A grouse hunting trip to northern Minnesota turned tragic on Halloween weekend when Mark Johnson's Labrador retriever stuck his head through a body-gripping trap. The steel trap, which has a 10-inch by 10-inch opening, closed instantly, shattering Bronco's nose and crushing his neck. By the time Johnson and his friend found the dog along the edge of a river, it was too late.
"In the heat of the moment the dog is dying, you are trying to help it, and you can't get that thing off. Just totally helpless. It was the most helpless thing I've ever felt," Johnson said in an interview with Minneapolis' WCCO TV.
Bronco was one of at least 7 dogs killed in body-gripping traps in Minnesota last year and one of at least 25 killed since 2012, according to Dog Lovers for Safe Trapping in Minnesota president John Reynolds. Some were family pets; others were not only pets, they were hunting dogs like Johnson's yellow lab.
"I don't dare take my dogs hunting when trapping season is open. I quit the day before trapping season opens, which runs from mid-October into March. I don't want to risk it," says Reynolds.
He and Johnson, along with many other hunters, are hoping new legislation making its way through the Minnesota legislature will prevent future deaths of dogs caught in traps like the one that killed Bronco. SF 1325 would require all body-gripping traps with a jaw spread greater than 5 ½ inches to be set at least five feet off the ground or completely submerged under water.
However, the bill allows those types of traps to be set lower if they are placed in a cubby-type container with limits on the size of the container's opening. Trappers often place Conibear-type traps in buckets or boxes, with bait placed at the back of the container. SF 1325 would also require trappers to notify a conservation officer or Minnesota DNR employee of any dog caught in a trap, and it would require trappers to obtain written permission from the landowner before placing traps on private property.
The bill has gained strong support among the state's bird hunting community and is backed by the Ruffed Grouse Society and the American Kennel Club, among others. Governor Mark Dayton also supports the legislation. The Minnesota Trappers Association objects to the proposals, but Reynolds says the group has not offered any alternative methods to protect hunting dogs.
He urges resident and non-resident Minnesota bird hunters to contact state legislators soon and urge them to vote for SF 1325 and HS 1655, the House version of the same bill.