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Monday, August 19, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Gabrielle Duebendorfer: Trappers, please consider neighbors and family pets

Molly, trapped in a wolf trap, on January 5th. (Courtesy photo)
Molly, trapped in a wolf trap, on January 5th. (Courtesy photo)
Gabrielle Duebendorfer

One of the joys of living off the grid is having access to the woods at large with my dogs. We jog and cross-country ski year round and rarely meet anyone.

Imagine the surprise when I recently didn’t have my dog following me anymore. I found her caught in a double flat spring wolf trap right at the edge of the road, which I had skied along for the past 25 years. I was several miles from home without a phone and I found no way to get her out of the trap alone without hurting her or myself. It took several hours to recruit neighbors and find a way to transport her home.

While it was quite a traumatic endeavor to get her released out of the trap, she completely recovered the next day. These wolf traps are designed to not harm the animals as they are used for research purposes as well, but quite difficult to open alone with a dog inside even if you know how to open it.

This is not the first time she got caught in a trap. Shortly after wolves were delisted, another trapper set traps not too far above our house, also in a place that we frequent year-round. That time it was a noose that almost choked her to death as they are designed to close down if the animal pulls on it and I didn’t know how to open it. Pliers don’t work on these twisted cables! It is horrible to be with your dog as she is slowly choking to death.

I very much appreciated both trappers, as they were quite willing to communicate with me. The recent one later called to let me know when he removed the traps once he had gotten what he wanted.

However, I see several problems with this whole issue. The new approved Idaho Fish and Game Department rule increased the required distance for traps from 5 feet to 10 feet from the centerline of a trail – that includes any road that is not paved, like for example Sand Ridge Road, which connects Grouse Creek and Elmira Road. Most trucks won’t make it up this road in winter but it is frequented by snowmobiles and, in our neck of the woods, by skiers and hikers who have no way of knowing when and where traps are set. Trappers may mark the area at their own discretion, but tend not to as people either steal or disturb the traps.

Growing up in Germany I always had a romantic vision of trappers in the Wild West. I specifically recall reading “Im Letzten Westen” (“In the Last West”) by a Swiss adventurer, Arthur Heye, who with his wife trapped in Alaska in the early 1900s for a year to experience the last frontier. No wonder I ended up here in North Idaho, living off the grid. However, my attitude to trapping has changed a bit in the meantime. Having tracked wolves and bobcat in our “backyard” with our kids, having discovered dens, having heard wolves howling, and having had to deal with skinned cat carcasses, made me appreciate these wild animals alive.

While I honor the right and freedom of trappers to do their job, I do wonder whether there could be some etiquette to not set up traps right near neighborhoods where residents live year-round or near frequented roads or trails, paved or not paved. The new IDFG rule increased the required distance from the edge of paved trails to 300 feet. This is somewhat safer for human and pet traffic, but really should be applied to nonpaved roads and trails as well.

This trapper’s and others’ suggestion has been to keep my dogs on the leash. I find it quite difficult to cross-country with two dogs on a leash, especially in deep snow. Besides, that takes all the joy out of exploring the woods with my animals. My dogs are trained to stay near the trail but that doesn’t keep them out of traps set right on the edge of a wide road.

If you are a trapper, please consider the neighbors you are affecting when you are putting up traps and skinning cats. There are vast expanses of woods here that are not regularly visited by other people and pets in the winter. My dog disappeared about two weeks ago – hopefully she did not get caught in another trap that I didn’t know about. Please call North Idaho Animal Hospital in Sandpoint if you found her.

Gabrielle Duebendorfer lives in Sandpoint.

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