By Joseph Robertia
As Cooper Landing musher Robert Bear headed up to a major mid-distance sled dog race in the Interior last weekend, he did so without two of his best dogs. Back at home were his two leads, sitting out this race, and others to come, due to injuries sustained after being caught in the bone-crushing clamp of a leg-hold trap early last month.
“One of the dogs lost its front right leg and the other part of its front paw,” Bear said.
This is the second time in two years he’s had a dog caught in a trap, although he was able to quickly release the dog the last time, he said. This time, however, was not so fortunate.
He was hooking up for a training run off of Snug Harbor Road. The dogs were amped to go, Bear explained, and as he was attaching dogs to the lines as quickly as he could, it wasn’t quick enough for one of the dogs just behind the leaders. It chewed through the mainline and set the two leaders free.
“They took off sprinting,” he said. “I immediately went out looking for them, and nothing. I continued looking for them for 48 hours before I finally heard one of them howl as I was going by.”
Bear followed the sound a short distance through the forest and found the two dogs, cold, dehydrated and hungry, but alive. They were clamped in side-by-side traps.
“This was less than 50 feet from the road and between the senior center and the Girl Scout camp. Baited with meat and feathers, so I think any loose dog could have been caught in them,” he said.
Equally concerning to Bear is that, while trapping season for many species opened Nov. 10, lynx season wasn’t set to begin until Jan. 1. Bear’s dogs were caught Dec 13. From the trappers he’s described the setup to, it seemed the traps was either legally targeting coyote or illegally targeting lynx.
Despite the accident, Bear said that he’s not against trappers or responsible trapping.
“I use ruffs and other fur for mushing, so I’m not anti-trapping,” he said, “but I do want to create an awareness of the dangers within our community. It’s not safe right now. We can’t hardly recreate on trails they call multiuse, because once those traps are set, they kind of become single-use in the mind of most dog owners.”
Ken and Kate Green, of Cooper Landing, have had their Labradors caught on multiple occasions, as well.
“Since trapping in this area is a significant problem for hikers, skiers and dog walkers, it would be very nice to get the word out. We have had our dogs caught in foothold traps and snares over the past three years. All traps were within 25 to 50 feet of the lake or roads and, to the best of our knowledge, unmarked,” Kate said.
Her husband, Ken, remembers each of the events clearly, since he was with their dogs. The first time was while recreating with his three Labradors — two of the younger ones off-leash — at a popular picnic site referred to by the locals as Five-Mile Beach or Waikiki.
“About 20 feet from Snug Harbor Road — up the embankment, on the beach just at tree line — the loose puppy got caught in a snap trap — jaws, but without teeth. Other than the howling and whining, she was unhurt. I released her easily enough. The trap was rusted, the bait seemed to have long deteriorated, and the only marking was a small piece of surveyor’s tape, which was faded. The trap appeared to have been there for some time,” he said.
Green wasn’t sure if the trap was deliberately deserted or just forgotten about by whoever set it, but either way he said it shouldn’t have been left behind since it could only have made the intended species unduly suffer since no one ever came to check it, but also because it could have caught a nontarget animal or even a small child recreating in the area.
The second time one of Green’s dogs was caught, he said it was again at a common recreation site for Copper Landing residents. This time it was along the shore of Kenai Lake.
“I was walking the same three dogs the next early spring, this time along the Quartz Creek side. The road ends at a small turnaround and a path leads to the beach which is wide and walkable at that time of year,” he said. “I noticed a DVD disc hanging on a branch just off the beach, and figured that some kids were playing around. When I came across another in another tree, I realized what they were.”