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  • Writer's picturePatrick Durkin

Trappers Lend a Hand When Dogs Wander Far from Home

   Fur trappers can seem uneasy and vulnerable, even though they’re the most skilled, regulated and well-rounded outdoors-folks you’ll find in Wisconsin’s marshes, woodlands and muddy shallows.


   They often don’t share their best stories, fearing their insights will be ignored or distorted. After all, assumptions and ignorance sometimes make others dismiss or disrespect their experiences, causing good deeds to be snubbed or demonized with each retelling.


   But Skye Defourneaux of Neillsville is a trapper who believes redeeming stories should be shared, not silenced. She colors in details most storytellers leave out, trusting readers will appreciate and comprehend the subtleties. That’s why she reached out after reading this Feb. 26 headline on a central Wisconsin TV station’s website: “Nadia the dog adopted weeks after being caught in coyote trap and shot in the leg.”


   The story was from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where the county animal shelter treated the dog in February. The misleading headline suggested the dog had spent weeks in a trap and then shot in the leg. The accompanying story explained things a bit, saying the shelter “rescued” the dog from the trap in early February. After the shelter’s staff discovered the dog’s gunshot wound, they estimated it had been shot three weeks earlier (in mid-January). They amputated the front right leg because it was infected.


   Defourneaux recognized the story’s false assumptions that unfairly blamed an unknown trapper for the dog’s plight.


   “They should’ve thanked the trapper for having traps out,” she said in an interview. “If not for the trapper, that dog would have never been found and treated for the gunshot wound. The trapper didn’t shoot the dog, and the trap didn’t harm its paw. Trappers today use humane traps. Wildlife agencies use the same kind of traps when catching and collaring animals for research projects, or moving them somewhere for release.”


   Further, even though the article credited the county shelter with “rescuing” the dog, Defourneaux suspected something else: The trapper probably found the dog while making a daily trap check required by Pennsylvania law, and then took the dog home and reported it.


   Her instincts were right. When I called the Adams County pet shelter for details, a spokeswoman confirmed a trapper had called a “dog warden” who works for Pennsylvania’s bureau of dog-law enforcement. She said the dog warden met the trapper and brought the dog to the shelter. After the shelter couldn’t locate the owner while caring for the dog (a great Pyrenees), they found it a new home.


   “Trapped-dog stories with happy endings aren’t rare, but you’ll more often hear about angry pet owners blaming the trapper for everything,” Defourneaux said.


   Mike Wilhite, publisher and executive editor of the Trappers Post newspaper in Scandinavia, agrees with Defourneaux. “I caught a guy’s dog in a fox set on my property years ago,” Wilhite said. “I knew the owner. He lived a couple of miles away, so I drove over and returned his dog. It wasn’t injured. Foothold traps won’t harm most animals if they’re set right.


   “The guy never took his dog to the vet, and he didn’t thank me for returning it,” Wilhite continued. “But he did tear me a new one for catching his dog, and then his story started morphing as soon as I drove away. He told people he rescued the dog from a trap near his home after it whimpered all night in his marsh.”


   Not all pet owners are so ungrateful, which Melissa Soderberg of Silver Cliff in Marinette County learned three months ago. Just before Christmas, Soderberg set some cable-restraint traps on public land a mile from home, adjusting the traps so they were too high to catch smaller animals like raccoons, but too low to catch wolves or other big animals. Cable-restraints act much like a dog’s choke-collar. Once the animal stops pulling, the restraint loosens without slipping off.


   When Soderberg checked her traps the next day, none held a coyote. However, one held a poodle-mix dog she estimated to weigh 50 pounds. Its coat was heavily matted, and it looked thin but not skinny. It wore two collars, one with a woman’s Illinois address and phone number.


   Soderberg released the dog from the trap and called the owner. She learned the dog had been missing since Aug. 25, nearly four months earlier when the woman visited her cabin in Menominee, Michigan, 60 miles away.


   Soderberg said she hesitated to tell the owner that she caught the dog with a trap, knowing it might anger her. She felt relief when the owner stayed calm.


   “I think she was shocked her dog was still alive,” Soderberg said. “The dog looked like he had been living on his own, finding food and avoiding cars and trucks right through bear season and deer season. The woman drove up from Illinois a day or two later to take him home.”


   Jim Binder, the statewide trapper education coordinator for the Wisconsin Trappers Association, lives between Manawa and New London. He recalls finding his neighbor’s 100-pound pitbull in one of his foothold traps while checking his trapline one morning.


   “I recognized Jedi as soon as I saw him in the trap,” Binder said. “He was about three-fourths of a mile from home, and he must have got caught just after I last checked my traps the day before. I use traps with thick, offset jaws, so he wasn’t harmed. That’s the most humane trap there is. I’m pretty good with animals, so I had no trouble freeing him and getting him into the truck with a couple of dog biscuits. I drove him home to my neighbor, and stopped by the next day to check on him. My neighbor was so happy she made me cookies.”


   Jamie Nack, the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s extension wildlife outreach specialist, said trapping is a well-regulated activity that’s vital to wildlife management. Whether Wisconsin trappers make sets to catch furbearers for pelts, or to help biologists tag, release and follow wildlife for research, their traps meet humane criteria set by the International Organization for Standardization.


   Nack said most people accept trapping once they realize it’s heavily regulated and provides many benefits. “If you think hunting is heavily regulated, wait until you study the laws and standards that govern trapping,” she said. “And I doubt anything rivals the testing standards set for trapping equipment.”


   For those details, check out this 56-page report titled “Best Management Practices for Trapping Furbearers in the United States.” It’s available as a free download from The Wildlife Society (https://wildlife.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1002/wmon.1057).


Left, this poodle-mix dog wandered over 60 miles from late August till December in northeastern Wisconsin after disappearing from its owner’s cabin near Menominee, Michigan. It was reunited with its owner after walking into a cable-restraint trap on public lands in Marinette County. Right, today’s foothold traps are used routinely by scientists at universities and agencies to catch animals without harm so they can be released elsewhere or monitored during research projects.

— Photos by Melissa Soderberg and Patrick Durkin

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3 Comments


Laina Hiller
Laina Hiller
Mar 24

Recent tragedy in northern Wisconsin, a dog died in a beaver trap as their owners tried to free it. Why should 99.9% of residents have to risk death and injury to their pets so a tiny minority can pursue a hobby? Is it really too much to ask to post areas where traps are present? Does anyone really think if there is a warning sign on shore that people are going to wade into the river to locate a trap and remove it? Trappers only ask for more. They will never accept moderation or commonsense laws. This skewed article is completely off the mark.

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Michael Bever
Michael Bever
Mar 09

I love trapping but it's one of those topics that is almost always misunderstood. We need more of this! Thank you all for the stories. Keep up the good work Pat!

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Patrick Durkin
Patrick Durkin
Mar 10
Replying to

Thanks Michael. I appreciate the kind words.

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