the 7 Mile Haines Highway trailhead, after running away from his owners.
“On the trail, one mile from the road, he disappeared,” Bodhi’s owner Jessie Adams Weinert said. Adams Weinert said she and her skiing companions searched for Bodhi, but were unable to locate him that evening. They found him roughly 18 hours later.
“His foot was really swollen, like a big bear paw,” Adams Weinert said. It was also frostbitten. “It made a hard sound when it hit the dashboard.”
She said the paw started losing skin and began smelling fishy once it started to thaw. Adams Weinert put Bodhi on a flight to Juneau to receive more intensive frostbite treatment. She estimates medical care will cost roughly $1,000 including flights, and said at this point, she doesn’t know if he will keep the paw.
Two weeks earlier, another dog was caught in a leg-hold trap in the same area after slipping out of its harness, and on Dec. 12, Mira, a 60-pound lab mix, got caught in a body trap while walking along the beach with her owners who were helping with debris cleanup after the Dec. 2 landslide.
“She was right next to me when I heard a metal clanking sound. I looked down and she had this trap on her—one jaw across her skull and the other jaw was under her jaw bone. She was just immediately choking,” Mira’s owner Jake Eckhardt said. “All I could really do at that time was grab the jaws of the trap and pull with all my strength.”
Eckhardt said he was able to create enough space to allow Mira to slip her head free from the body-grip trap. He then hooked the trap on a nearby sapling to keep it from closing on his hands. He said the incident left Mira with an area of swelling on the head, but she seems to have recuperated.
Eckhardt said he finds it unfortunate that a trap was set on the beach, just around the corner from Picture Point, during a time when dozens of people were combing beaches, looking for debris. It prompted him to look into the state’s trapping regulations.
According to state law, trapping is a legal activity, allowed on public lands and on private property with the owner’s permission. Individual municipalities can create more stringent rules, but Haines hasn’t.
Dogs caught in traps are a perennial occurrence in the community, according to Haines Animal Rescue Kennel director Tracy Mikowski. “Every trapping season, I hear of at least one encounter of some sort,” she said.
As a general rule, trappers try to avoid highly trafficked areas when they set their traps, wildlife trooper Colin Nemec said. “Trappers don’t want to catch dogs. It means they’re not doing the proper job, and they don’t want to cause harm to someone’s pet,” he said.
Nemec said the responsibility for keeping dogs safe ultimately falls to the pet owner--keeping dogs close, and knowing when and where it’s appropriate to let dogs off leash.
“Safer places are well-traveled trails—Chilkoot Lake, the beach near Pyramid Island, the cruise ship dock, Battery Point,” Colin said. “If you’re hiking in the woods at the end of a road, you should probably keep dogs leashed.”
Learning how to release a dog from a trap is also important for protecting pets when hiking, Mikowski said. “Making sure you have tools so if your dog gets caught in a snare, you can free it, encouraging people to be educated about trap lines, so they can recognize them when they see them,” she said.
Both Eckhardt and Adams Weinert said they support the right to trap but think there’s room for improvement in the laws regulating the activity.
“What I think would help would be if we had some sort of guidance on trap marking--if a person had to mark their trap location--that way people along the beach could see if there’s a trap,” Eckhardt said.
He said right now, the possibility of coming across an unmarked trap while walking on a beach near town limits non-trappers’ ability to use public lands.
“If a trapper puts a trap on the beach and no one knows it’s there, then any other person has to assume there are traps everywhere to stay safe,” he said. “Everyone wants to go out and use public spaces in the way that suits them the best. If we can all figure out how to do this in the safest way possible while allowing maximum use of land, I think that’s a good thing.”
Eckhardt said he plans to bring the issue to the assembly.
Long-time trapper Tony Malone said signage can come at a cost. On several occasions, including this year, people have vandalized and destroyed his traps, and the risk of that increases if signs are posted, he said.
Both Nemec and Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) wildlife biologist Carl Koch declined to list common trapping areas near town for the same reason. They said tampering with another person’s trap is prohibited by state law.
Malone said dog owners, of which he is one, need to be responsible when it comes to keeping their animals safe. He said there needs to be areas where residents can let their dogs run free without fear of nearby traps, but that trappers’ rights to use the land should be equally considered. He and the trappers he knows, Malone said, don’t want to cause conflict between various users of the land.
“There are some areas where you should be able to let your dog run, if it’s an area where it’s combined use. If you know people are hiking and skiing with their dogs, there needs to be this line of communication between all the parties so they can have use, and have access,” he said. “Nobody likes to give in but we’re all going to have to give in just a little to achieve a common goal, and that is for everybody to have use for their winter activities, their passions.”
Dogs getting caught in traps is an issue throughout the state, particularly in more populated areas, according to Koch. He said in Juneau, every November, ADFG hosts a “sharing the trails” meeting to try to promote awareness.
“Trappers bring in traps and show how they operate, and let dog owners look at them,” Koch said. He said given the uptick in incidents in Haines this trapping season, it might make sense to conduct a similar educational meeting next November.
Trapping seasons vary, depending on animal species. In Haines, the earliest start is Nov. 1, and the latest end date is May 15.
For dog owners, instructional videos for how to release a pet from various types of traps can be found on the ADFG website: https://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=trapping.sharing.