Featured image credit: Jessica Manners. L to R: Dylan Vaske, Bobby Vaske, Brooklyn Vaske, Jessica Manners
Front: Golden Retriever Floki, Husky/Lab Frankie
This story was featured on Las Vegas KTNV March 1, 2022. It went viral in the animal advocacy world and here is the story as told to TrailSafe Nevada by Jessica Manners. This family acted with compassion and courage and ingenuity. By telling their story, they bring a spotlight to the danger, cruelty and indiscriminate nature of trapping, and thereby do a great service to us and to our Nevada wildlife.
I had no idea such a cruel and inhumane practice was happening in my very own backyard…
It was a weekend like so many others.. my husband & I, our 2 kids Dylan & Brooklyn, and our 2 dogs Floki & Frankie (a spazzy, sweet golden retriever and a friendly talkative husky/lab mix with a personality) jumped in the car ready for an adventure. My family & I have always loved to hike and explore the desert mountain area west of our house, and do so frequently. We drove a few miles into the desert and found what we thought was the perfect spot for a family hike. We started up the mountain with no clue what we were about to experience.
The first thing that caught my attention was a loud snapping noise. I turned to see my golden retriever baby standing next to a steel leg hold trap that had just been set off. My heart DROPPED, but before I could even react I heard a loud screaming noise coming from the other direction. We ran over to investigate and came across this gorgeous little fox injured and stuck in another leg hold trap. It absolutely broke my heart. We are huge animal lovers and thought FOR SURE we just stumbled across something highly illegal.
Our kids looked up at us with so much concern in their eyes as if to say “what are we going to do?!” and we knew we had to do some thing. To us, walking away from that animal would have been like killing it ourselves, and we just couldn’t do it. So we ran home and gathered all the supplies we could think of.
My husband (who we call our personal MacGyver) found a broom handle, cut off the end with a saw, folded an extension cord and fed it through the pipe to make a dog-catcher like “loop” at the end. I had the idea to grab a plastic laundry basket so we could put it over the fox and get to his paw without getting bit.
We raced back to the scene, supplies in hand, and found this poor little creature curled up around the trap looking like he was ready to give up on life. It was heart breaking. We knew whatever we had to do, we were going to get this animal free.
My husband slowly and carefully placed the dog catcher loop around the fox‘s neck and secured him. (He was so calm, it was like he knew we were there to help) then I gently placed the laundry basket over him so that now just his arm and the trap we’re sticking out. My husband (and hero who watched countless YouTube videos on the way there to learn how these traps work) was able to open the trap and release his paw, allowing the fox to run back into its den.
That’s when I realized the trap was literally 3 feet from his home. They put it on his front doorstep so there was no way for him to come out of his home WITHOUT stepping in it. It made me sick.
When we reported the incident we were shocked and horrified at what we learned… not only is trapping LEGAL in Nevada, but its practices are out dated, barbaric, and inhumane.
We learned that here in Nevada trappers only have to check their traps every 96 hours. Meaning an animal can be stuck in a trap for 4 DAYS with no food or water, exposed to the elements and predators with no way of defending itself. And often the trappers stick cattle prods up the animal’s orifice to kill it, IF the animal hasn’t already chewed off its own limb out of desperation.
Something has to change. Even hunters have a duty to pursue, a duty to make sure an animal doesn’t suffer. And suffer they do in these traps, so much so that over 120 countries have curtailed or outright banned trapping altogether. But here in Nevada that’s not the case.
it’s time to stand up and make our voices heard, Nevada.
Featured image credit Highland Titles
Carol Garlington is a trained and certified Massage Therapist whose love for animals and the outdoors is reflected in her writing and her activism.
Martin A. David is a multi-discipline artist who, like his wife Carol, applies his writing skills to conservation topics.
Charlotte McConaghy’s book Once There were Wolves (Flatiron Publishers—2021) has been coloring my mind ever since I read it. In her novel the Australian writer imagines re-wilding the wolf population in Scotland. The book deals with domestic violence as well as violence towards wolves, horses, the earth itself. The drum beat of rapidly accelerating climate change provides the pacing for this rarely comfortable but often lyrical read.
As Inti Flynn, the novel’s central character, points out, “…the physiological response to witnessing someone’s pain is a cringe, a recoil, a wince. We are hardwired for empathy. Once upon a time I took delight in feeling what others felt. Now the constant stream of sensory information exhausts me…I can’t get lost in the wolves or I won’t survive.”
Flynn, who has been sent to Scotland to lead a team of biologists reintroducing wolves to an area of the Scottish Highlands, is affected by the violence she sees on all fronts. She is able to relate the cruelty to the wolves to the cruelty her own sister faces in a dysfunctional relationship. One can only imagine how that empathetic character would react to scrolling through the news reports of fighting in the Ukraine.
Another major theme of the novel is the thorniness of communicating when generation-held opinions clash. One poignant passage has the main character sharing a recording of wolves howling in such a way that the person she is trying to convince to listen actually does listen and begins to share her passion for wolves. As she points out, they are animals who have in their power the means to restore a degraded environment and make it sustainable again.
This book does not devastate—which is more than I can expect from tomorrow’s news—but it does present questions that are very real in our world: Will the wolves survive? Will the women? Will violence or measured communication have the upper hand?
Annoula Wylderich has been an animal advocate since 2008, campaigning for ALL animals. She is the founder of the Vegas-based grassroots organization, Animal Protection Affiliates. She has been Senior District Leader for HSUS, State Director for Animal Wellness Action, and board member of the NSPCA. She has been recognized for her advocacy by both the HSUS and PETA
Here she adroitly sums up what’s wrong with trapping.
One would assume that if you are going to end the life of an animal, for whatever reason, that you would do it mercifully. Even hunters have certain ethics which they follow, if they pursue their activities with any integrity.
However, trapping seems to be in a category all its own and among the cruelest of sportsmen activities. It constitutes a small percentage of the hunting population (thankfully), but renders so much suffering, that over 120 countries have banned or curtailed trapping. That sends a significant message to the rest of the world, which the U.S. would be wise to note.
Traps cause unimaginable suffering to both intended and unintended victims, including endangered species and pets. They have resulted in orphaned cubs and pups, in animals suffering prolonged deaths or maiming, and in animals experiencing pain, fear, hunger, thirst, exposure and attacks by predators as they lie helpless and unable to defend themselves. While it’s incomprehensible that their torture could last the typical 36 hours that most jurisdictions stipulate for trap-check time, Nevada still permits a 96-hour timeframe – IF trappers even abide by this regulation. We have no way of knowing and requests for any significant data on trapping in our state have produced disappointing results.
This is an outdated, archaic activity that needs to be re-visited by our leaders if we truly value our ecosystem and the proliferation of eco tourists to our state. Those tourists are not paying to have their safety compromised nor to come across animals in various stages of suffering. It’s time, Nevada. For anyone who may be interested in updates or opportunities to help advance more compassion in trapping, please contact me at email@example.com
Concerned residents can also contact the Governor’s office to express their opposition to trapping. In Southern Nevada, call: 702-486-2500; in Carson City, call: 775-684-5670. Let him know you consider trapping devices to be cruel to animals and unsafe for the public and our pets and that you wish to see them banned.
Animal Protection Affiliates
By Trish Swain, Editor Nevada Wildlife Watcher
Lately Nevada wildlife watchers seek solutions to so many issues: Wildlife killing contests; lack of representation on local or state wildlife boards; hunting black bears; hunting with hounds; persecution of predators. In the mix is the outcry against cruel trapping. With no apologies, this newsletter will keep up the fight for an end to commercial and “recreational” trapping on our public lands.
To most wildlife watchers, trapping is arguably the most abhorrent, repulsive, ethically bankrupt torment that can be visited upon animals.
From Time To End a Twisted Tradition by Jim Robertson:
“Unless a severe blow to the head or some psychopathic disorder has rendered them incapable of feeling empathy for others, anyone who witnesses the harrowing ordeal suffered by an animal caught in a leghold trap should be appalled and outraged that trapping is still legal in a society that considers itself civilized. The continuation of this horrid, outdated practice in a country governed by the people suggests that either most folks have brain damage, or they are simply unaware of the terrible anguish and desperation a trapped animal goes through.”
The cruelty argument is frequently dismissed as “unscientific” Thousands of people who write to TrailSafe and to similar groups around the USA, are not concerned with being “scientific” and object to trapping because of its extreme cruelty. Are they all wrong? Is trapping harmless recreation like birdwatching? (As one member of the Washoe County Advisory Board to Manage Wildlife declared to the media) Did over 100 countries worldwide ban or severely restrict trapping for any other reason? Why do all the major animal advocacy groups in the USA call for an end to commercial trapping? Or, better yet, all trapping.
The cruelty argument is the elephant in the living room in any discussion of trapping.
Society presumably advances through time. Cruelty to pets is increasingly penalized. Cooney’s Law, SB223 passed in the 2011 Nevada Legislature, makes heinous cruelty to pets a felony. Yet the agony inflicted on trapped animals is still legal. Why does a dog have more protection than a coyote?
Nevada does not require any courses or training to get a trapping license, whereas, if you were born after Jan. 1, 1960, you need to provide proof of hunter education to purchase a Nevada hunting license. A trapping license is required to: take furbearers by any legal method, take unprotected mammals by trapping, or sell raw furs for profit. $42.00. Persons 15 years of age and under pay only $14.00. That’s it. You pay the fee and you have a trapping license.
Hunter Education Online Study Guide
For the benefit of prospective hunters, Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) provides an online study guide. And thrown in, a trapping code of ethics for anybody who wants to trap, regardless of age. This section needs a 21st Century overhaul, fact check and debunking.
The Study Guide introduction: “Trapping furbearing animals was once a full-time occupation. Today, regulated trapping is an important tool for managing our nation’s natural resources”.
Trapping is not resource management. Trapping is indiscriminate. Trappers conduct no surveys to determine species populations. There is no upward limit on numbers of animals Nevada permits trappers to kill.
Study Guide Trapper’s Code of Ethics:
1. Obtain the landowner’s permission.
This was hardly the case when traps showed up on the Sturgis family ranch. The family dog, Beowulf, was trapped and injured. In efforts to free him, Judy Sturgis suffered hand injuries which required stitches and also a bite from the panic-stricken animal. Later trespassers denied the traps were theirs. Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) game warden and the police were of limited help. The entire story was published in the January 15, 2014 Minden Record Courier. https://trailsafe.org/beowulf-trapped-on-his-own-ranch-three-trespassers-deny-involvement/
2. Avoid setting traps in areas where domestic animals may be caught.
Domestic animals are caught in a variety of settings including residential neighborhoods, hiking trails and equestrian trails. NDOW lists of non-target animals trapped are obtained from trappers’ self-reports. Here is the astonishing variety of species:
Domestic Cat, Domestic Dog, Ducks, Game Animals, Livestock, Magpies, Mt. Lions, Rabbits, Ravens, Pack Rats, Porcupine, Geese, Golden Eagle, Hawks, Quail, Burro, Chipmunk, Deer, Ground Squirrel, Rail, Badger, Bear, Coot, Ermine, Feral Pig, Blue Heron, Bobcat, Chukar, Owl, Pond Turtle
3. Set traps to capture the target animal in the most humane way possible.
There is no humane way to set leghold, snare or Conibear-type traps.
4. Check traps at least once every 24 hours, preferably in the early morning.
We spent a year 2013-14 testifying to the Wildlife Commission making the case for daily trap inspection. But Nevada statute gives trappers 96 hours, i.e. four days, to let animals suffer unspeakable pain, fear, thirst, hunger, exposure to predators, exposure to elements. With only 31 law enforcement officers to cover 110,567 vast, mostly empty, square miles, enforcement is chancy at best. So many animals probably suffer even longer.
33 states have 24-hour visitation law. This includes large Western states such as CO,AZ,NM,WA which are comparable in size to Nevada. And, each of these states have placed limits or bans upon public lands trapping. Again, Nevada lags way behind.
5. Record trap locations accurately.
Maybe trappers do this for themselves . Their traplines can be miles long, so a reminder would be helpful. As for telling the public where their beloved pet might be likely to have body parts mauled or broken and scream out in pain and terror, well that’s a joke to trappers. When we asked for trap markers, we met derision. What if somebody would steal a precious trap? Traps cost between $5 and $20. What if a tree hugging bandit messes with one? The public now has the right to move or disable a trap that poses risk, thanks to our successful bill, SB364. But this fine point of ethics remains a joke to trappers.
6. Identify all traps with waterproof name and address tags.
When our campaign began, traps had no ID, no way to hold trappers accountable. It took ten years of legislative wrangling, finally we succeeded in 2017. Every trap, snare or similar device used in commercial and/or recreational trapping on public land has to have either the trapper’s name and address, or else a registration number issued by NDOW.
7. Use as much of the animal as possible before disposing of remains.
8. Dispose of animal carcasses properly so as not to offend others.
We try to spare you the worst photos, so be forewarned if you follow this link from our colleagues at Trapfree New Mexico: https://trapfreenm.org/carcass-pile-dumped-trapper/ Evidently some New Mexico trappers don’t mind offending others. We suspect it’s the same in Nevada, but don’t have photos.
9. Make an effort to trap in areas with a surplus of animals.
This data is not readily available. Most wildlife watchers do not believe that animal populations need to be controlled by lethal means. Wildlife find the balance when living according to Nature’s plan in their habitat. We have not seen any data to indicate “areas with surplus of animals”.
10. Promptly report the presence of diseased animals to wildlife authorities.
11. Support and help train new trappers.
At a 2014 Wildlife Commission meeting, trappers discussed creating a course similar to the hunter ed course. To date, there is no official course. Trappers are well organized: they are a presence at sportsmens’ meetings and social events, and are effective lobbyists. No question they are supportive of each other. That’s how they’ve gained so much influence in our state.
12. Know and follow all trapping regulations.
NDOW has a system of penalties and demerits for violations. With traplines covering miles, with traps so well camouflaged, it’s no easy task to enforce regulations. We are currently seeking data on numbers of violators.
13. Support enforcement of all regulations
The most basic regulations had to be established when we entered the arena in 2007. At that time trappers believed they didn’t need any identification or registration on traps; that they could trap in residential neighborhoods; that any ignorant soul daring to touch one of their traps owed a $100 fine; and that no wildlife advocates deserved a seat on the trapping committee. They believed the only possible objection to trapping was when one’s dog was trapped. Humane arguments were shrugged off. Whether trappers “support enforcement of all regulations” is dubious in the extreme. We have to be on guard because any regulations we managed to push through can be overturned in future Legislative sessions.
14. Dispatch trapped furbearers in a humane manner.
There are those who think shooting or drowning or strangling or beating a helpless animal while it’s trapped and has spent at least four days in terror and pain is humane. Those should never be in a position to make decisions about the wildlife that by law belongs to all the citizens of this state.
The Study Guide provides a Glossary which defines one word: “Dispatch”: “To put to death quickly” Be aware of other euphemisms for cold-blooded, heartless, grotesque killing: “harvest”; “take”; “cull”