Untrapping can save a pet's life: Opening trap can mean life or death

Posted: Friday, December 04, 2009

As was illustrated by the recent incident involving musher Jane Faulkner's dog being caught in a trap (Peninsula Clarion, Dec. 2), it is important for more than just those pursuing furbearers to know how to operate the tools of the trade.

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Using a Conibear brand trap and a coyote pelt, Rob Massengill of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game demonstrates one technique for getting a pet out of a trap:

The Soldotna Community Schools Program, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and the Kenai Peninsula Trapper's Association will host a trapping and snaring clinic from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at the Soldotna Sports Center.

Reduction of user group conflicts and instruction in safe and ethical trapping methods are the primary goals of this clinic.

"The non-trapping public and youth interested in trapping are encouraged to attend," said Larry Lewis, a wildlife technician with Fish and Game. "Morning sessions are geared towards instruction for those with little or no trapping experience."

Lewis said these sessions will focus on an introduction to trapping, understanding the regulations, how to release your pet from a trap or snare if accidentally caught, and ways to recognize and avoid a trap line while engaged in other recreational activities.

There will also be emphasis on mentoring youth and making trapping a family activity, and tips from the experts on trapping methods for furbearers, fur handling and sewing. Afternoon sessions will include more advanced snaring and trapping topics, such as lynx trapping methods and break-away snare building.

Lewis said for pet owners, being prepared for the unthinkable could be the best way to save a pet's life, which is why this class is invaluable.

"It's good to practice this before you need to do it," he said.

Faulkner's case illustrated this point. She was well-versed on how to open the body-gripper type trap -- a Conibear 330 -- that her dog was caught in, but still ended up having to use bolt cutters to free her pet.

Lewis said the key is not to try to free a caught pet by trying to pry open the jaws of the trap -- which slam shut with 90 pounds of pressure and typically crush the spinal cord, vertebrae or trachea of the animal inside.

"Prying on the jaws is worthless," he said. "The key is to compress the springs, and secure them with the safety catch."

Those with incredibly strong hands may be able to do this by themselves or with a partner, but Lewis said the best way to compress the springs is to always carry a length or rope that can be used to cinch the springs down.

"It's a leverage device to help hold the springs while compressing them," he said. Lewis used a length of roughly pencil-thin rope, roughly 6 to 7 feet long, with a loop on the end from an overhand bow knot. He said a dog leash, shoelace or belt could also serve as a leverage device in an emergency situation.

The rope is run through the top loop, or eyes, of the spring, where it meets the jaws on the side of the trap. This rope is then run through the bottom loop, then back through the top loop again.

"It doesn't take much to pull up the line," Lewis said. "You pull and take up the rope until the sides of the springs meet or are close enough to secure the safety catch. Then you do the same thing with the spring on the other side."

Another option, which can be even quicker, but doesn't stabilize the inured animal's neck as well, involves putting the looped end of the rope around the pet owner's foot as an anchor.

Then, the rope is run through both loops of the spring, then back through the loop closest to the foot. The pet owners can then, while standing on the chain of the trap, pull up on the rope to compress the springs (see photos).

Lewis said pet owners who find their dog in the situation of being caught in a trap should also remember to do their best to make sure the pet has an open airway, and stabilize the dog before, and while, attempting to open the trap.

"You don't want to add to the situation or complicate it by having it get a worse neck injury," he said.

This may mean holding the animal down or even sitting on it to restrain it, and covering it's muzzle with a jacket or tying it's jaws closed to ensure it doesn't bite since the animal will be scared and in pain if still alive.

Lewis also recommended that those who doubt they could effectively open a trap by hand or in the manner described could purchase a tool called a trap setter/opener -- a large pliers-like device.

"They're good to have on hand," Lewis said, "and they typically only cost around $10."

Regardless of the tactics and tools available, freeing a trapped pet before it suffocates is still a tall task Lewis said, but one most pet owners would agree is still worth attempting.

"It's kind of like CPR," he said. "The basic premise is the victim is going to die anyway, so you just do what you can do."

Admission is free to this weekend's clinic and no registration is necessary. For more information, call the Alaska Department of Fish and Game at 262-9368.

Joseph Robertia can be reached at joseph.robertia@peninsulaclarion.com.



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