A dog being walked by a couple of Jemez folks ran into an animal trap set in an arroyo beside a designated road, on Forest Road 376, about half a mile north of the Gilman Tunnels.
They were alerted to the animal’s distress when it began shrieking and jumping around in panic. It was easily within view and quickly released by its owners. They observed that there was fresh blood sprinkled all over the trap (not the dog’s), and a chunk of meat a few feet away such that an animal would have to step on the trap to get to the meat.
This dog was not too badly injured, but there have been ugly incidents in the past with terrible consequences for people’s pets, traumatic for both the animals and their owners.
Some time ago Patti Foy, local resident, had an experience with her dogs, walking them in the Jemez, who became injured in traps set near a road. She wrote an informative article, which is worth revisiting, in which she gives useful information for people who might find themselves in a similar situation.
By Patti Foy
Dangerous Traps: What You Need to Know
A couple of years ago a pair of our dogs was injured by traps in the Jemez, and I have learned from that just how dire the situation is in our state.
When inhumane traps capture your pet, your preparedness can be crucial.
It can mean the difference between life and death, or between safety and injury.
When it happened to us we did some things right, but also made some mistakes; I’m sharing with you what we learned in the hope that it spares you and your pets some of the trauma that we went through.
I’m also including other important background information and some excellent links. I highly recommend you check them out. But be warned … you may find them as horrifying as I did.
Here’s my list of the main things you’d be wise to know:
1. Be aware there are traps and snares out there!
We have almost 9 million acres of public lands in New Mexico. Traps and snares are allowed on all of them, year round.
Both of our incidents occurred on Forest Service roads in what is now a Christmas tree cutting area, a track we’ve hiked safely for decades. You can’t assume that just because it’s been safe in the past, that it’s safe now. (Trapping is on the increase, especially in bobcat habitat.) Traps and snares can also be set on private land by landowners or with their permission. They can also be placed in water.
Trap Free New Mexico is an excellent source of up-to-date quality information ranging from the horrors of trapping to what to do if it happens, and how to best effect change. They’re an invaluable resource, and I can’t recommend them highly enough!
2. Know the laws and that they endanger rather than protect you and your pets.
You may not know how widespread trapping is here in New Mexico, but even if you do, the permissiveness of the trapping laws may still surprise you. They’re designed by the powerful hunting/trapping lobby and are for their benefit and convenience, not yours or your safety.
- a) Traps cannot be set within 25 yards of a designated road or trail. I used to take some solace in this, but no more. Measure this distance in a wide open, outdoor space. It’s nothing; only about 20-30 steps, depending on your stride. Any healthy dog can cover it in about 2 seconds, and it offers no protection whatsoever. All it really does is allow the trapper to go an alarmingly short 25 yards from their truck to legally set traps.b) A lot of roads/trails you might think are “designated” are NOT (by trapper laws).In these cases, even legal traps might be set right underfoot or very close by.
c) Trappers are not required to post signs that there are traps in the area.
Again, the laws are not designed for your safety. I know someone who stepped right on a trap, and even leashed dogs have been badly injured.
The best you can do is be informed and use common sense, i.e. watch for other “signs” that traps are around. It helps to be prepared ahead of time (e.g. by noting the info in this article).
For example, we noticed a trap site near where our first dog got caught. It’s awful imagining what took place here, but here’s what some sites look like:
Beware if you see such a thing.
d) Traps must be checked daily.
You can take advantage of this fact. It means trappers are most likely to place traps for easy access, i.e. right around 25 yards from roads and trails. So be especially alert in those areas. (Unfortunately, if you’re like me, that means most of the time.)
e) It’s illegal to tamper with a trap set by a licensed trapper.
You are legally allowed to release your pet from a trap. But otherwise, if you tamper with one, YOU are breaking the law. And be aware that some trappers use game cameras.
Ideally, laws align with ethics. In my opinion, these don’t; they’re mutually exclusive. That leaves you, as an individual, having to choose one or the other based on your own value system. If you value both, that can be tough.
It’s to your and your pets’ advantage for you to read the trapping laws at least once. You can find them here in the NMAC (Section 19, Chapter 32).
Majority of New Mexicans do not want traps on our public lands (if at all) and have made that known, yet attempts to get these laws changed have been futile. This will continue as long as the current decision makers are in power. If you want to see traps banned here, I encourage you to visit Animal Protection Voters. They’ve compiled a legislative score-card that can guide you in supporting humane candidates.
3. Don’t expect trappers to follow the laws.
As lenient as the laws are, trappers often break them. In both of our cases, the trappers broke laws. Since our first incident, several locals have told me of trapping incidents they’ve had, many involving illegal practices (particularly with illegal use of bait).
Bait is especially enticing. Few dogs or cats can resist it and will even seek it out, going where they might not have otherwise. Where our first dog was trapped, we could smell the bait (rotten meat) and later found empty chicken meat containers in the general vicinity. All of these are big red flags, so get your pets out of there. The second incident also involved bait: a nice chunk of meat set where an animal would need to step on the trap to get to it.
If you suspect your pet was exposed to poison, get them to a vet immediately. For strychnine, wash your hands as soon as you can; even a tiny amount on your skin can make you ill. First aid is to administer activated charcoal asap, and do not induce vomiting.
4. Some terrain can trick you. First think TRAP, not wild animal.
Because our first dog was in a narrow canyon, her cries echoed repeatedly, making it sound like she was moving. We thought she was being carried off by a wild animal, so (in retrospect) we wasted precious time.
Yet every second in a trap makes the possibility of injury or death more likely.
If we’d thought TRAP first, we’d have found her more quickly; probably before she broke 6 teeth trying to free herself.
5. Don’t expect your dog to respond to your calls.
While searching and calling, we had walked very close to our dog several times without knowing it because she never moved or make a peep. When we finally did find her, everything about her demeanor said “I’m invisible”. (Instinct, maybe? Trapped animals are sometimes attacked by predators.)
This was a huge surprise. Had we known, we would have conducted our search differently and saved precious time.
Worse, your dog could be in a kill trap clamped down on their windpipe, and unable to respond.
So maybe your pet will respond to you … or maybe not. The second incident occurred within view of the road and we were able to free that dog within a minute or so, before too much struggling.
But an inability to find them quickly may be the difference between life and death. Consider some options (e.g. tracking devices, other dogs), and get creative!
6. Know how to safely release your pet from a trap.
Legal traps include leg-hold traps, snares, and body-gripping traps. All of these can injure, torture, and kill, but body-gripping traps are designed to kill, and to kill quickly.
Time is of the essence, so know how to do it ahead of time. This will also prevent you being injured in the process, either by the trap itself, or by your pet.
Here’s a great video on how to release various types of traps. Although it can be tough to watch, you’ll be much better prepared. And with your pet’s life at stake, it’s well worth it.
7. Don’t expect vets to be thorough; take the lead.
Even though we got our injured dog to a vet immediately and explained about the trap, it was only one of several trips we had to make because they only checked her foot.
We expect vets to be the experts, to consider things we might not have thought of. But that’s not always the case.
Take the lead about things to consider/check. Use this article as a starting point. Definitely check their teeth!
8. Next, report the incident.
The authority that handles illegal trapping is the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF). They have a 24/7 hotline (1-800-432-GAME) and suggest you report it ASAP so they can investigate in a timely manner. You can report anonymously.
9. Gather evidence in case NMDGF fails to follow up.
In our first case, NMDGF never got back to us, and evidence was quickly destroyed. So gather as much as possible (especially time-stamped photos, including trapper ID from trap, chain, or stake) for if/when they investigate.
10. Publicize, publicize, publicize!
The only way this issue will get attention is if we are proactive in getting the word out about how dangerous and devastating this widespread practice is.
If nothing else, let your friends and other locals know about it.
And in this digital age, you have a plethora of other choices too, online and off.
Trap Free New Mexico tracks these incidents. Contact them! They offer great visibility plus support.
It’s my hope that what I’ve shared with you helps, especially in preventing an incident but also in minimizing its impact should it happen.
Thanks for reading … and be safe!