WASILLA -- The Alaska Department of Fish and Game and a statewide trapping group have published a new, pocket-sized pamphlet to help dog owners free their pets from spring-loaded traps and wire snares.
Six Mat-Su residents have reported their pet dogs caught in foot-hold traps or snares since early December, according to Palmer-based Fish and Game area biologist Todd Rinaldi. A seventh report came in second-hand.
That's higher than usual, Rinaldi said. All of the dogs survived -- a couple Labrador retrievers, a little mutt, a Rottweiler that was especially difficult to extricate. Half of the reports came from the Knik River Valley.
Along with the recent spate of trapped or snared pets in the Valley, a Delta Junction family this month said snares set illegally on their farm caught two of their dogs.
Despite its timeliness, however, the pamphlet on freeing pets from traps has been in the works for about a year.
The guide, a cooperative effort between the state and the 950-member Alaska Trappers Association, was developed after Fish and Game employees suggested the idea and asked the association to work with them on it.
Trapping for personal use as well as income remains popular in Alaska. The state sold more than 36,000 trapping licenses in 2012. Given current market conditions, a marten pelt in good condition can fetch about $100.
"We just want to get the message out there that we do not want to get pets in traps," said Joe Letarte, a Two Rivers hunting guide who serves as association president. "Anything we can do to help prevent it, educate people and also educate trappers."
HANDS-ON PRACTICE BEST
The pamphlet -- "Trap Safety for Pet Owners" -- offers step-by-step instructions to free a pet from three kinds of traps: wire snares that tighten as an animal struggles; foot-hold traps that snap shut on a paw; and especially lethal body-grip or Conibear traps.
Along with urging pet owners to keep animals leashed, the instructions talk about staying cool and working fast - not always easy when the family pet is writhing in pain or even half-dead.
Each kind of trap comes with different directions. For snares, it's important to stop the dog from struggling to make sure the wire loop doesn't cinch down around an animal's neck. For foot-hold traps, the emphasis is on making sure the trap is on a solid surface before compressing spring levers.
The tone of the instructions for body-grip traps is urgent: "Try to remain calm and work quickly. These kinds of traps are often deadly to pets if not released quickly. You may need to muzzle your pet, but again, work as fast as you can."
State biologists and trappers urged the public to use the pamphlet together with other resources and, if possible, practice hands-on techniques.
"Things are happening all at once," said Anchorage-based Fish and Game spokesman Ken Marsh. "Your dog's caught in a trap. Your dog's upset. You're upset. You've never operated one of these contraptions in your life. How do you go about it?"
The trappers association held a clinic on trap safety at Loussac Library Thursday night. Another workshop is planned for next month at Mat-Su College though a date hasn't been set. A video called "Sharing Alaska's Trails" by the trapping group demonstrates how to get pets out of traps or snares.
Marsh recommended pet owners attend a clinic to see first-hand how traps operate, read the pamphlet over before going out, and then bring it on outings with their animals.
GOOD IDEA, TOUGH EXECUTION
Some pet owners called the pamphlet well intentioned but tough to carry out.
Kasilof musher Jane Adkins got a first-hand look at the challenge of freeing a pet from a trap after a Conibear slammed shut around her pet dog's neck back in 2009.
Lucy the husky-lab mix got loose during an Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race training run on Oil Well Road near Ninilchik. Adkins, who works as an emergency room nurse, said she found the dog in the body-grip trap set just 10 feet off the road, "a silly place to have a trap."
The heavy steel jaws compressed around Lucy's neck, about an inch apart.
The dog didn't move. She just blinked.
Every time Adkins tried to wrestle with the steel vise choking the life from her dog, Lucy whimpered in pain.
"If I had a gun, I would have shot her," she said Thursday. "It was one of the few times I didn't have a gun."
Instead, she made a series of one-word phone calls from a cell phone with a dying battery. Friends converged on the road. They couldn't pry open the trap either. Then the boltcutters arrived. By then, about an hour had gone by.
Adkins cut the trap off Lucy, carried her to a pickup, and brought her into town. She's fine today - a little less clever but just as sweet.
She got a bar and a rope from local Fish and Game biologists to help pry open a trap in case one of her dogs had another run-in. It's against the law to tamper with a legally set trap.
"Personally, I would try it but if I caused them pain I'd use the boltcutters," Adkins said, of the techniques recommended in the pamphlet. "I'm not a trapper. It's kind of like a lot of things - if you don't practice, you're not going to know how to do it. But it's easy to use boltcutters."
PREVENTING PETS IN TRAPS
State officials emphasize that prevention is the most important part of the strategy to keep pets out of traps.
Trappers should avoid setting traps close to homes and popular trails and trailheads, and follow the "Code of Ethics" in the Alaska Trappers Manual which includes not trapping on private lands without permission, according to a statement issued by Fish and Game. Pet owners are reminded to keep dogs leashed and under control and to be aware that traps may be set in areas where they recreate with their animals.
The potential for conflicts between traps, pets, and the public is nothing new.
About once a year, a pet gets caught in a trap in the Anchorage area, state wildlife biologist Jessy Coltrane said. A number of illegally-set traps turned up in Far North Bicentennial Park back in 2009, including four snares and a steel foot-hold trap that caught a dog, according to reports at the time. A dog was killed by a baited Conibear trap near a Chugach State Park trailhead in 2005.
People who live around the Knik River have long complained about unethical or inexperienced trappers who target furry critters too close to popular trails. A November incident involving an Alaska Wildlife Trooper and his trapping partner who set snares on private land without permission near Palmer also caught the public's attention about trapping and trespassing, several people interviewed for this story said.
The trappers association encourages its members to "do the right thing," Letarte said. Choosing responsible trap and snare set locations is a regular topic at annual beginning trapping school sessions and monthly meetings.
"We obviously, as an organization, don't encourage people to go out there and just trap wherever they want," he said.
Copies of the "Trap Safety for Pet Owners" guide are available free of charge at department offices, or may be viewed at the department website.
In the Mat-Su, they are also available at veterinary offices and at Animal Food Warehouse and PetZoo.
More information, including video footage featuring trap removal instructions, is found on the department's Web site at adfg.alaska.gov (see "Sharing the Trails" under the "Trapping" tab), and on the Alaska Trappers Association website at www.alaskatrappers.org.
Reach Zaz Hollander at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4317.
By ZAZ HOLLANDER