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Little middle ground between Alaska trappers and Alaska pet owners

Jennifer GibbinsThe Cordova Times

CORDOVA -- Well, it's trapping season and I am saddened to share with you that another dog was killed, caught in a 330 Conibear trap. In light of recent national events this may seem an incongruous concern, but day-to-day life beats on and there are a few necessary words of caution.

This time, Matt Romens' dog, Holmes, an enormous goofy, slobbering bloodhound, was involved. Holmes was killed when Matt was out with him hiking a trail close to town. I received this news in an email from one of Matt's friends, a fellow pet owner, who watched Matt during the summer fishing season. She was outraged and distraught. Balancing the rights of community members with diverse interests is always a tricky thing.

As I explained to her, trapping is legal in many of the places where we recreate, including within city limits. To the extent that I am aware, the recent incidents with pets and traps have involved legally placed traps in close proximity to trails. Depending on the size and type of trap, they can be lethal because they are designed to be lethal. Pet owners and people with children that hike the trails and explore the roads and woods need to be aware. Additionally, specific to pets, laws tend to put the burden on pet owners: leashes, voice command, etc.

Matt's friend was unaware of several of these facts. Bottom line:  As a pet owner or parent, you need to be aware. You are responsible for your pet's or child's safety.

I've also been contacted by several mothers lately about this issue, concerned about the safety of children who can dart into mischief in the blink of an eye. Holmes was a big dog, bigger and stronger than any of the kids who sat on Santa's lap, weighing about as much as some adults. Matt's friend and the moms have all appealed to me to inform others - so there you have it.

Coincidentally, a few weeks ago, before the first trap related pet fatality of the season, I was meeting with a highly skilled professional sportsman. Fisher, hunter and trapper, you name it. Cool guy. Classic Alaskan. The topic of politics came up. I was bemoaning the tenor -- not a specific "side" to anything, rather the fact that it is all about sides. The dialogue has become so polarized and bitter.

"Oh, I've had my taste of politics and once was enough," the sportsman commented. "That trapping committee a few years ago. Never again."

The committee he was referring to was convened by City Council and chaired by Mike O'Leary to look at the issue of trapping. It came about following an incident with a dog getting caught in a trap. The committee was formed and a series of meetings followed over several weeks. Pet owners and trappers  figuratively and literally sat on opposite sides of the table. Pet owners appealed to the trappers for consideration of an array of possible compromises. Eliminate trapping within city limits, widen the buffer zone along trails, register traps, flag trails at the trail head when trapping. Something, anything to make recreational areas safe for pets and children.

As I sat chatting with the sportsman, we had the same take on the meetings. They were unpleasant and everyone went away a little more entrenched, a little more bitter. Nothing was accomplished.

Two friends called this week as I was writing this. "Good luck with that," said one. "You'll get attacked for even mentioning it. They tried to run Karl out of town for bringing it up several years ago."

What is all this nonsense with running people out of town? In another context, I've heard a bit too much about that lately. From a purely practical standpoint, unless you want to pay higher taxes, higher utility bills, higher everything, we need every live body we've got and then some. Whatever happened to the days when you could explore challenging subjects and sensitive topics with friends and neighbors and the cool thing was that you didn't need to see it the same way? No "my way or the highway" going on. Openness of thought was as prized as the diversity of minds and experiences. Curiosity, empathy, humor, respect.

The second friend called later in the day. She's another classic Alaskan. She asked what I was working on and I again explained.

"What are they doing setting traps within city limits," she asked. I explained that the law allows this. "What? Not where I live and no trapper would think of setting traps near a trail."

Since living in Alaska I've done some cool things with a diverse circle of friends. Hunting, fishing and so on. A few years back I hunted my first and only moose so far. Wow, a lifetime memory for certain. I'd put my skill level on par with something out of an episode of “I Love Lucy” but I've tried some new things and learned a lot in the process. As a result, I look at many things, including hunting in all forms, from an entirely different perspective.

Trapping doesn't interest me so that is not something I plan on exploring but I do respect trapping as part of a way of life in a place that is still closely tied to nature. Of the many places where I walk with my dog, I can think of only one where the trapper marks the area around traps with strips of bright orange plastic tape tied around the trees. I can see them at quite a distance. I am so appreciative of this - it shows consideration and respect for the safety and well being of others, and it strengthens my respect for the trapper.

Respect: due regard for the feelings, wishes, rights, or traditions of others. It's a small thing that helps us to peacefully coexist while maintaining our diverse interests.