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Maria survived being caught in an illegal trap near Helena

Maria, a 22-pound dog, survived being caught in an illegal trap near Helena. This photo was taken shortly before she was trapped.

On November 28, I was hiking with my dogs at the John G. Mine trailhead in the Scratch Gravels Hills near Helena, where I used to walk daily. At the end of our walk, only one dog came when called. After 15 minutes, I began to panic. A friend helped me search for Maria in the dark until midnight, but we did not find Maria.

I printed flyers and placed them around town first thing in the morning and went back to the trailhead to search for Maria. A very kind soul who had seen the flyer had come up to help look. This time I found Maria less than a mile from the trailhead.

She was caught in a leg-hold trap. The trap was illegally set on the trail with no ID tag. There was a snare trap set 10 feet away. But trapping, I learned, is legal in this area, too.

Maria had broken three teeth trying to escape, and needed stitches in her leg. An emergency trip to the vet and subsequent visits have cost more than $1,000 in vet bills.

I spoke with a woman who stepped on a trap set in the road between the John G. Mine and Norris trailheads. She wasn't harmed, but what if that had been a child?

If I had known that trapping was taking place in this popular recreational area, I would have never gone there. We deserve signs warning the public wherever trapping is legal.

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Before this incident, I knew very little about trapping. I now know far more than I want to:

  • Traps can be set on public lands.
  • There is no time limit for a trapper to check traps.
  • Not only do they trap intended species, traps are responsible for the deaths of pets and endangered species, as well as harming children and adults.
  • Unlike fair chase hunting, where only targeted, legal game is being pursued by a hunter right there, any creature can be caught and struggle for days, weeks.

For the public’s sake, regulations mandating that trappers check their traps every 24 hours are needed.

Every town in Montana needs at least a few areas where trapping is not allowed, where people can walk their dogs and take their children without the fear of traps.

I spent many hours in panic about my dog. Maria spent the freezing night trapped, in shock and injured. I now have substantial vet bills to worry about. I won’t be taking my dogs there again. I’m too afraid of the consequences. What should have been a pleasant outing with my pets turned in to a costly, emotionally draining experience that has changed the way I live.

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Jane Madison lives in Helena with her two small dogs.

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