John Reynolds thought the death of his Springer spaniel Penni was a rare accident, a stroke of bad luck that simply didn't happen much.
However, after a local newspaper wrote a story about his dog, Reynolds started getting calls from hunters and dog owners throughout Minnesota. It was, he said, almost like being in some sort of survivor's group.
"It started to dawn on me that this was a much bigger problem than I thought," he recalled.
Penni stuck her head into a wooden box with a body-gripping trap in it on December 17, 2011. She died nearly instantly.
All told, 20 dogs were known to have been killed in body-gripping traps in Minnesota in 2012 alone, about half of them hunting dogs. The total number of dogs killed is likely even higher.
That's unacceptable -- and completely avoidable -- according to Reynolds, a 60-year-old environmental consultant from Merrifield, Minn.
Currently, various sizes of body-gripping traps -- commonly called "Conibears" because of a popular brand of traps -- can be set in Minnesota in numerous ways that will catch dogs. Reynolds wants to change that and place new restrictions on those traps.
"I'm in no way anti-trapping. I'm a trapper and the overwhelming majority of Minnesota trappers have never killed a dog. I was actually setting leg-hold traps with my dog when she got out of sight and found the body-grip trap that killed her," he said. "I just want trappers to be required to use body-gripping traps and snares in ways that won't harm dogs."
That may or may not happen, according to Minnesota Department of Natural Resources furbearer biologist Jason Abraham. His agency is taking a wait-and-see approach on the issue, but is not getting involved at the moment.
"We are following this, but it seems like both sides are at least discussing the issue. We hope they can work out a solution," he said.
Abraham said any regulatory changes could be made through the legislature or by a public input process that includes several months of hearings, which has no guarantee of producing Reynolds' desired outcome.
Reynolds is also aware that the issue may result in a division among Minnesota sportsmen's groups, but he said the ongoing death of dogs is already dividing the outdoors community and even the non-hunting public. It's not just hunters who have lost dogs to body-gripping traps.
He fears this could turn into a larger controversy, one that might be fueled by anti-hunting groups bent on a complete ban on trapping, if more dogs are caught and killed.
"The sooner we can prevent dogs getting killed in traps and snares, the better off all the sportsmen of Minnesota will be," Reynolds said.
That seems to be happening already, says Minnesota Outdoor Heritage Alliance president Tim Spreck. He spearheaded several meetings between various sportsmen's groups and legislators in order to "look for common ground and mutual respect." He was successful, but the issue seems to be in a waiting pattern with no direct actions in the works by state politicians.
"The DNR made some changes a couple of years ago and the number of dogs reported killed in traps was down considerably last year," Spreck said. "I do believe trappers are working more to prevent catching dogs, as well."
One dog is too many for Reynolds. He's concerned new regulations allowing trapping on private land leased for public hunting will result in additional deaths of dogs. The 20,000-acre walk-in program used to prohibit trapping on land leased by the DNR for public hunting, but the rules are set to be amended for 2014.
Reynolds is urging concerned hunters to contact Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton (800-657-3717) to ask him to require Conibear-type traps to be set under water or at least five feet off the ground statewide. He would like to see similar restrictions on snares.
Spreck didn't know how many dog owners have reached out, but he said such efforts tend to be ineffective.
"The politicians all know what the issues are and what's going on, so bludgeoning them with calls and e-mails doesn't really accomplish anything," he said.
Reynolds, however, isn't giving up until his proposed changes are carried out through the regulatory process.
"The current regulations that were designed to prevent this aren't working. There's no reason this has to go on," he said. "Lots of other states have restrictions on body-gripping traps and snares and it doesn't have a negative impact on the trapping community."