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Dog caught in trap has officials searching for ordinances (11/08/2006)
By Cynthya Porter

Photo by Cynthya Porter
     This scenic path behind Holzinger Lodge is just part of a maze of popular trails that could contain hidden animal traps like the one discovered the hard way last Friday not far from this spot.
A pleasant walk on the trails behind Holzinger Lodge turned traumatic Friday, leaving a boy and a dog injured and law enforcement officers scouring ordinances to determine how laws could have better protected the pair.

Diane Spalding was at work Friday while a personal care attendant took her sons, Shane, 11, and Luke, 9, and their seven-month-old puppy to the trails to enjoy the temperate day.

The group had been walking for an hour or so when Bosco, a hound and Lab mix, wandered about five feet off the trail and started to howl.

Around his front paw was a spring trap that had been hidden in the leaves next to the fallen log it was anchored to. The trap was the no-kill toothless variety, designed to snap tight and hold an animal by a foot, and Bosco was frantic.

Shane got to the dog first and instinctively reached to free the puppy's leg from the mouth of the trap. But the hysterical animal bit his hands, leaving over a half-dozen puncture marks before the surprised child jumped away.

The aide tried repeatedly to dial Spalding at work, but a weak cell phone signal prevented the call over and over. After the aide moved down the hill the call finally went through, and the scene on the line when Spalding answered was enough to send waves of panic through any parent.

After receiving several failed calls, Spalding knew something was wrong from her post managing the Redmen's Club on Third Street. When the call finally came through all she could hear was her son screaming, a dog howling and a young personal aide frantic.

Spalding hung up and called 911, but it was hard to give officers enough information about how to find her sons. "I said I've got two boys on the hill behind Holzinger, one's been bit and our dog's in a trap," Spalding said. "I couldn't say exactly where they were, but I told them to get close to Holzinger Lodge and Woodlawn Cemetery and follow the screaming."

An officer on the West End responded first, and found a bleeding Shane running down the trail to find help.

The personal care attendant was farther up the hill with Luke, who Spalding said has autism, cannot speak, and was immune to the goings on around him.

Another walker had arrived on the scene about the same time as the first officer, and he offered a sweatshirt to cover the dog with while the group tried to remove the trap.

Spalding said once the trap was removed the scene calmed considerably. Her son's bites were examined and deemed likely not serious enough for stitches, and the dog soon was able to limp on the injured foot.

With some semblance of order restored, everyone's attention was turned to a more pressing question: What was an animal trap doing five feet off the path behind Holzinger Lodge?

It turns out, no one is quite sure yet.

As required by law, the trap contained a label with the name and address of the owner, who has been in contact with police since the incident. That owner appears to have the proper state licenses, Winona Police Department animal control officer Wendy Peterson said, although whether those licenses allow him to trap in that spot has yet to be determined.

The owner said he believed the trap was on Woodlawn Cemetery property, not city property, and Department of Natural Resources regulations permit trapping broadly unless a municipality has a specific ordinance against it.

In fact, according to DNR game warden Tom Hemker, it wouldn't matter under the state's eyes if the trap was on public or private land, as state trapping regulations do not distinguish between them. "There is nothing in the regulations that says I can't hunt Canada geese on Lake Winona, except that the city has ordinances against it," Hemker said.

Regulations for trapping include certain provisions regarding size and placement of traps, but those provisions typically only concern themselves with the trap's proximity to bodies of water or culverts and how frequently the trap must be checked.

State regulations protect trappers too, saying that no person may remove or tamper with a trap that is legally set, regardless of where that trap is.

Peterson said she is still combing through city files to determine whether there is an ordinance in place or not, and could not release the name of the trap's owner until her investigation is complete.

If there is no ordinance, the man is not in violation of any laws, Peterson said, although he certainly expressed regret when he learned of Friday's incident.

But Spalding insists and Peterson agrees that traps within the city limits are dangerous and if there is not an ordinance now, as far as Peterson is concerned, there should be. "If there is an ordinance I'm going to find it," Peterson said, "and if not I'm going to work on drafting one."

Peterson said she has heard past stories of officers encountering animal traps, but during her tenure since 1992 she has never encountered one.

Veterinarian Ken Chaffin, who treated Bosco, said this is not his first animal injured in a trap, but it is his first that was trapped in the city.

Bosco, who Chaffin called a nice dog that got really scared, will likely make a full recovery, although he has some nerve and tendon damage for the time being.

A trap like the one that snared Bosco could certainly break the leg of a smaller dog, Chaffin said, not to mention fingers or toes, depending on the shoes, if one were to stumble into it.

"I'm shocked by the location of the trap," he said. "This is certainly a very good dialogue for the city to have regarding not just pet safety but the safety of people hiking and biking."

Spalding said she learned of at least one other family who had a dog caught in a trap a couple of years ago behind Holzinger.

According to Spalding, everyone on the scene agreed the place where the trap was located was very close to the public trail, and if it was Woodlawn's property it was not marked as such in any way.

And since the woods contain no property lines, other traps, whether on private land or not, could present a land mine situation for any people or pets venturing into the unmarked woods.

Although whether the trap was on public or private property may be irrelevant to state regulations, it is highly relevant when it comes to determining liability for damages when people get hurt by the traps.

Spalding said she and her sons frequent the trails behind Holzinger and it never occurred to her someone could be setting traps in the woods there.

Spalding said she is grateful, knowing that things could have been much worse, but she is also angry. It is not merely the lost wages, vet bill or emergency room visit that has left her fuming, it is that an activity her sons love has been tainted. "It made me really sad to hear my son say that when he was running down the hill for help and he heard the sirens he kept thinking over and over, ‘Oh gosh, I hope they're looking for me.'"

Spalding says she is not against trapping at all, but she has become a crusader against trapping in areas the public should be able to assume are safe. "If there are no ordinances, a person could have traps in Lake Park!" Spalding said. "That could have been anyone's kid or pet. I have nothing against trapping, I have it against where it's going to be a danger to people or pets."

Spalding doesn't care what she has to do, whether it be speak at a City Council meeting or wage a public campaign until every last trap is gone from the city limits, but something is going to happen. "Something's going to be done before I'm done," she said. 


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