Alaska officials show how to release trapped pets

Bob Hunter demonstrates releasing a pet from a trap at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014, in Fairbanks, Alaska. A recently released brochure, titled "Trap Safety for Pet Owners," is part of a concerted effort by ADFG and the Alaska Trappers Association to increase public education about trapping and reduce conflicts with pet owners. (AP Photo/Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Eric Engman)

FAIRBANKS (AP) — Anyone who doesn’t believe a normal person with no knowledge of trapping can open a body-gripping Conibear trap should talk to Sarah DeGennaro.


A wildlife technician at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Fairbanks at the time, DeGennaro, who is also an artist, was asked to draw some illustrations to accompany a brochure the department was putting together for pet owners about how to release their pets from traps and snares.

As part of her research, DeGennaro tried out the different release techniques for herself. She was able to open all the different types of traps, including leg-hold traps, body-gripping traps and snares.

“That leash one is pretty difficult,” DeGennaro admitted, referring to a technique in which a dog leash is used to pull open the springs on a Conibear 330 body-gripping trap. “It’s strenuous to try to do that.”

But DeGennaro, who knew nothing about trapping when she started the project, was able to do it.

“I had to do that to try and figure out how the illustrations should look,” she said.

In that sense, DeGennaro served as a guinea pig for the project. The newly released brochure, titled “Trap Safety for Pet Owners,” is part of a concerted effort by ADFG and the Alaska Trappers Association to increase public education about trapping and reduce conflicts with pet owners.

The pocket-sized, fold-up, brochure describes in detail the three kinds of traps that pet owners may encounter — foot-hold, body-grip and snares — and step-by-step instructions, complete with drawings by DeGennaro, on how to remove them.

“It came out awesome,” said Mike Taras, a wildlife education specialist for ADFG in Fairbanks who worked on the brochure.

The brochure includes suggestions for a “trap removal tool kit” that pet owners can carry with them in the event an animal is caught in a trap. The kit includes things like a stout rope or strong leash that’s eight feet long, something to use for a muzzle to avoid getting bit, bailing wire or zip ties to hold open trap springs and a piece of wood to put under a trap to keep it from sinking in the snow.

The brochure also contains general information about trapping that pet owners should know, such as keeping dogs on leashes when walking in the woods, never trying to release a wild animal, and being aware that it is illegal to tamper with legally set traps or snares.

Joe Letarte, president of the Alaska Trappers Association in Fairbanks, was happy the way the brochure turned out. Given the sensitivity of the topic involved, the brochure received considerable critical review, he said.

“There were a lot of people involved in it,” he said. “It was a lot of work and I think the end result is pretty good. I think it’s going to benefit everybody.”

Letarte said the brochure was tested out on other non-trappers like DeGennaro.

“We had people who knew nothing about trapping or traps do it,” he said. “They were able to read the brochure and open the Conibear.”

The department printed 5,000 of the brochures, which are available free from ADFG offices. The brochure may also be viewed and downloaded on ADFG’s website at

The department also recently produced a series of five videos showing pet owners how to open the different traps featured in the brochure, including body-grip, coil-spring, jump, long-spring, and snares. The videos are posted on ADFG’s website (

“They really show you how these traps work,” said Taras, who produced the videos.Bob Hunter, hunter education coordinator for ADFG in Fairbanks, starred in the videos. Hunter used his daughter’s stuffed husky as a dummy in the videos and the traps he used were painted blaze orange for better visibility.

“It worked out pretty well,” said Hunter, who joked that he’s hoping his role will earn him an invitation to the Cannes Film Festival.

Granted, if a body-grip trap works the way it’s supposed to, there’s a good chance it will kill a dog before it can be released, Hunter said. Body-gripping traps like Conibears are designed to kill animals quickly by breaking their necks, he said.

“It depends on the size of the dog, the size of the trap, how it gets caught and its initial reaction to the trap,” Hunter said of freeing a dog from a large, body-grip trap. “It’s not like you can just squeeze it here and you’re done. You have to know how it works and use the leash properly to get leverage.”

In the video, it’s obvious that Hunter has to use considerable effort to get the trap open.

“We tried not to downplay it,” he said. “It’s not easy but it can be done.”

To that end, Hunters offers tips in the video such as using a round leash instead of a flat leash because flat leashes can get caught on the gap in the springs and bind up. He also emphasizes quick action and warns pet owners to be careful about injuring their dogs when trying to release them from traps.

Overall, Hunter said the videos turned out “very well.”

“They’re very brief and they go through the different positions to get better leverage,” he said.

Granted, most dogs probably won’t be nearly as cooperative as his daughter’s stuffed husky, Hunter said, but the videos “give people a better idea of how the traps work.”

The idea for the brochure and videos came as a result of increased demand from the public for workshops on how to release pets from traps, mainly in the Southcentral region, Taras said.

After searching the Internet for other videos on releasing pets from traps, Taras said the department decided to make their own.

“It was hard to find good, quick videos that show you exactly how to get your pet out in the proper way,” he said. “The stuff we have right now it the best out there.”

Like the brochure, the videos received considerable scrutiny. In fact, some last-minute editing was required after it was noted that Hunter used the term leg-hold instead of foot-hold twice in the video, even though the term leg-hold has been used for more than 100 years.

DeGennaro was happy to help with the project and said she hopes it will help reduce conflicts between trappers and pet owners.

“I think it’s great to have pet owners know traps might be out on trails and they need to be aware and ready if anything happens,” she said. “Hopefully it can save some dogs’ lives.”


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