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Dogs vulnerable to Idaho wolf traps

Gabrielle Duebendorfer, who lives near Sandpoint, poses with her Australian shepherds. Molly, left, was caught around the neck in a snare set by a wolf trapper in February. Duebendorfer was able to cut the cable as the dog choked.
Gabrielle Duebendorfer, who lives near Sandpoint, poses with her Australian shepherds. Molly, left, was caught around the neck in a snare set by a wolf trapper in February. Duebendorfer was able to cut the cable as the dog choked.

Idaho’s wolf trapping season rekindles the anxiety a Sandpoint woman suffered in February as her dog, with a cable locked around its neck, nearly choked to death in her arms.

“I want people to know their dogs can be caught in these traps,” Gabrielle Duebendorfer said, noting that wolf trapping is allowed in the Idaho Panhandle Nov. 15-March 31.

During Idaho’s first wolf trapping season in 2011, a trapper had posted signs warning that traps were being set on national forest land adjacent to Duebendorfer’s property.

She regularly uses the area to hike or ski with her dogs on logging roads closed to motor vehicles. “It’s like my backyard,” she said.

She continued to go in the area with her dogs on heal. She said she even looked for the traps “and, to be honest, to try to chase the wolves away.” But she said she had no intention of tampering with the traps, which would be illegal.

Last season, when she saw no signs or the trapper, she let her dogs run freely with her during her winter outings on cross-country skis.

She was skiing with Molly, her Australian shepherd, when the dog was caught in a snare set along the road.

Idaho law allows traps to be set anywhere beyond “5 feet of the centerline of any maintained public trail.”

“I had never seen one of these things but was able to unclip it from the tree,” she said. She couldn’t find a tag on the snare cable with the trapper’s name and contact information. “So I couldn’t call him for help,” she said.

In Idaho, traps must have identification, but that can be done on a copper tag stamped with the trapper’s ID number.

“I was not able to undo the noose itself and led my dog holding the other end all the way home. Unfortunately, every time she resisted my lead the noose tightened more,” Duebendorfer said, not realizing she should have used a leash rather than the self-tightening snare cable to heel the dog.

“It took me over an hour, accompanied by great distress and fear, to cut through a metal stranded cable that just flattened the more I tried.”

She said the dog was having difficulty breathing.

“To watch your dog slowly wither in your hands as you struggle is an experience you don’t wish on anyone,” she said.

Dave Overman, Idaho Fish and Game Department conservation officer, said snares sometimes can be released in the field by hand by twisting or flipping the lock and sliding it back.

“They’re designed to tighten more and more and not let up if the animal struggles,” he said. “The cable can become embedded in the dog’s flesh making it difficult even to cut off without special cable cutters.”

Idaho wolf trappers are required to take a certification course in which ethics are emphasized, Overman said.

“We encourage trappers not to put snares directly on trails used by people or wildlife, such as deer,” he said. “We emphasize that even though it’s not illegal to do something, if it’s ethically wrong, don’t do it. We don’t want to regulate every action. We encourage trappers to avoid conflict with other outdoor users.”

The trap that snared Duebendorfer’s dog “was placed within several feet of our regular cross-country skiing path on a Forest Service road and within half a mile above our house,” she said.

“To the credit of the trapper, he came by when he discovered the scene, quite concerned about the outcome, and we had a very fruitful discussion.”

She said the trapper showed her how to release a dog from a trap should it ever occur again, but he didn’t suggest he would stop trapping.

“While I still resent wolves being hunted or trapped – we had previously enjoyed tracking them and listening to their howling – I really honor the integrity and diligence of this trapper who is putting in a lot of time and effort to continuing an age-old practice out in the woods.”

But she said she’d at least like to see trappers required to post signs warning that they’ve set traps on public land and giving instructions on how to release a pet that gets trapped.

“The trapper told me he could see (two years ago) that I was exploring for his traps and that’s why he didn’t put up a sign the next year, because he didn’t want his traps messed with,” she said.

The trapper told her he’d put up a sign if he returned to the area, but he hasn’t showed up yet this season, she said.

“I’ve made my peace with it, but I’d just like to know if there are traps out there, especially along a path that’s obviously used by people on foot, skis and snowmobiles. People need to be aware.”