Mount Pearl resident Robert Emberley was walking a familiar hiking route Tuesday when he literally stumbled across something he hoped to never see again.
“I was hoping last year was a one-time event,” said Emberley.
He was walking along a moose trail on a path off George’s Pond Road in St. John’s Tuesday when he came across a trail of meat leading into a small clearing in the brush.
Following the meat, Emberley suddenly got his foot caught in a snare.
After untangling his foot, Emberley examined the snare and found that it was one of two in the clearing — and that wasn’t all. Something had obviously been caught in the metal cable trap recently. Branches and trunks within about a metre of the cable’s reach had been gnawed to bits and the area was well trampled. Emberley also found a few spots of blood nearby.
Whatever animal had been caught in the first snare was gone, said Emberley, either taken by whoever set the trap or broken free and gone off into the woods. He searched, thinking the creature might be injured somewhere, but found nothing.
Emberley’s major concern is that whoever set these snares might not realize the danger they’re presenting for pets such as dogs.
Given the trail of meat and the size of the snare’s hoop, he surmised the trapper was going for coyotes or foxes.
Even though the area around George’s Pond is about as remote as you can get and still be in the City of St. John’s, it’s a place that is frequented by people walking their pets, he said.
“In this area I’ve seen people walking huskies, German shepherds, beagles, you name it. People let the dogs run free because you’re in the woods,” he said.
And Emberley has a good idea what the results are when a pet gets caught in a snare.
This time last year, Emberley was walking along the same trail and found another set of snares about 50 feet from where he found them this year.
But last year the trap wasn’t empty — a young beagle had been caught.
The dog’s head and hind leg were in the snare. Eventually the dog let Emberley get close, but he couldn’t untangle the trap. He called the RNC for help and a couple of officers came out with some wire cutting pliers and freed the dog.
They took it to Sunrise Animal Clinic for treatment. It didn’t have any identification, so it ended up at humane services for a couple of months before being handed over to Beagle Paws, a local beagle rescue centre.
Michelle Lethbridge is a resident of Mount Pearl and sits on the executive board of Beagle Paws — she also happens to be the foster mom of the dog Emberley found snared She’s had him for almost a year now, and named him Pearcy.
“He’s a really good dog. He’s just nervous at times,” she said.
Pearcy’s story had a happy ending, but Emberley is concerned that if people keep trapping within the city the next animal might not be so lucky.
It’s a concern Terry Fitzpatrick shares. He’s a resident of Mount Pearl, but he regularly walks with his dogs all over the region and he runs into snares regularly.
“You can name just about any place around here in the woods and you’re going to find snares. I walk with my dogs every single day of the year ... and there’s snares everywhere,” said Fitzpatrick.
But Fitzpatrick said he has never found a large, meat-baited snare like the one Emberley found, and has only ever found smaller ones for catching rabbits.
That’s not to say he’s never had a problem with them.
“I’ve taken dogs, birds, you name it out of them. ... My wife a few years ago, one of our dogs got caught in one of them and she tried to pull it to get it off of him. Well, those things are razor sharp and she ended up cutting all across the palm of her hand,” he said.
Stories like that are not what trappers want to hear, said Hayward Smith, a long-time trapper from Norman’s Cove and a director/volunteer with the Newfoundland and Labrador Trappers Association.
Licensed trappers have to go through a training program, said Smith, and during that process they are discouraged from trapping in populated areas, in a direct attempt to minimize contact with domestic animals. Snares are also supposed to be marked with flagging tape.
“We try to refrain from snaring in places where there are walking trails, but some trappers still do it and they sort of make the whole thing look bad,” said Smith.
“I don’t like the idea of setting snares or traps within the city limit, although there is no law saying that you can’t do it,” he added.
In Newfoundland and Labrador licensed trappers have to adhere to established seasons and follow regulations for allowable species and types of traps — but there is no legislation dictating where a snare can be set, except for a few protected areas.
Cities have no control over the practice because it’s outside their jurisdiction. Trappers are supposed to take a common sense approach.
A notice in the 2011/2012 hunters’ and trappers’ guide for the province mentions urban trapping, asking trappers “when setting traps near communities or residential areas to act responsibly and take into account local activities such as pet walking.”
While Smith said trapping in cities is discouraged, he also suggested pet owners should protect their pets by keeping a close eye on them.
“People are supposed to have leashes on their dogs when they walk in these walking trails, but they don’t, they just let their dogs go free,” he said.
He also reminded people that tampering with a trapper’s snare is against the law and punishable by a minimum fine of $400.
The trappers’ handbook states residents should instead report untended/illegal snares to a conservation officer.
Meanwhile, Emberley intends to keep a closer eye on the areas he hikes.
To whoever set these traps, he said, “It’s not worth it. ... Basically, he doesn’t realize it, but he’s baiting family pets.”