By Joseph Robertia
The opening of trapping season brings excitement for many, but Pat Murray, of Kasilof, doesn’t share it.
This time of year four years ago, while exercising his two dogs in a new and minimally populated Fox Hills subdivision off of Kalifornsky Beach Road, one of them got caught in a coyote snare set just yards from the road.
“I never had any inclination they could trap there, on private property, right next to the road. I never would have gone there had I known there were traps. I never would have taken my eyes off him,” he said.
Willie — a large, black-with-white-patches, 2 ½-year-old border collie and great Dane mix — died. Now all Murray has of Willie are his memories, prompted by the contents of a scrapbook folder of his dog’s life. There’s a photo of Willie playing gently with Murray’s grandson. In another picture, Willie is eating raspberries while on a walk through lush summertime woods. In another, he is running on the beach at sunset, his tongue out, exuberance for life as clear as the shoreline water through which he was running.
“Boy, he was a good dog,” Murray said, looking at the photos.
As he flips further through the folder, the good times end. Murray looks away when he gets to a picture of Willie’s corpse on the day he was found in the snare.
“He was so well-behaved and so dedicated and devoted to me — more than a wife and three kids. I knew something bad had happened to him,” he said, remembering when Willie went missing.
The rest of the scrapbook folder is news clippings and letters of correspondence with various agencies and organizations that Murray contacted after Willie’s death. The pages are numerous, a reflection of Murray’s efforts to create awareness among pet owners of the dangers of trapping season.
“I called and wrote everybody who would listen,” he said.
Though Murray’s loss was an abrupt, painful shock, he said he is not against trapping or trappers as a result of Willie’s death. Rather, it’s an example of why the responsible, ethical trapping practices followed by most need to be better encouraged in all trappers, he said.
“I have friends and neighbors who are trappers, but they go out in the woods or on the (Kenai National Wildlife Refuge). They’re not setting traps 12 feet from the side of the road, which is where this trap was set. This was a bad apple making the whole bunch look bad,” he said.
Murray would like to see changes as a result of Willie’s death.
“I want to make sure no one else with a dog ever has to go through what I did,” he said.
Murray said he would like to see the state trapping laws changed to more closely mirror federal trapping laws, since federal rules could not only have prevented Willie ending up in a snare, but also would have allowed Murray to know exactly which trapper the snare belonged to.
“I’d like to see traps have to have some identification on them,” he said.
Most states require trappers to mark or tag their traps, but not Alaska. However, refuge regulations require all traps and snares to be identified by a registered mark or tag. Marking and tagging is done to encourage trappers to take responsibility for the hardware they are putting in the field. It also can benefit trappers in helping recover lost traps should they be tampered with or taken illegally.
“I’d also like to see trap setback laws like on the refuge,” he said.
On the refuge, trapping is prohibited within one mile of public roads, campgrounds and road-accessible trailheads. This requirement is designed to reduce user conflicts as well as provide opportunities for viewing wildlife near roads and campgrounds.
To Murray, these requests don’t seem grandiose, but he said he has been “demonized” by a few folks for making them. Many of the complaints against him come because Willie was off a leash when he got caught in the snare.
“I’d take him over in the pickup and then let him run alongside the road for exercise. We must have done it 100 times, and never had any problems. That’s why we were there. We never saw anybody,” he said.
The road takes a bend to the right and Murray’s dogs, anticipating it, would occasionally take a shortcut through the woods. It was there, briefly out of sight, that Willie was caught, and it is this caveat that has become an issue of contention for Murray’s naysayers.
“Since he was out of my sight people try to spin it that he was out of my control, or off chasing moose or wildlife, but it wasn’t like that. If I said come, he’d come. This is Kasilof, and people don’t live in Kasilof to walk their pets on leashes, and if a guy can’t walk his dog down the road without it getting killed, then that’s a problem,” he said.
Murray is driven to try and create more awareness of the problem.
“If there’s no law, there’s no way to fix it, and it needs fixing,” Murray said. “It would mean less conflict and problems for trappers and everyone else.”