Legal trapping canpose a danger to dogs
By JAYSON JACOBY
Bernie Miller was sure her dog was dead.
The dog, a three-year-old, 40-pound female English springer spaniel named Roz, was stuck in a steel-jawed trap.
The trap, which was legally set in a bucket on the north bank of the Burnt River near Bridgeport, about 20 air miles south of Baker City, was supposed to catch a river otter.
But it caught Roz.
One side of the "conibear-style" trap, a type designed to instantly kill rather than merely immobilize an animal, was clamped on top of the dog's head.
The trap's other side pressed against the dog's throat.
Her eyes bulged.
Her tongue hung from her mouth.
Miller, who raises springer spaniels at her Beaver Creek Kennels, about 10 miles from Baker City, said she panicked on that afternoon of Dec. 28.
She didn't know how to open the trap.
Neither did her grandsons, Derek Phillips, 17, and Ethan Miller, 7. The boys had come with their grandma to hunt chukar in the Burnt River Canyon on the sunny winter day.
But their lack of familiarity with traps seemed a moot point at that moment. Roz was writhing, and Miller figured it was impossible to both control the dog and release the trap's jaws.
What probably saved Roz' life is that she almost died.
The dog passed out.
Miller figured Roz was dead.
Still, she and Phillips tried to pry open the trap.
"We worked and worked at it, trying to figure out how to open it," Miller said. "Finally we got one side open, then the other."
Miller detected a "very faint heart beat" in Roz.
Phillips pushed against the spaniel's chest.
Miller breathed air into her lungs.
After a minute or so of resuscitation, Roz regained consciousness.
Phillips said he was surprised.
"It was pretty shocking to me that (Roz) came out of it," he said. "I figured she was dead."
Miller drove toward Durkee. As soon as her cell phone latched onto a signal, she telephoned the vet's office.
She couldn't eat for a few days, but within a week she was gobbling food with her customary enthusiasm, Miller said.
"She seems to be just the same old Roz that she was before this incident," Miller said.
Although Miller can't place a value on her love for Roz, she can put a price tag on the puppies.
Roz bore her first litter, 10 puppies, in June 2006. The puppies fetched $500 each.
So long as she stays healthy and fertile, Roz ought to produce a similar batch of puppies every year for the next five years or so, Miller figures.
Based on Roz' first litter, that's $25,000 worth of puppies.
"That's quite an investment," Miller said.
Miller feels fortunate that Roz survived.
"You're a very lucky puppy, kiddo," she said Monday morning as she sat in the kitchen of her home, scratching Roz' head.
Miller credits her elder grandson, Derek.
"Without Derek there I never could have gotten the trap open," she said. "He's the hero of the day."
Phillips said he doesn't think he could have opened the trap, even working with his grandma, had Roz not passed out.
The "harrowing experience" which Miller and her grandsons endured on Dec. 28 prompted her to mount a crusade of sorts.
But not against trapping.
Miller said she has friends who trap.
Her goal, she said, is not to get trapping banned but rather to alert dog owners to the danger that traps can pose including legal, properly set traps like the one that nabbed Roz.
"A lot of it, I think, comes down to public awareness and education," Miller said.
To that end, she has suggested that the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), the agency that regulates trapping as well as hunting and fishing, include a warning about traps in the state's catalog of bird-hunting rules.
ODFW already is making plans to do that and more, in fact.
Agency officials, in response to concerns from Miller and from other people whose dogs have been caught in traps, intend to print a warning in not only the bird-hunting synopsis, but also the big-game hunting regulations, said Michelle Young, a public service representative at ODFW headquarters in Salem.
The trap warning should be added to the 2008 editions of the hunting rules, Young said.
She did not know the precise wording of the warning.
Jack Palmer of Unity has trapped in Eastern Oregon for 60 years, including 14 years working as a trapper for the federal government. Palmer, who knows Miller, agrees with her that ODFW's hunting regulations ought to include a warning about traps.
Palmer said he recalls a time when the regulations did feature such a warning.
"It all boils down to hunter education," Palmer said. "The state should remind bird hunters that there are traps out there."
Exactly how many traps are out there in Baker County, no one seems to know.
Nailing down a number is a tough task, said Oregon State Police Sr. Trooper Chris Hawkins, who enforces hunting and fishing laws in and around Baker County.
For one thing, there's no limit on how many traps a person can set, Hawkins said.
For another, although Oregon law requires trappers to buy a license, the license doesn't limit them to trapping in a particular county.
Hawkins, who works out of OSP's Baker City office, investigated the case of Roz and the conibear trap.
Miller took the trap to Baker City and gave it to Hawkins.
(Miller broke the law by removing the trap, but she did not intend to steal the trap, and she was not cited.)
Hawkins declined to name the person who set the trap that caught Roz because, he said, the trapper complied with the law.
Hawkins said dogs aren't often caught in traps in Baker County.
He said he knows of five cases in the past five years, including Miller's.
Of those five dogs, three, including Roz, were hunting birds. The two other dogs were just out for a romp.
As far as Hawkins knows, only one of the five dogs died after getting caught in a trap.
The dog that died was, like Roz, caught in a conibear trap, this one in Keating Valley. However, Hawkins said no one reported that incident to police; he said he heard about it secondhand.
Two of the three other dogs were caught in leghold traps, which is the most commonly used type of trap. Leghold traps are designed to immobilize, but not immediately kill, an animal. The third dog got stuck in a snare, which is the third type of trap, along with legholds and conibears, legal in Oregon, Hawkins said.
According to ODFW, three dogs in Union County, and two in Wallowa County, have been caught in traps this winter. One of the dogs in Union County died; it was caught in a snare.
Although he endorses ODFW's plan to include a warning about traps in hunting rule catalogs, Hawkins said he doesn't think a printed warning is a "cure-all."
He believes the potential for dogs to trip a trap and in particular dogs such as Roz that accompany chukar hunters will exist because chukars tend to hang around the same sort of habitat that attracts bobcats, coyotes and some other furbearing animals that trappers target.
In Roz's case, the dog might have been looking to slurp some river water when she came across the trap.
The bait or scent intended to lure a bobcat or coyote could entice a dog, as well.
(Oregon law allows trappers to use bait in certain cases, although it's illegal to bait a trap with the flesh of any game bird, mammal or fish.)
Miller also mentioned the possibility of requiring trappers to post warning signs near each of their traps. Oregon law does not require such signs.
The trouble with signs, said OSP Lt. Randy Scorby, who supervises the 37 state police game officers who work east of the Cascades (except Klamath and Lake counties), is that they could lead thieves straight to the traps which trappers strive to conceal.
"That's just like putting up a big beacon," Scorby said.
Miller said she understands Scorby's point.
As an alternative, Miller suggests ODFW or some other agency post conspicuous warning signs beside roads that lead to popular places for trapping the Burnt River Canyon Road, for instance.
Miller said she's more worried about conibear traps, which are designed to kill, than about leghold traps, which in a worst-case scenario might break a dog's leg.
Palmer said that as far as he knows, in Baker County most conibear traps are set in water rather than on land.
Conibear traps are legal on land, too, although only if the trap has a jaw spread of less than nine inches.
The conibear trap in which Roz got caught is slightly less than nine inches, Miller said.
Both Miller and Palmer recommend bird hunters and anyone else who allows a dog to roam learn how to open the different types of traps.
Palmer thinks the topic ought to be part of the curriculum in hunter education classes.
Hawkins suggests dog owners carry a multi-tool, which can make it easier to open a trap.
Tips on releasing animals from traps is available on many Web sites, such as:
Trappers tend to be more active during winter, when furbearers' pelts are thicker and thus more valuable.
The trapping season for bobcats, for instance, runs from Dec. 1 through Feb. 28. Trappers can take as many as seven bobcats in Eastern Oregon.
However, trapping for certain animals is allowed year-round in Oregon, including coyote, badger, nutria, opossum, porcupine, spotted skunk, striped skunk and weasel.