When Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry Bill Mauro reported to work Monday morning, he was likely trapped with more than 34,000 e-mails.
As of Monday afternoon, more than 38,500 people had signed the ‘No Traps On Trails’ petition, requesting Mauro to prevent more animal deaths on Ontario trails due to baited kill-trap (Conibear) set up near all-season multi-use trails.
The issue struck a nerve for Buckhorn residents Valerie Strain and her husband last December when their dog George’s head got caught in a trap located on Crown land, just a few feet from a side trail near their cottage and within 20 feet of a popular snowmobile/ATV trail.
Buckhorn is about 40 kilometres north of Peterborough.
“He died a slow death, while I struggled unsuccessfully to free him,” said Strain, who launched the online petition a week ago.
She noted the ministry (MNRF), through the area’s local conservation officer, was informed of what happened to George and investigating.
“However, they told us that there are no rules about how close to trails the trap can be set and no requirement to notify the public that they are there,” she added.
“There does not seem to be any way for the public to find out where traplines are. They could be anywhere on Crown land, on your neighbour’s property, even in provincial parks and you wouldn’t know.”
Ontario Tourism is currently running ads that show a family cross-country skiing, while their dogs run off-leash beside them.
“Where is it safe to do that?” asked Strain.
She and her husband no longer feel secure anywhere except on their own property.
The petition also hit the web in light of a similar incident where a dog was killed in Stirling after its head became stuck in a Conibear trap, near the Heritage Trail in mid-December 2014.
There, the “kill-trap” was set within 30 feet of the trail.
Stirling-Rawdon Police Chief Dario Cecchin stated the day following the incident a man was walking his mid-sized dog off-leash on the trail at the time.
“Keeping dogs on leash will keep them safe from traps, predators and from becoming lost,” Cecchin then stated. “Also, trappers need to understand and obey their obligations under the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act.”
Strain and her husband both grew up in rural areas. The couple had no idea of the risk they were taking every time they took their dogs out on the trail across their home.
“One of our responsibilities as pet owners is to keep them safe,” she said. “We failed George in that regard.”
With ‘No Traps On Trails’, Strain wants to make sure this doesn’t happen to another family pet, “or worse” to a child out on a walk with their parents.
To prevent more deaths on Ontario trails and improve the safety of everyone sharing public outdoor spaces, Strain and thousands of supporters urge MNRF to launch a public awareness campaign about the danger to pets and people from active traps and improve trapping practices and regulations.
“Including publishing maps online that show registered trapline areas, setting a minimum distance from public trails and marking trails that run close to traplines,” she said.
While Strain is not surprised by the number of online signatures captured within a week, she did not expect her initiative would escalate “so quickly”. The couple think they have found a middle ground between those who support trapping and those who don’t.
“I think it struck a nerve,” she said.
“I think people care about this. They think the request that we’ve made to the MNRF is reasonable. Even people that support trapping can get behind this.”
Jolanta Kowalski, senior media relations officer with MNRF, says there are steps dog owners like Strain can take to ensure their dogs are not impacted by legally set traps.
“The most important step is keeping control of your pet at all times by keeping your dog leashed,” she said in an e-mail to The Intelligencer.
“I offer my condolences to anyone who has lost a pet under such circumstances.”
She noted MNRF officials will consider any recommendations brought forward that might ultimately reduce the chance of a pet being caught in a trap.
The MNRF’s website has detailed information about trapping laws and practices in Ontario. More information can be found here.