When I was 12 or 13, I decided to become a trapper. I bought a few single-springed traps and set them at a nearby creek. Early the first morning, as I approached the creek, I heard the rattling of a chain.

Sure enough, a muskrat on the far bank was struggling in the steel grip of my trap. I ran downstream to the bridge, crossed over and ran back to the spot. The muskrat was gone. It had chewed off its foot and fled.

That experience convinced me that “this” was not me, nor whom I wanted to be. I pulled in my mini-trapline, never to use it again. That poor muskrat suffered in fear and agony, and perhaps died from the trauma, but my life was changed — dare I say, salvaged.

About 20 years later I went on a raccoon hunt with my brother-in-law. He hunted strictly with dogs. Two other men from town joined us, and the four of us followed the baying of the redbone and bluetick hounds through a beautiful, moonlit summer night as they repeatedly lost, then found again, the trail of a fleeing raccoon.

The raccoon ran a good flight, eluding the trailers time and again, but finally it was caught midstream in a creek. It fended off two dogs, pushing their heads beneath the water, but when the other two dogs joined in it was overwhelmed and dragged out onto the creek bank. Each dog then got a good jaw-hold on the critter, and they repeatedly jerked and pulled the helpless living thing into pieces.

It was horrifying, though the two townsmen whooped and hollered their encouragement all the while. That was the night I hung up my shotgun for good. I realized that torture and killing were not me. The fear and extreme suffering of that innocent creature was sad, but not without result. I changed the course of my life.

Another 10 years later, my wife and I lost our beloved dachshund to a body-gripping trap, almost at our doorstep. Frantically, in the early-morning darkness, I unsuccessfully tried to remove the monstrous thing from him. I failed, and Li’l Hen was slowly squeezed to death. The police had to cut the trap from him with bolt-cutters.

Henry suffered mightily that morning, and again I was changed, becoming active in my opposition to trapping. I wrote an opinion article for the Star Tribune (March 20, 1988) that resulted in a lot of mail — much of it defending trapping but an equal amount sharing stories from people who had lost pets to traps and the insidiously cruel snare.

One letter came from a former trapper who said he gave up trapping the morning he found nothing but a tongue in one of his traps. Some poor creature suffered mightily, but as a result a trapper stepped away from cruelty.

Poor Cecil the lion probably suffered enormously after a multi-bladed, razor-edged arrow sliced through his tissues. Too many hours later, he was dispatched with a rifle bullet. The outrage over the incident has rightfully been worldwide, and hopefully as a result of Cecil’s terror and pain there will be people who step back and say: “What am I doing? This is not me.” How many might put away their bows or guns for good?

The biblical creation story describes God giving “nephesh” to both animals and humans on the same day. Nephesh is typically translated “living being” or “soul.” That can be interpreted to say that the marvelous creatures of the animal kingdom are more “us” than “them.”

I pray that Cecil’s agonizing death might lead a host of people to realize that.


Richard Gist, of Princeton, Minn., is a retired clergyman and author.