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Dog Owners Would be Wise to Watch Trapping Video
Tim Mowry / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner / December 16, 2005

After failing to write about it when the Alaska Trappers Association released it at the start of the trapping season a month and a half ago, I have been looking for a reason to hype the association's new video, "Sharing Alaska's Trails."

As I was reading the letters to the editor on Wednesday, I struck gold.

A letter written by Veronica Houghtlen of Fairbanks provided the perfect example of why the trapper's association did what it did, which was to shell out $7,000 to get the video made.

In her letter, Houghtlen said she was out walking her two dogs on the river dike, which I assume is the dike along the Tanana River, when one of the dogs got caught in a snare.

"I don't know much about traps but it was one where the animal chokes itself to death while trying to escape," she wrote. "Because I don't know about traps, I wasn't aware that all I had to do was give the wire some leverage for my dog to come loose.

"With my dog gasping for air, I was in a hysterical crying panic and ready to accept the act that my baby was going to die and I had to see him suffer through this," Houghtlen continued. "God heard my plea and gave me the insight of how to let him loose."

High fives all around, but had Houghtlen known about and taken the time to watch the ATA video, she wouldn't have needed assistance from a Higher Order.

In short, the video is a 30-minute lesson on how to identify a trapline, how to identify different traps you may encounter on a trapline and how to release dogs from those traps. If you have dogs and you let them "explore" like Houghtlen does, it would behoove you to watch it.

Veteran Fairbanks trapper Pete Buist, who is as articulate as he is outdoors savvy, serves as the narrator on the video. Buist, a hunting guide and former state game board member who is known for his wit, is a former president of the ATA who has trapped for 40 years, 20 of which he used a dog team to do so.

Right from the start, Buist lays it on the line.

"If you're of a mind that trapping is just a nasty business and has no place in modern society, we are not here to try to change your mind," Buist said in the opening. "Because no matter what laws and ordinances our government passes, there will always be irresponsible pet owners and irresponsible trappers and where these two low-life forms clash, we unfortunately end up with dogs in traps or snares."

It is the hope of ATA officials that the video will reduce trail conflicts between trappers and other trail users, specifically dog owners, whose pets get caught in traps set too close to residential areas. Trappers end up with a black eye every year as a result of some such incident.

The way ATA President Steve Davila of Fairbanks sees it, $7,000 is a small price to pay to ensure that trapping survives in Alaska and elsewhere.

"We see it as a wise investment for the future," said Davila. "We want to show the public at large we're doing something to help, and we're not turning a blind eye to the problem."

While ideally the trappers association prefers having a "warm body" in front of an audience, finding those bodies isn't always an easy thing to do, Davila said.

"This is the next best thing," he said of the DVD.

The video is not gruesome, by any means, and you won't see any bleeding animals struggling in traps. Mostly, the video features Buist standing behind a table going over different types of traps and how to operate them. He also offers suggestions for subduing and handling dogs in traps and tells viewers clues to look for that might mean they are on a trapline, i.e. a bird wing fluttering from a pole, survey tape or flagging and piles of bait.

Buist offers tips on how to deal with dogs caught in traps, such as covering the dog's head with a coat and tying the animal's muzzle shut with a scarf or gauze from your first aid kit. He also provides pointers for opening traps, like using two sticks wired together to act as a trap spreader, using a piece of rope to open a Conibear and using a C-clamp to depress the springs on a trap.

The trappers association had 50 copies of the DVD made. There are 10 copies available in Anchorage and 40 in Fairbanks. The goal is to get copies of the video spread across the state for different organizations to use, Davila said.

Anyone wishing to request a seminar from the trappers association or to view the DVD can call 457-1774 or e-mail info@alaskatrappers.org .

"The bottom line is if we can reduce or possibly eliminate trail conflicts, that's going to be an advantage to trappers statewide," said Davila.

Not to mention the dogs that get caught in their traps.

News-Miner outdoors editor Tim Mowry can be reached at 459-7587 or tmowry@newsminer.com

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