Caught by Mistake: Pets suffer serious steel-jaw leghold trap injuries

Unimaginable. Traumatic. That’s how the veterinarians who treated Cub described his injuries. He was discovered hobbling along a road in New Mexico; his body riddled with shotgun pellets as he tried to move on the exposed ends of bones where his hind legs once were. He had been caught in a steel-jaw leghold trap, and after being discovered by the trapper, he was shot. Still, somehow, he survived.

Wild furbearers are the target, but any animal in the area is at risk

Each year in the United States, more than 6 million animals are trapped on both public and private land, and most are trapped for their fur. The majority are caught in steel-jaw leghold traps. The traps are often set along lengthy traplines in remote regions, but are also placed in populated areas, and the traps are hidden from ready view. Once the device is set, whoever triggers the pan of the trap will be caught in its vicelike grip. Steel-jaw leghold traps are popular with trappers because of their propensity to readily catch any animal. However, this means the traps are also capable of catching raptors, deer, songbirds, endangered and threatened species, and domestic dogs and cats. Lures and/or baits may be used, and these aren’t enticing to furbearers alone—companion animals respond too. Some pets have been caught as family members were nearby on public trails—at times even when the pets were on a leash. When nontarget animals are trapped, the trapper may seek to avoid detection and the accompanying reproach by either quietly releasing the animal—even though he or she may have suffered a debilitating injury—or killing and burying the animal to hide evidence of the mistaken capture and subsequent harm.

Steel-jaw leghold traps inflict excruciating pain and extensive trauma

The traps close with bone-crushing force on their victims, who struggle violently to be free. Injuries include severe swelling due to restricted blood flow, severed and lacerated tendons and ligaments, joint luxation, and bone fractures. Teeth may be broken, sometimes right down to the jawbone, as the animal bites at the trap holding his or her limb. In their desperation to escape the device, some animals will chew off their own limb to escape. The restriction of blood flow can result in gangrene, which is why many pets rescued from steel-jaw leghold traps require amputation of a limb.

Beware of traps, and if you need to rescue an animal, here’s how

It can be challenging to release an animal from a steel-jaw leghold trap, but it can be done. The powerful springs ensure that the jaws of the trap are clamped tightly on the victim’s limb, and require much strength to open. This task is often tougher because the trapped animal is panicked and in pain, struggling to get out. Because of the animal’s frenzy, you can be bitten by your own pet when trying to release him or her, so be very careful. Apply as much pressure as you can to the levers on either side of the trap’s jaws (see diagram) until the jaws open enough for the animal to get out. If you are unable to open the jaws of the trap, you will need to take your pet in the trap to the nearest veterinarian. Most traps are staked to the ground to prevent a trapped animal from escaping while still caught in the device; therefore you will have to dig up the stake or you may be able to unhook the trap from the stake. If neither of these works you will need to seek help to get your pet out of the trap.

Conclusion

Steel-jaw leghold traps should be banned from use in the United States because of their cruelty. As long as these devices continue to be used, they pose a threat to all animals—including companion animals. Currently, there is legislation pending in Congress—the Refuge from Cruel Trapping Act—that would prohibit use of steel-jaw leghold traps in all of the national wildlife refuges. Passage of this bill would be a huge step forward and reduce much needless suffering.

CUB • LAS VEGAS, NM

Cub’s injuries were truly horrific. Here, he tests out a pair of temporary prosthetic limbs.

LUCKY • SOUTHPORT, NC

A trap set for coyotes in a residential area caught this cat instead—resulting in amputation of his front leg.

MONTE • FLORENCE, MT

As she played at a popular recreation site, a trap slammed shut on Monte’s leg. She screamed and writhed in agony while her owner desperately sought to free her.

HONEY • VALENCIA COUNTY, NM

Since her leg—mangled in a trap—was removed, Honey has developed severe arthritis and requires daily medication.

DARBY • HUSON, MT

Darby spent five days in a trap set for wolves near her rural home. Her injured lower leg could not be saved.

LEPRECHAUN • LOUISVILLE, KY

Leprechaun wandered into a trap set inside city limits. He underwent surgery, but the trauma proved fatal.