Two companion bills have been introduced in the Minnesota State Legislature, with the hope of saving dogs from fatal ends in “body-gripping” traps. These baited traps, commonly referred to as “conibear” traps, are designed to catch bobcats, large raccoons, and other animals. They consist of a square frame with two rotating jaws and springs, and strike animals in the neck or body and kill them quickly. But too frequently, according to bill proponents, dogs are caught in the traps, and die before their owners can save them.
If passed, Senate File 452 and House File 456, authored by State Senator Charles Wiger (DFL-43) and State House Assistant Majority Leader John Ward (DFL-10A) respectively, would place limitations on where traps could be placed, with the goal of lessening the likelihood that dogs could be caught. Specifically, the bills would require that body-gripping traps be set at least five feet above the ground, submerged underwater (such as in public waters, streams, or wetlands), or otherwise placed in a manner that would protect dogs from inadvertent trapping, as determined by the rules of the Commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources.
The bills’ primary supporter is Dog Lovers for Safe Trapping, a group of trappers, hunters, outdoor enthusiasts, and dog lovers from throughout the state of Minnesota “who want to be free to enjoy the great outdoors without risk of losing our canine companions to lethal trapping methods.” According to John Reynolds, Founder of Dog Lovers for Safe Trapping, “At least twenty Minnesota dogs were killed in body grip traps in 2012. My own Penni was killed on December 17, 2011.”
Reynolds, himself a hunter and trapper, was trapping fox on public land near Emily, Minnesota, when his Springer Spaniel Penni disappeared. He later found her caught and dead in another hunter’s body-gripping trap. The trap was legal, and the tragedy inspired Reynolds to work for change so that others would not have their dogs needlessly suffer and die.
“Trappers in many states, including Minnesota, already use body grip traps elevated off the ground and it hasn't reduced the fur harvest in those states but has protected dogs,” says Reynolds, “Raccoons climb; dogs don’t. Anyone with a bird feeder or chickens knows that raccoons are expert climbers.”
Minnesota Voters for Animal Protection is also supporting the measure. “These traps are difficult for even a very strong person to open,” explains Executive Director Christine Coughlin, “The chances of getting a dog out, once caught, are very small.”
The bills’ primary opponent is the Minnesota Trappers Association.
Other Senate authors of SF 452 include Senator Alice M. Johnson (DFL-37) and Senator Dan Sparks (DFL-27). Co-authors of HF 456 include Representative Mark Uglem (R-36A), Representative Ron Erhardt (DFL-49A), Representative Linda Runbeck (R-38A), Representative Kathy Lohmer (R-39B), Representative Jerry Newton (DFL-37A), and Representative JoAnn Ward (DFL-53A).
Advocates wishing to support the bills can help by contacting the Chairmen to which the bills have been assigned to place the bills on Committee agendas for consideration. For Senate File 452, advocates can contact Environment and Energy Committee Chairman John Marty (DFL-66B) at email@example.com or (651) 296-6645. For House File 456, supporters can contact House Environment and Natural Resources Policy Committee Chairman David Dill at firstname.lastname@example.org or (651) 296-2190.