Rosie Nordby knew something was wrong when she stepped outside her rural Pequot Lakes home Nov. 29 to retrieve the family’s three dogs, and Lily, a chocolate Lab with a two-week-old litter of eight puppies, was missing.
“It was like she just disappeared,” Nordby recalled this week.
She and her husband, Daren, and three kids searched, called neighbors and then authorities, fearing their hunting dog had been stolen. That night, the family hand-fed Lily’s puppies to keep them alive.
Rosie Nordby found Lily the next day, dead in a body-gripping trap set in a ditch about 750 feet from her family’s house.
“I was heartbroken,” she said. “I’m glad it was me who found her and not my kids. It was traumatic.”
Lily was one of at least 34 dogs caught accidentally in traps in Minnesota last year and among five that were killed. Since 2012, the Department of Natural Resources says 75 dogs have been caught in traps and snares, and 17 died. A group pushing for trapping restrictions claims at least 25 dogs have been killed during that time.
The issue, which gained attention in 2012 when the Legislature tightened some trapping restrictions in response to dog deaths, is again being scrutinized. A bill was introduced this session that further stiffens trapping regulations to reduce or eliminate accidental dog deaths.
Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration has testified in support of the measure.
Supporters say the changes made three years ago haven’t stopped the accidental trapping of dogs.
“We need to do something so our pets don’t get killed anymore,” said Sen. John Hoffman, DFL-Champlin, author of the bill.
Hoffman’s bill would require body-gripping traps to be either completely submerged in water or have enclosures with smaller openings and larger recesses, or be placed at least 5 feet above ground. These methods would greatly reduce the chances of a dog being accidentally trapped, he said.
The Minnesota Trappers Association and the Minnesota Forest Zone Trappers Association both oppose the measure, saying the proposals would greatly limit the effectiveness of trappers.
“Trappers want this issue to go away more than anyone,” Gary Leistico, an attorney representing the Minnesota Trappers Association, testified Tuesday at a Senate hearing in St. Paul. “We’ll continue to work with everyone, but this bill … does much more than what it’s claimed to do. It would not allow meaningful trapping in Minnesota.”
The Minnesota Forest Zone Trappers Association also opposes the bill, as does Michael Tucker, who runs a wildlife removal service and is a member of the National Wildlife Control Operators Association. Tucker told legislators the bill would severely limit the ability of businesses like his to remove problem animals.
Trappers reduce predators of ground-nesting game birds, such as raccoons, skunks, mink, fox and coyotes, the groups say.
And a section in Hoffman’s bill requiring body-gripping traps used near water to be fully submerged would greatly reduce the taking of beavers, who cause damage to culverts and roads around the northern half the state, opponents say.
“You’re taking away the most effective way to trap beaver,” said Randy Goldenman of Zimmerman, who traps beaver for Sherburne County. “I catch up to 200 a year.”
Hoffman says his bill isn’t meant to be anti-trapping and wouldn’t inhibit trapping. “It will just make it safer for dogs and our pets,” he said.
The issue is an emotional one and drew impassioned testimony. Among those testifying in support was a handler for a search-and-rescue dog, the executive director of a Cloquet animal shelter that took in a dog injured in a trap and several hunters.
Loren Waalkens of Lake City, whose beagle, Frisbee, was caught in a body-grip trap in 2011, pleaded with senators to tighten regulations. Though he saved his dog with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, he said Frisbee now has breathing problems related to the incident.
And Waalkens said when he hunts rabbits he’s constantly concerned his dogs will encounter another trap. “It’s taken the joy of hunting from me,” he said. “Please do something about this.”
Kurt Boerner, an upland bird hunter from Wayzata, said his English setter had a close encounter with a trap, and since then he’s been on a quest to tighten trapping laws. He’s quit hunting when trapping season begins and told outstate friends not to come to Minnesota to hunt during trapping season.
“The problem isn’t trappers, it’s the regulations,” he testified.
Tim McCauley of Fridley is a board member of Dog Lovers 4 Safe Trapping MN, which has pushed for tighter trapping laws, too. He no longer hunts public lands in Minnesota during the trapping season, either, for fear of losing a dog.
“I won’t take the risk,” he said in an interview. “It would ruin my life if I lost my dog.”
Restrictions passed in 2012 require trappers to use a 7-inch overhang when using baited body-gripping traps on public lands. The overhang is intended to prevent dogs from sticking their heads in the trap to reach the bait.
Trapping proponents say the restriction is working. But the DNR reports that since 2012, 15 dogs have been trapped in boxes with overhangs.
Rosie Nordby’s dog was caught in a body-grip trap recessed in a box. The trap was recessed 6 inches, meaning it wasn’t legal. Two of the five dog deaths in 2014 were in illegally set traps.
Some, including DNR officials, say even if the recess had been a legal 7 inches, it probably wouldn’t have saved Lily because of the trap’s location. Meanwhile, the trapper was cited.
“The fine was a whopping $100,” Nordby said.