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Caught in a Wolf Trap-‘The Most Agonizing 80 Minutes of My Life’
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Michelle Stennett and her dog Teagan are practically joined at the hip, as they jog along the Wood River Trail and hike backcountry trails.
 
 
Friday, January 15, 2021
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK

Sen. Minority Leader Michelle Stennett never saw the white trap that lay in the white snow 10 feet off the county road that she and her friends were walking on.

She only heard the bone-chilling screech from her longtime companion—a Golden Retriever named Teagan—as he tried to free himself.

“It was terrifying, absolutely terrifying to see an animal that traumatized and to have such a helpless feeling, an absolutely useless feeling,” said Janie Davidson, who was with Stennett.

 
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Teagan is not as playful as he was in this picture as he recuperates from injuries.
 

The incident happened on Jan. 2, as Stennett, Davidson and another friend and their dogs decided to take a New Year’s walk on a county road in an area where families look for Christmas trees or snowshoe, backcountry ski, hike, bike and fish.

“We were about four miles from my truck when we heard a horrible scream from my Golden Retriever,” Stennett said. “He was on the right of way just off the road slashing at something on the ground. Our hearts sank as we saw his leg was in a white self-proclaimed X-treme Wolf Trap.”

As Stennett tried to uncover the trap, her tortured dog bit both her hands, drawing blood from one hand and damaging tissue and dislocating her thumb on the other hand.

The trap, which weighed about 10 pounds, was attached to a heavy chain leading to a large anchor in the frozen ground. It had two levers on opposite outer edges of the trap that opened the trap when given enough pressure.

 
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Soleil St. Onge, Manay Whitcomb, Neve St. Onge, Ava Levigne and Amelia Pfau were among the youngsters who opposed traps when Idaho Fish and Game proposed to allow traps in Blaine County in 2019.
 

“Our combined weight didn’t budge it and nothing in our possessions worked. There was no cell service. My friends ran back to my truck where I had tools to, hopefully, disassemble the trap and get both of us to medical attention two and a half hours from our location,” Stennett recounted.

Over the next agonizing 80 minutes, Stennett held her dog in her lap as he began shaking violently, going into shock.

She tried desperately to position the trap to get some blood to his leg and paw and lessen the pain he was enduring.

“I prayed and prayed and cried,” she said. “It was the most agonizing 80 minutes of my life.”

Her prayers were answered. As her friends returned and began pulling out tools to disassemble the trap, two male friends showed up and went to work trying to open the trap. After several attempts, their combined 400-plus pounds opened the trap just enough for the women to free  Teagan’s leg before the trap snapped back shut.

Miraculously, Teagan suffered no broken bones. The trap caught him in the joint on the knuckle below his femur and above his paw. Stennett, meanwhile, was able to pop her dislocated thumb back in while sitting with him on the country road. But she is now wearing a brace on her hand for six weeks and is saddled with a pile of veterinarian and hospital bills—all because of a walk in the country.

 “To see my friend try to hold her dog while she herself was injured was painful,” said Davidson. “We were just so lucky that the two men came along and had the strength to open the trap. Had it been just me or my dog, which is smaller than Teagan, it would have been even more horrific.”

Stennett concurred: “I feel very blessed and lucky. I shudder to think how different the outcome could have been if I had been walking alone with Teagan without help.”

But she is also extremely worried. The Blaine County Commissioners will hold a hearing at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 19, to consider allowing wolf traps in the county. And Stennett worries that allowing trapping so close to a resort town is asking for trouble particularly with more and more recreationalists crowding onto public lands because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“This area we were in is a popular one, and a lot of people don’t know to look for it—I didn’t.  What if your child had stepped in that trap? What if a child saw a parent get caught in that trap? A skier? Someone fishing? A horse with rider? How many dogs stay on a road or a hiking trail?

“Who would’ve thought a trap would’ve been there right on the side of the road?!”

Stennett said she knows of other instances where dogs have been caught in traps north of Ketchum, in the Boise Foothills and in the Big Lost area near Mackay.

Idaho does not require any flagging to indicate that a trap is present so it’s easy for a frolicking dog or even a person to step on one without warning.

“I asked Fish and Game why they took the flagging away, and they said it was because the trappers were stealing each other’s traps,” Stennett said.

“The trap that my dog stepped in was a totally illegal trap. It was illegally placed and it had no name or address or assigned Fish & Game number. According to Idaho Big Game Seasons & Rules, ‘It is unlawful: • To place any ground set on, across, or within ten (10) feet of the edge of any maintained unpaved public trail. • To place any ground set on, across, or within any public highway.” Also, “Tags for Traps: All traps or snares, shall have attached to the snare or the chain of every trap, a metal tag bearing, in legible English, the name and current address of the trapper or a six-digit number assigned by Fish and Game.”

Having traps in public recreation areas endangers the public, including the increasing number of urban people moving to the area, Stennett said.

“Recreationists have a right to equal protection and use on public lands. If you cannot open a trap and must move it to save someone’s limb or life, you can be fined and jailed. Idaho law (36-1103(a)(2)) prohibits destroying, disturbing, or removing a trap. My moving a trap to make my dog more comfortable or if I had disassembled the trap to get him out of it is unlawful. This is absurd,” she said.

“I’m trying to be evenhanded, but I think people should know how easy it is to get into the situation that I was in. And, after watching what my dog went through, I’ve come to realize it’s horribly torturous.”

Davidson concurred: “What a horrific death an animal would have over a period of days if it got caught in one of those traps.”

The Trapper’s Association wants to open and expand trapping in the hunting unit around Sun Valley.

The Blaine County Commissioners will consider the proposal at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 19, at the Blaine County Courthouse at 206 First Avenue S. in Hailey.

The meeting is open to a limited number of people provided they wear masks. But attendees are strongly encouraged to join the meeting online from their computer, tablet or smartphone at https://global.gotomeeting.com/join/822865477

People can dial in using their phone at United States: +1 (646) 749-3122 Access Code: 822-865-477. And comments can be emailed to the commissioners at jgreenberg@co.blaine.id.us, amccleary@co.blaine.id.us and dfosbury@co.blaine.id.us.

The Blaine County Commissioners have gone on record with Idaho Fish and Game opposing wolf trapping in Blaine County. As a result, wolf trapping is not allowed in the Wood River Valley.

In 2019 Fish and Game proposed a trapping season in Units 48 and 49 but eliminated it following public opposition. People were concerned not only with traps maiming hikers and dogs but also livestock and other wildlife, such as wolverine and lynx.

The City of Ketchum also passed a resolution in 2014 supporting no trapping and co-existence with wolves.

But the Idaho Fish and Game Commission plans to revisit wolf hunting and trapping throughout Idaho this year, including the possibility of opening Blaine County to wolf trapping and expanding wolf hunting from 11 months to 12 months.

“It is important to engage on this issue for the safety of those who enjoy the backcountry, our pets, the humane treatment of wildlife, and expressing our values of coexistence,” said Sarah Michael, who is involved with the Wood River Wolf Project, which works with Lava Lake Land and Livestock to advance non-lethal measures to keep wolves from preying on sheep.

“You wouldn’t put a human in a trap so why would you set it out for wolves?” said Ava Lavigne, one of a myriad of Wood River Valley schoolchildren who have come out against traps.

Idaho Fish and Game estimates there are about a thousand wolves in Idaho. They were released in the mid-1990s. Trappers and hunters take about 300 annually.

 

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