Untrapping Pet Dogs a Rite of the New West
Jackson Hole News and Guide
UNTRAPPING PET DOGS A RITE OF THE NEW WEST
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 26, 2014 7:12 PM
By Todd Wilkinson
For billions of us who enjoy having the daily companionship of other species, these questions may seem, well, ridiculous.
Do dogs and house cats feel pain? Are pets capable of knowing fear? Do they understand loss? Can they tell the difference between human kindness and cruelty?
We accept as fact what scientific experts like Jane Goodall, Marc Bekoff, Temple Grandin and other leading ethologists have been telling us for decades: Animals have inner emotional being and possess intelligence and awareness far beyond what meets the eye.
Yet there remains a segment of society that dismisses such insights because they challenge fundamental worldviews about so-called “lesser creatures.”
Some farmers and ranchers I know condemn wolves for reasons that go well beyond the possible burden predators pose economically.
They portray lobos as “evil” because wolves take the lives of beloved calves and lambs. Somewhere, though, it fails to register that the reason humans keep those animals alive is to send them off to the slaughterhouse.
Somehow, they reckon, it is less traumatic, more dignified for cows to stand in line waiting to achieve their destiny in a meat locker than it is to be eaten by a wolf.
As an extension of this kind of moral ambiguity, some also demonize wolves for killing pet dogs. The sentiment is understandable, since most of us regard pets as extensions of our families, though we realize there are risks that come with dwelling in wild places replete with grizzlies, wolves, cougars and coyotes.
Throughout the Rockies there’s another danger — a holdover from the frontier — that looms for pets: leg-hold traps and snares.
A number of well-publicized, gruesome incidents involving pets, wildlife and traps have caused states to put anti-trapping initiatives on the ballot.
It won’t happen in Wyoming any time soon, but in 1996 Colorado voters passed a constitutional amendment that partially banned the use of lethal traps, snares and poisons.
Is trapping a cultural tradition worthy of celebrating or is it a cruel anachronism? I ask this not in isolation from personal experience, because for a stretch during my youth I ran a mink and muskrat trapline in the Midwest.
Along the way I became acquainted with some very proficient fur trappers. The vast majority were not modern Cro-Magnon dolts but thoughtful human beings.
Most were aware of the pain that trapping inflicted — the same as those of us who fish are aware, at some level, that what we do for fun causes discomfort in our subjects — even when we catch and release them.
Several conservationist friends of mine had traplines in the past. They include acclaimed Jackson Hole nature photographer Tom Mangelsen, who trapped as a teenager, and nationally respected canid biologist Franz Camenzind, who did it as part of his coyote research. Camenzind stopped trapping for ethical reasons — after a coyote chewed off its foot to escape the steel jaws of a trap.
Whether animal rights activist, member of the NRA or citizen whose values reside somewhere in the middle, you cannot refute the fact that trapping causes suffering to animals that languish in traps.
In our region there are serious biological concerns about the killing of nontarget species. Because traps do not discriminate, the very same hardware used to catch wolves can inadvertently kill rare and endangered wolverines and Canada lynx.
People who claim that nontarget mortality doesn’t happen are naive. In the outdoor-crazed West, trapping is also a menace to pets. Citizens in many towns have horror stories of how pets lost limbs or lives to traps or snares.
Jackson Hole nonprofit Wyoming Untrapped, which has supporters across the state, is hosting a free public workshop at the Old Wilson Community Schoolhouse on Sept. 4. Starting at 6:30 p.m. the organization’s representatives will teach pet owners how to protect their dogs from traps and snares — and how to release them live if they suffer the consequences of being caught.
Responsibility, too, lies with pet owners. Even if there were no trapping, it is reckless to let dogs roam wild without being chaperoned by people.
In most states it is a crime for domestic dogs to chase wildlife such as deer, elk and moose and in some states pets can be shot if caught in pursuit. Under state law, wardens in Wyoming are authorized to kill dogs that are harassing wildlife and owners can be fined.
Todd Wilkinson, who pens his column every week, is author of “Last Stand: Ted Turner’s Quest to Save a Troubled Planet.”