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Copyright 2009 Rocky Mountain Rider. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduction of any editorial material, artwork and photos is strictly forbidden without express written permission of the publisher. For information about reprint rights, please contact the editor;


Beware of Animal Traps When Riding

By Dorinda Troutman, RMR Staff Writer


July 2009 Issue

How to Release a Dog (or Horse) from 

an Animal Trap


     In 1989, Barbara and Ray Cebulski, of Seeley Lake, Montana, were trail riding along an old overgrown logging road with their English Setter cross, Lady, when the dog screamed and began to struggle, her foot caught in a leghold trap. Ray immediately got down from his horse and restrained the dog while he attempted to release the jaw springs.

     “She was such a gentle dog, and didn’t bite Ray, even though it was terrifying,” says Barbara. “I doubt I could have released the trap if I had been by myself.”

     The Cebulskis examined the trap, which had been camouflaged and set right in the trail, and found no identification. They took it with them and called authorities, who took no action.

     Barbara, who has been riding “since I was born” and still rides at 78, is from an Eastern Montana ranching family and even now speaks about the 20-year-old trap incident with anger. After Lady was trapped, another dog they owned was caught in a trap next to the truck he had just jumped down from. They made the decision to not take their dogs riding with them again.

     Barbara adds, “I cannot imagine what would have taken place if one of our horses had stepped on it. There could have been a bad result.”


     The Cebulskis’ experience has been repeated many times in recent years. Incidences of what are termed non-target species being caught are increasing, or at least being reported more often, as recreationists and trappers use the same public lands. Trapping has become more controversial due to dogs being caught, injured or killed in traps along trails, creeks and rivers, roads, and other areas while accompanying hikers, cross-country skiers, fishermen, bird hunters, and trail riders.

     Spokesperson Barbara Schmitz of Born Free USA, an organization that collects data on dogs caught in traps, says that hundreds of reports have been made in the last eleven years of non-target species including eagles, dogs and humans being caught in traps in the U.S. and Canada . Five of those reported were dogs that had been caught while being with horseback-riding owners. Three of those five dogs died before the owner could release the trap.

     Trapping fur-bearing animals has deep historical and traditional roots. Much of the Northwest was settled by Europeans in the fur trade of the 19th century. The tradition of trapping furbearing animals continues today in nearly all states.

     Responsible and knowledgeable trappers have trapping licenses, attach metal tags or brands for identification on their traps, check their traps often, and are careful not to set traps where they will attract and catch dogs or other non-target species. Trapping associations have begun to work with recreational groups to educate trappers and recreationists, and to voluntarily close some popular recreation areas to trapping. A few states have passed laws or are working on passing laws limiting trapping.

     Furbearing trapping is legal within specific dates set by each state law during fall (October, November or December) through spring (April) for many species such as beaver, mink, bobcat, otter, martin, fisher, and muskrat. Coyote, fox, weasel, skunk, porcupine, marmot and badger may be trapped year-round in most states.

     According to the Montana Trappers Association, fur prices have risen in the last few years, encouraging more trapping. For example, bobcats pelts were worth an average of $345 each in 2006; and $449 in 2008. About 2,400 bobcats were trapped in Montana alone during the winter of 2008-2009.

     In Montana, traps may legally be placed within as few as 30 feet from the center line of most public roads, 30 feet from hiking and riding trails, and 1,000 feet of campgrounds or fishing access sites.

     The states of Oregon , Wyoming , Washington , Utah and Idaho have no stipulations of how far from public trails or roads a trap can be set. Washington recommends a red diamond sign be posted wherever there are traps set. It is illegal in Washington to use any body-gripping trap including foot-hold, all snare and conibear type traps. It is illegal in all states for a person to tamper with or remove a legally-placed trap with a trapper’s I.D. on it.


Get your dog out fast

     There are three types of commonly used traps: foothold, body-gripping conibear type, and cable snares. They all come in different sizes and are strongly tethered by a cable or chain. Their bait or placement can be attractive to dogs.

     Dog owners should understand how to open the different traps and what equipment should be carried to help open a trap.

     Many trail riders already carry rope and a multi-tool (with wire cutters) that can be used to free a dog. A six-foot length of strong, supple, medium-diameter rope works best. As time is of the essence with both snare and conibear traps, this equipment should be easy to reach.

     Use caution and remain calm. Try to calm the dog first. When a dog is caught in a trap, it often struggles frantically and can bite the person attempting to free it.


Leghold traps

     Designed to capture an animal by the foot and hold it. Fast removal usually means only minor injuries; however, broken bones have occurred. With small traps, hand-pulling the levers should open the trap enough for the dog to pull itself free. With larger traps, secure the trap on the ground with both spring-loaded clamps facing upward. Place the balls of the feet on both levers and pivot forward to use body weight to compress levers.


Cable Snare

     Made of steel aircraft cable and a slip locking device that automatically tightens and strangles as an animal struggles. Act fast. Calm and restrain the dog so that it stops struggling and tightening the cable. Try to loosen the slip lock by squeezing it to slacken the cable. If that doesn’t work, try to cut the cable from the dog’s neck with wire cutters. If it is too tight to get the wire cutters under the wire, cut the cable as close to the slip lock as possible to keep it from tightening and then try to work the lock loose again.

     Horses have been known to step into snare traps. RMR has heard of a rancher who’s horse stepped into a snare while herding cattle. The ranchers did not have wire cutters on hand and the horse’s leg was partially severed. The horse was put down. Because the cable can quckly cut into a horse’s leg, it is important to calm the horse and release or cut the snare as quickly as possible.


Body-gripping Conibear type trap

     Designed to strike an animal in the neck or body and kill it quickly or suffocate it. Closes with up to 90 lbs of pressure. Often set near or in water. Dogs caught in the trap will sometimes not be killed outright but can quickly suffocate, or if in water, drown. Act fast. The only way to open the jaws on these traps is to compress and secure the springs on the trap. Even a very strong person cannot open the larger sized trap by hand. You can create a pulley system by using a rope, a leash, or even a bootlace that compresses the springs enough to use the safely catch to hold them closed. Smaller traps have one spring; larger traps have two.


1) If possible, compress the springs by hand enough to move the trap to a more vertical position around dog’s head or neck so that the dog can breathe easier.

2) Make a loop in one end of the rope and place a foot through it on the ground.

3) Thread the free end of the rope through both eyes of one spring, and back down through the other eye closest to foot.

4) Stabilize the trap by standing on opposite edge of the trap or tether chain.

5) Pull up on the rope hard until the spring is fully compressed and then secure with attached safety hook, taking pressure off jaws. If the trap has two springs, repeat with second spring.

     For more information and photos of how to release a Conibear and other traps, go to to find links to websites.


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Copyright 2009 Rocky Mountain Rider. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduction of any editorial material, artwork and photos is strictly forbidden without express written permission of the publisher. For information about reprint rights, please contact the editor;



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