Kieri on the Metolius River Trail. She was nearly killed there by a trap. photo provided
Kieri on the Metolius River Trail. She was nearly killed there by a trap. photo provided

The last thing Jack Williamson expected while he and wife Jill were walking their beloved Wheaton terrier, Kieri, along the Metolius River trail near the Wizard Falls fish hatchery on Saturday, February 11, was that Kieri would soon be fighting for her life.

"While watching birds along the Metolius River, Kieri became ensnared in a trap used to take river otter," Williamson said. "The trap was set only 18 inches off the trail, and it would not have changed a thing if she had been on a leash."

Much to the surprise of the Williamsons, otter traps are perfectly legal to be set in the area along the trails of the Metolius from November 15-March 15. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) has very few if any regulations stipulating how far from public roads, paths, and trails traps can be set. There is also no requirement to post traps, and it is illegal to disturb a trap.

Currently in the state of Oregon, there is no penalty for trapping a pet, even if it is killed. Oregon does not keep statistics on what non-targeted animals are caught by these traps, but incidences of dogs being caught, injured, and in some cases killed along popular recreational trails have increased in recent years.

"I believe that if you selected 100 people at random and then walked them one-by-one by the bush where Kieri was ensnared, and then turned them around and told them that a quick-kill animal trap was just inches off the side of the maintained trail they just walked down, not one person would think that was OK, most would be outraged," said Williamson.

The trap used to ensnare Kieri was a Conibear Trap, or otherwise known by its Oregon ID as a "280." It has up to an eight-inch jaw spread and is completely legal to use on dry land in Oregon. The trap closes with about 90 pounds of pressure and is nearly impossible to open without knowledge of how the trap operates. Designed to kill otter, beaver, bobcats and lynx instantly, a domesticated animal who survives the initial, crushing, closure of the trap has very little chance of survival unless removed immediately.

"Kieri was strangled. She was unconscious for at least five minutes, probably longer, while I struggled unsuccessfully to release her from the trap," said Williamson. "Thankfully Jill had enough sense to run for help. By the time ODFW employee Mark Dean arrived, I had given up. Gratefully, Mark did not hesitate, he called me back to help and between the two of us we were barely able to summon enough strength to slip the trap off her neck."

"I'm not very familiar with those things either, but I had seen them and was able to remember how to get the pressure off," Dean said.

After Kieri was removed from the trap, Williamson laid down beside her and heard a faint heartbeat.

"I gave Kieri mouth to nose breathing for the better part of a minute, and eventually she began to breathe on her own," said Williamson.

Once removed from the trap, the Williamson's took Kieri to Companion Animal Emergency and Critical Care in Bend.

"When Kieri came in, X-rays showed some fluid in her lungs," said Debbie Putnam, DVM at the clinic. "We treated her for 24 hours andshe was released. She is a very lucky dog."

In addition to Kieri, Putnam treated another dog for trap related injuries, and the clinic has treated a total of seven dogs recently that were caught in traps.

Oregon has a long history of trapping, and wildlife managers in many states will demonstrate that trapping benefits both people and wildlife. In the early 1900s otter nearly disappeared due to a substantial loss of habitat and 200 years of unregulated trapping and hunting. Thanks to a partnership between trappers and wildlife biologists, nearly 4,000 otters have been released back into the wild in 18 states, after being trapped in places where they are abundant, like Louisiana and Maryland.

Trapping can help restore threatened and endangered species by controlling predators and other animals that would otherwise have killed these sensitive animals or destroyed their habitats.

All traps in Oregon are marked with the owner's license number assigned by ODFW. It is unlawful to disturb traps during the season in which they are used and they only have to be inspected every 48 hours for removal of any trapped animal. ODFW has information at their website entitled "What dog-owners should know about legal trapping in Oregon" at http://www.dfw.state.or.us/wildlife/docs/dogs_and_trapping.pdf.

Regardless of the legalities, a dog encounter with a trap can be traumatic and deadly.

"The horror of watching your pet struggle to free itself from the grasp of a heavy trap around it's neck is almost too much to talk about," Williamson said. "But, Kieri is now home with us and she is expected to make a full recovery."

For more information on hunting and trapping in Oregon, visit the ODFW website at: http://www.dfw.state.or.us/resources/hunting/small_game/.