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Illegal trap set on parkland injures a resident's pet

February 14, 2012

By Karen Hastings, Chron.com

County and federal officials are investigating the ordeal of a west Houston woman, whose dog was mangled Feb. 3 in a steel leg-hold trap, illegally chained to a tree near Buffalo Bayou on federal Barker Reservoir land.

Houston psychologist Angela Larery said she was forced to chew through a heavy plastic tie, drag and then carry the 65-pound black Labrador named Lola - her paw still trapped - more than a mile to reach her vehicle.

While Lola survived with no permanent injuries, officials say they are concerned that other illegal poachers' snares may lie in wait of unwary park visitors.

"You don't expect to have traps out in civilized areas," said Fort Bend County Precinct 3 Commissioner Andy Meyers. "Bad enough that it happened to a dog. It would be even worse to have a little child in that trap."

Larery, who reports $500 in vet bills, said she was frustrated by the lack of warning about park dangers and a "jurisdictional nightmare" over which county emergency crews should respond.

"Had that been me that stepped on the trap, my foot could easily have been amputated by the time somebody showed up to help," she said. "I don't think most people realize that 911 and other emergency services are of no use unless you can provide a specific address."

Country and federal officials met Feb. 7 with Larery, at the site of her ordeal near the border of Fort Bend and Harris counties, just off Westheimer Parkway.

Harris County Precinct 3 Parks Superintendent Steve Dorman, who was among that group of officials, said weekend rains had flooded the area and they were unable to locate the chained tree. He described the trap, which Larery brought with her, as the type used to snare raccoons or possums.

George Bush Park crews are on the lookout for signs of poaching, and Texas Parks and Wildlife officials will be alerted as well.

Meyers, Harris County Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack and Richard Long of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers say only pen- and box-type live traps are legally used in county parks on Barker Reservoir property, to address a feral hog problem.

"We do not permit any trapping in Addicks or Barker reservoirs …with the exception of volunteer hog trappers…," said Long, natural resource manager for the Corps' Houston project office.

"These trappers do not - repeat, do not - use leg traps," Long said. "Anybody who is doing that is violating federal law and, if we catch them, we will deal with them accordingly."

Radack noted that much of the Barker Reservoir parkland is heavily wooded habitat for bobcats, wild pigs and other creatures. He said visitors should be aware of their location, and not stray off maintained trails.

"Those types of traps are highly dangerous and illegal," Radack said. "I don't care what county it was in, whoever put that trap out there, as far as I'm concerned, needs to be in jail."

Larery said her nightmare began about 4:30 p.m. Feb. 3, when she heard Lola yelp in pain. She said she was walking her four dogs on retractable leashes when they ventured off the trail in search of a tennis ball.

She found Lola's paw caught in the rusty, smooth-jawed trap, which was connected via a heavy zip tie to a chain wrapped around a tree.

"I was terrified," said Larery. "I thought for certain that my dog was going to die."

After chewing through the plastic tie, the 5-foot-2 Larery tried to pull Lola on a length of discarded plastic. When the plastic disintegrated, she attempted to carry her wounded pet, who whimpered, growled and snapped.

Larery said cell phone calls to 911 were shifted back and forth between authorities in the two counties who could not pinpoint her location and finally advised her to call an animal welfare group.

"I was hysterical," Larery said. "I knew the longer it took, the less likely that her foot was going to remain intact. By the time I got out of there it was dark outside. I didn't know if I was going to be eaten by wild animals."

Her husband, away on a business trip, was able to alert a Houston-area friend, who found Larery in the park and helped carry Lola to Larery's vehicle near the Westpark Tollway. By the time they reached the veterinarian, it was several hours later, and Larery said she was covered in blood - hers and the dog's.

It took the vet another half-hour to sedate Lola, disassemble the trap and free her paw, Larery said. "I was absolute livid that somebody would put a trap like that out there, particularly so close to a public area."

Meyers said he received a recent email from constituents who reported seeing vehicles driving at night on park property.

"Now that I find out someone has been setting traps, it's something we need to consider and take a look at," he said.

Meyers offered his sympathy to Larery, and said it often is difficult for Katy-area residents or visitors to sort through its maze of jurisdictions.

"The reality is that the Katy area is in three counties: Fort Bend, Harris and Waller," Meyers said.

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