An acquaintance of mine had a near disaster while running her dogs yesterday. This musher frequently has one or more loose dogs running with her team. Yesterday one of her loose dogs stepped into a foot-hold trap, setting up a chain reaction. Here is an excerpt from her blog with her name and the names of her dogs deleted, to protect her privacy. My own commentary will follow:
"The way we live, the way the dogs are raised, the whole fiber of what makes us who we are and builds our strength is because we ALWAYS work as a pack. No one stays home unless they absolutely have to, everyone gets the same rewards, the same treats, the same love, the same care... we are a unit on the trail and off... so when I heard M___ screaming I knew it wasn't just up to me to save him... we ALL had to help.
I started unhooking dogs leaving those who I wasn't sure I could trust off lead. I thought if its a wolf, a bear, a moose at least they can buy him some time... even if its a trap, god forbid a snare, when he runs out of breath the dogs can lead me to him and I can save his life.
I'm not sure how far away from him I was... seemed like an eternity to get to him. But with the other dogs headed his way I tried to take a few precious seconds to shed my gear, my heavy mitts... anything so I could help him and get there without falling over myself. I did fall though, should have been calmer... I kept thinking to myself, be calm, be calm, use your brain... but there was this other part of my mind literally screaming so loud I could barely hear, "He may only have SECONDS! GO! GO!"
I followed the dogs in, told S___ to find him but there were so many loose I didn't need his tracking skills. I followed the trail of dogs, they were all so concerned about what to do, some in the woods, some on the edge and some back out on the trail. I'm sure they were all too aware of what they couldn't do for him, maybe in just as much shock as I was.
When I got to M___ all I saw was his foot smashed flat in a leg hold trap, he was at the end of it desperately trying to pull away. Then H____ was there, caught around the throat by a snare only THREE feet away! I went back and forth for a second, who do I save, who is more in danger...
I went for M___ but couldn't get the trap undone, then decided to free H___ in case she choked to death silently while I was distracted trying to figure how to undo the trap that bound M___. I couldn't get the snare off of her so I went directly to the tree, freed her from there and let her run off with it around her neck.
When I got back to I didn't know what to do. He tried half hearty to bite me but I was so bundled up in my parka and gloves it didn't make any difference. I put the trap firm on the ground, hoped to God the snow would be solid enough for pressure but I could only got one side of the trap loose. A little reworking and I got both sides but M___ was numb so it took him a while to realize he could pull out... I had just enough strength to keep the trap open, just enough...
Once M___ and H___ were loose I had a chance to look around. There were two bait stations about 4'x4' wide, moose hide, carcass, meat, bones... anything to encourage animals to come in and eat.
I didn't stay long, wanted to get M___ back to the sled and assess his injury. I put in a call to the house to let (her husband) know what had happened. By the time I was making my second call I heard screaming again, N___ had sneaked back to the trap site and caught her hind leg in another leg hold trap!
Getting her out was another miracle, she was caught at a bad angle and I had to use my knee as firm ground and apply pressure to set her free. Once she was loose I wanted ALL dogs out of there... I hadn't had time to tie them back into the sled again when I heard N___ screaming so they all came back in with me again. On our way out I saw R___ was caught in a snare and as I tried to loosen it off him S___ got caught in ANOTHER leg hold trap, again on his hind leg and again it was difficult to get off.
I freed S___, went back to R___, freed him and tried like heck to get ALL dogs out of there and back to the sled. They came straight away and I hooked them all back in to keep them well away from that area. Then I went back set off any leg hold traps I could find and synched tight any snares so no other dogs would be lost.
The only dogs who didn't get into snares or leg hold traps were the ones back on the gang line. "
I'm so mad at the situation, mad at this asshole who set the traps in the area of high recreational use, just plain mad at everything."
Commentary: When running dogs on public trails we have to recognize that we share those trails with other users. Trappers have the right to make sets on public lands so long as traps and snares are not set on the trails. They have as much right to use public lands as do we, and restricting one user group from accessing public lands makes it easier to exclude others - including dog mushers.
The entire Fairbanks North Star Borough is covered by a leash law that requires dogs to be under physical control at all times while out in public. That law doesn't just to preserve public's safety, but also the safety of the dogs.
As this musher discovered, running loose dogs is almost always a bad idea. Releasing even more dogs to rush into danger is an even worse idea, especially in an area where it is well known that many trappers are placing sets designed to target wolves. Such sets almost always involve multiple traps and snares.
While I appreciate that this musher is terribly upset, I feel that her anger is misdirected. It's not the trapper's fault that she chose to ignore the law and allow her dog to run loose. It's also not the trapper's fault that she chose to respond to the emergency by releasing even more dogs.
It is always emotionally difficult to accept the blame for one's own mistakes. Given the high number of hit and run traffic accidents in the Fairbanks region, it's easy to see that escaping personal responsibility is a popular pastime. If nothing else, remember that when you point one finger at someone else, the other three fingers are pointing right back at you.