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Family Dog Killed by Wildlife Trap

Owners Sue U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services
By Julia Lane, December 2011, Updated June 2021

My heart breaks for Doug and Denise McCurtain of Gresham, Ore., near Portland. This past August, their beloved seven-year-old Border Collie, Maggie, got caught in a nutria trap and suffered a horrific death. The McCurtains had been warned by their neighborhood association that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services was setting out traps to control a nuisance nutria population. However, they were unaware that a baited Conibear trap would be placed less than 50 feet from their backyard, an area where Maggie and the McCurtains’ children often played.

At issue is whether this particular size trap is appropriate to use on land; the Wildlife Services Portland office suggests it is. Several animal advocacy groups, such as Predator Defense and the Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management, argue that Conibear traps are too dangerous to use in residential areas. (For an overview of how to release your dog from a trap, visit terrierman.com.)

Earlier this year, the federal agency was blamed for the death of another family dog. J.D. and Angel Walker of Texas lost their Pit Bull, Bella, when she ingested poison from an M-44 sodium cyanide device located near their Texas home. While I understand the need for wildlife management, why is it appropriate for any animal to die a slow, painful death? Surely, there are more humane methods that can be employed at less risk to family pets and children.

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Julia Lane owns Spot On K9 Sports, a training facility in the Chicago area, and offers online dog-sport coaching. She is the author of several travel books, and her byline has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Poets & Writers and elsewhere.