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Hunting Accident File > VIOLATIONS: > 2005

ILLEGAL SETUP KILLS SKIERS' PET NEAR POPULAR TRAIL HEAD

Dog dies in steel jaws

By PETER PORCO

Anchorage Daily News

(Published: March 9, 2005)

A family's pet dog was killed by a baited trap in Chugach State Park less than 150 yards from a trail head along Turnagain Arm, the dog's owner said Tuesday.

Oreo Cookie, a 15-month-old black Lab and border collie mix, may have died instantly when the spring-loaded Conibear trap snapped shut on her neck, said owner Mel Strauch of Anchorage. The incident happened early Monday afternoon, soon after the start of a planned cross-country ski trek.

The trap, set close to the bank of Indian Creek near the parking lot at the Indian trail head, was illegal, authorities said. There is a trapping season for some animals in that area of the state park, but it ended Feb. 28, according to regulations of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

"This is an illegally set trap," said Mike Goodwin, the park's chief ranger, who visited the site Tuesday with Lisa Alleva, an officer of the Alaska Bureau of Wildlife Enforcement.

The trap was baited with animal parts and blood, according to Strauch.

Park rangers and the bureau are investigating the case, hoping to find out who set the trap, Goodwin said. It appears to be an isolated incident, he added.

"We went upvalley for three-fourths of a mile, up the creek drainage," Goodwin said. "We found no evidence that this was part of a trapline."

Alleva, who was called to the scene on Monday and who removed the dog's body from the trap, did not return a message left on her office phone Tuesday morning.

Strauch said Oreo had been in his family just about all her life.

"She was a very sweet dog," he said. "We liked to call her half-human because of the things she did. I can't tell you how much she touched our lives and the lives of other people."

Strauch, an outdoor-equipment specialist; his partner, Suzanne Moore; and their two dogs, Oreo and a golden retriever mix named Savannah, left the parking lot at 1:10 p.m., intending to ski 22 miles over Indian Pass and down the Ship Creek drainage to Arctic Valley.

But within minutes Strauch and Moore noticed that Oreo, who had never left their side for long, was missing. They called for her. Strauch immediately began thinking the worst.

"The first thing I said to Suzanne, 'God, I hope there's no trapping around here,' " he said.

Four hours later, Strauch was looking for his dog in "sink holes" by the creek, fearing she might have fallen into open water and under the ice.

"I happened on her tracks," he said. "I just knew it was her. They were fresh tracks."

Strauch followed Oreo's tracks across the creek.

"I saw the black patch of her behind," he said.

The dog had stuck her head into the opening of a small teepee about two feet high, Strauch estimated. The trap was hidden by the twigs and snow, and the bait lay just inside the opening, connected to a wire.

Strauch tried to open the trap and brushed against his dog. She was stiff.

"I ran off and got Suzanne and freaked out," he said.

According to Goodwin, the trap was about 100-150 yards from the parking lot and 40 feet to the east side of the trail.

Strauch was horrified at how easily he lost his beloved pet.

"This was so close to the trail, this could have been a kid," he said.

Other dogs have been injured by traps in Chugach State Park and nearby environs over the years, but neither Goodwin nor superintendent Jerry Lewanski could remember one being killed.

A dog got its leg caught in a trap in Beach Lake Park near Birchwood earlier this year, said trooper Kim Babcock of the Bureau of Wildlife Enforcement.

Traps have indeed killed dogs elsewhere and fairly recently, too, said Kneeland Taylor, an Anchorage lawyer who proposed to the state Board of Game in 2001 that traps be banned near popular park trails in Alaska.

In response, the board appointed a committee consisting of trappers and those opposed to traps near trails, and ordered the panel to find a solution.

The committee endured several difficult meetings, said Taylor and trapper Kenny Barber of Palmer, who were members.

"The trappers proposed that there would be no Conibear traps near the trails except under water and under the ice," Barber said Tuesday in an interview at the Game Board's meeting in Anchorage.

But the Board of Game, at its March 2003 meeting, said no, Taylor said in a phone interview.

"I was floored," Taylor said. "Even the trappers were on board for that." Taylor said the committee was unanimous in its agreement to regulate Conibear traps.

Some trappers, however, disagree.

"The group couldn't reach consensus," said Bruce Bartley, a trapper who is a spokesman for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

The trap in Indian Valley was probably set by a young or inexperienced trapper, Bartley said: "No trapper wants to catch a nontarget species, whether it's a dog or a bunny."

Trappers feel the dog owners are as much responsible for what happens to their dogs as the trapper and should have their pets under control, said Bartley.

The contentious issue of whether dogs should be on a leash close to state park trail heads arose last summer, but it was not linked to animal traps. Rather, some were proposing that dogs be under greater control when hikers and other users are nearby.

The state Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation considered a limit of a half-mile from developed trail heads and other facilities, within which dogs must always be leashed, but it rejected that idea in favor of flexibility.

Lewanski, the Chugach superintendent, said Strauch was not obligated to leash his dog on Monday.

"That far back from the trail head is not a developed facility," he said. "We're not going to enforce the leash law in that area."

Strauch said he was especially bothered by the absence of a warning sign at the trail head.

"We can't understand why, with the big (information) kiosk there, asking us to 'report game violations,' that they don't know to tell us there's open season on traps and to 'keep your dog leashed.'"

Goodwin agreed.

"We could do a better job on that, and we will," he said.

Daily News reporter Peter Porco can be reached at pporco@adn.com or 257-4582.

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