At a September 2022 meeting to draft best management practices for trapping in Vermont. The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department (VFWD) presented information on the “incidental” trapping of domestic pets in the state. VFWD staff explained that there was no central database in the state for recording such events, although state law requires licensed trappers to report anytime someone’s pet is accidentally trapped in Vermont. Reports are also made to local police departments or not made at all when the traps are illegally set as some were in 2022.
Of the 13 reported cases, most involved foot-hold traps that left only minor injuries to dogs that were accompanied by their owners in most of the cases when they stepped into traps. Unfortunately in other cases, most often involving body-gripping traps that are intended to crush their victims, the pets died or suffered serious injuries. The most recent case involving a body-gripping trap occurred in December 2022 in South Corinth, when a resident saw her dog she was walking caught in an illegally set body-gripping trap. The animal died in the owners arms. This is the same style of trap that conforms to proposed “best management practices” (BMPs) VFWD is currently proposing as improvements to modern trapping.
In another incident on October 31, 2022 police dispatchers received a call about a dead dog hanging in a tree in Underhill. Body-gripping traps set for fisher are placed at least 5 feet above the ground in trees to deter, but not prevent dog captures. The investigating warden stated, “Dog killed in legally set trap. No F&W violation.”
The 13 reported cases of a dog or cat in a trap in Vermont in 2022:
January 1, Lyndon: Dog’s paw injured in illegally set foot-hold trap set by a 13-year-old. No citation.
July 24, Hartford: Cat caught in cage trap. No injuries. No citation.
August 8, Bellows Falls: Cat seriously injured in illegally set body-gripping cat. Trapper not found. No citation.
August 26, Colchester: Cat caught in legally placed foot-hold trap. No injuries. No citation.
September 9, Bennington: Dog caught in illegally set foot-hold trap. No injuries. Trapper not found. No citation.
October 17, Lowell: Dog suffers minor injuries in foot-hold trap. Trapper cited for unrelated trapping violations.
October 31, Underhill: Dog killed in legally set body-gripping trap for fisher. No citation.
November 1, Starksboro: Dog caught in legally set foot-hold trap. No injuries. No citation.
November 29, Pownal: Dog caught in foot-hold trap. No details. Still under investigation.
December 8, Dog suffers minor injuries in illegally set foot-hold trap. Trapper not identified. No citation.
December 18, Windsor: Dog caught in legally set foot-hold trap. No injuries. No citation.
December 20, Corinth: Dog killed in illegally set body-gripping trap. Trapper not identified. Still under investigation.
December 26, Wardsboro: Dog caught in legally set foot-hold trap. No injuries. No citation.
VFWD records taken from licensed trapper surveys in 2017-2021 record 35 reports of incidental dog or cat captures, 25 dogs and 10 cats. The majority involved foot-hold traps that left only injuries, but 4 involved body-gripping traps with at least two being fatal. The recently released reports for 2022 of 13 pets being caught in traps is higher than the average for the 4 years previously recorded by VFWD.
Current proposed improvements to trapping in Vermont would still allow body-gripping traps and only require traps on land to be set off of trails and roads 50 feet. The rules would exclude traps set underwater, sometimes referred to by trappers as drowning sets. These include a foot-hold trap set inches underwater when a beaver is the target species. The trap is connected to an anchored cable that drags the beaver underwater where they are eventually drowned. Body-gripping traps are also commonly used just under the surface of the water and will still be allowed to be used immediately off of roads and trails in Vermont.
Beavers can hold their breath for up to 15 minutes, but VFWD’s proposed BMP improvements assure the public that the beaver, otter and fisher caught in improved BMP body-gripping traps like those set for beaver, otter and fisher, die within 5 minutes 70% of the time in experiments with live animals. These experiments are a necessary phase of BMP research according to VFWD.
Will Vermont Fish & Wildlife’s proposed improvements to trapping end the incidental capture of dogs and cats in Vermont? Absolutely not. Between 2017 and 2022, over 60% of all reported domestic animal captures occurred in legally set traps and did not result in any violation of trapping laws. The data collected from licensed trappers reflects that accidentally catching dogs and cats is simply a reality of modern regulated trapping that no agency can promise will not occur as long as trapping is legal.
There is no such thing as a discriminating trap that always catches the animal it was intended for. Most of the dogs caught in foot-hold traps in Vermont escape uninjured, but body-gripping traps designed to kill (within 5 minutes) that will continue to be legally set for beaver, otter and fisher and remain a danger for our pets.
Please join Vermont Wolf Patrol in calling for an outright ban on the use of lethal body-gripping traps and drowning sets. These trapping methods are beyond any hope of improvement. These are systems designed to kill an animal while not damaging its fur. Vermont’s wildlife is far more valuable ecologically than it is for a trapper who’s lucky to get twenty bucks for a beaver with today’s fur prices. Please email Natural Resources Committee Chair, Senator Christopher Bray and VFWD.
Please email Vermont Fish & Wildlife:
with the subject line “BMP Trapping Recommendations.”
To send comments to Chair of the Natural Resources Committee, Sen. Christopher Bray please email: email@example.com