What was intended to be a relaxing beach walk near Outer Point Trail on a sunny day late last week turned into “one of the worst experiences” for a Juneau dog owner whose pet narrowly survived a near-death experience.
Last Friday, decade-long Juneau resident Jessica Davis and her boyfriend were walking along the beach north of the Juneau Substation when her 3-year-old, 80-pound golden retriever, Nova, who was walking along the brush near the high tide line let out a squeal and growl and began thrashing around.
Upon quickly running to the source of the noise, Davis found Nova lying limp on the ground with her head in a body hold trap, commonly referred to as a Conibear trap. The trap closes with about 90 pounds of pressure and according to Juneau-area biologist Roy Churchwell, the trap was originally developed to be a more humane trapping system meant to kill animals quickly.
“But in a pet situation, a pet in that trap doesn’t live that long and you have to be quick,” he said.
Davis said she panicked, and had no idea how to get the trap off. However, she said thankfully her boyfriend knew what to do and the pair worked together to release the trap, but even then, it was difficult to remove, and they were afraid it was too late.
“In the state of panic, I would have lost her if it was just me — I didn’t know how to get it off,” she said.“I thought she was gone — we both did.”
After a few minutes, the pair successfully released the trap and after attempting CPR, Nova regained consciousness. Upon resting and a visit to the vet, it appeared she only suffered bruising but no major injuries.
According to wildlife officials, incidents like this in the Juneau area are extremely uncommon for many reasons.
“It’s such a rare thing,” said Alaska State Trooper Alisha Seward who was one of the responders to the incident reported by Davis.
Seward said the last time she heard of a trapping incident similar to this in Juneau was back in 2016, but even then it wasn’t a pet that got caught — it was a bird. She said in her experience, the trapping community in Juneau has always been responsible and good at placing traps in legal and appropriate locations which she said makes this incident even more of an outlier.
Seward confirmed the trap was fresh and placed illegally near the area that typically has moderate pedestrian and pet traffic. She said the trap wasn’t staked down, which is something an experienced trapper would typically do, and the trap did not have a marker identifying who owns it.
Prior to 2016, Southeast Alaska trappers were required to have signs marking their trap lines or tags on each trap or snare with their name and address or an identification number. However, the Alaska Board of Game voted to remove that requirement with advocates citing financial burdens and misuse as reasons behind the removal.
In 2019 the board faced a proposal that sought to reinstate the requirement which advocates said was intended to help with the enforcement of trapping regulations and to address problems of pets getting caught in traps. However, the board voted it down and currently there are no requirements to have signs marking traps of owner identification in the region.
“They don’t have to be marked,” she said. “It makes this harder to identify whose trap it is.”
Seward said after speaking with Davis, she along with a Department of Fish and Game hunting biologist walked the area to scan for other potential traps and examined the exact location of the trap, which was found via a geolocation of a photo Davis took of the trap after the incident.
Seward said they are still trying to identify who set the trap, however, currently, she believes the area is now clear of traps and intends to go out again after the recent snow melts for a second scan.
“Right now, I don’t think that there are more out there,” she said.
Seward, Churchwell and Davis said though the rare incident didn’t result in a fatality, they all emphasized that knowing the trapping regulations in the area along with understanding the mechanism to release traps can be life-saving skills to know, like how it was for Nova.
“It’s an infrequent occurrence that something does happen, but just be aware of if it does happen and your animal does get trapped so that you know how to undo the traps,” Seward said. “You know, just learning how traps function and being familiar just in case a freak accident does happen.”
Churchwell said a lot of information on how to identify and release the different varieties of traps legal in Southeast Alaska and around the state can be found on the ADFG website among other online resources like the CBJ website.
Grateful Dogs of Juneau has an entire page dedicated to the trapping locations, seasons and regulations in Juneau along with how to remove traps from pets.
Currently, trapping season for area 1C — which Juneau is in — is open for wolves and coyotes through April 30, wolverine through Feb. 28, beaver through May. 15 and river otter, red fox, lynx, marten, mink, weasel and muskrat through Feb. 15. The 2022-2023 Alaska trapping regulations guidebook can be found at https://www.adfg.alaska.gov/static/regulations/wildliferegulations/pdfs/trapping.pdf
“Reports of illegal trapping are very rare, it happens once every few years or so but there’s always that possibility,” Churchwell said.
Churchwell said the public also has the opportunity each fall to attend a Department of Fish and Game presentation called Sharing the Trails which explains common trapping practices in Juneau, the areas that are trap-free and the different trap removal procedure videos.
“The safest thing to do is to know and go to areas where there are not supposed to be traps,” he said.
Davis said Nova is doing okay and said she hopes her story can encourage other pet owners in Juneau to learn what to do if they find themselves in a similar situation.
“Always be aware, know the dangers and research,” Davis said. “Just try to be as prepared and knowledgeable as you can and know how to handle the situation if it ever arises — we definitely got lucky.”
• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at email@example.com or (651)-528-1807. Follow her on Twitter at @clariselarson.