It took 30 long minutes for Ruby the dog to die, as her neck was crushed in the grips of a metal conibear trap. Her owner, Cathy Gagnon, could do nothing but futilely struggle to remove the trap, watching her companion gasp for air and slowly die. The incident happened just north of Winnipeg last month, as Gagnon and Ruby were enjoying a winter walk.
In a letter to the editor published by the Winnipeg Free Press on Jan. 26, Gagnon described her awful ordeal. Winnipegger Robyn Rypp asked in a subsequent letter, "What on earth could this ‘monster’ be trapping so close to a city? Are there not laws to protect domestic pets from this fate?"
The trap was reportedly set by a local farmer, to protect his property from coyotes. Conibear traps are legal in Manitoba, even within city limits. Animal advocates are calling for that to change.
The conibear is a steel, spring-loaded, body-gripping trap that is meant to break the neck and strangle a captured animal. "They are landmines, waiting to devastate animals who get too near," says Lesley Fox, with wildlife advocacy group The Fur-Bearers. Though touted as "instant kill" traps, and often promoted as more humane than leg-hold or snare traps, Fox says "as is documented in this case and many others, this isn’t the reality."
And because they are classified as kill-traps, there are no regulations for licensed trappers regarding when they must return to check the traps. "So animals suffer for extended periods of time," she says. Just like Ruby.
"When used by property owners like the person who set the trap that killed Ruby, no licence is needed in Manitoba," explains Kaitlyn Mitchell, a Winnipeg-based animal rights lawyer with Animal Justice, "and the province merely requires that the trap be checked every 24 hours." But with no licensing requirements for property owners, Mitchell explains that authorities "are generally in the dark about who is using these traps and where, making it difficult to enforce the 24-hour checking requirement."
When used by licensed trappers, she adds, "enforcement is also a challenge, given that trapping generally takes place across vast areas of wilderness."
Both the Fur-Bearers and Animal Justice are calling for the province of Manitoba to finally outlaw all body-gripping traps, including the conibear. The Winnipeg Humane Society has also deemed the trap cruel and inhumane. "Traps do not discriminate," the society said in a statement. "Dogs, children and non-target wildlife all run risk of being caught and slowly killed by these traps."
The society also stated via email that its board of directors is "in discussions as to how we can take next steps to make these traps illegal in Manitoba."
On its website, The Fur Bearers list dozens of incidences across Canada over the last decade of pets being caught in wildlife traps, including Pippen, another dog killed in a conibear trap in Manitoba in 2012.
Last August, a man got his foot caught in a conibear trap while hiking in southeastern Manitoba. Conservation and Climate had issued a wild-animal kill permit for "problem" beavers. The WHS published blogs asking for officials to stop killing ecologically important beavers, and offered alternative and proactive measures for dealing with wildlife.
"Landowners are encouraged to learn how to coexist with native wildlife," says Fox, adding that The Fur-Bearers can offer assistance with this. "Many resources exist on how to predator-proof farmed animals and property."
While the tragic story of Ruby the dog has tugged at the hearts of many Manitobans, let us also consider the many other animals for which these traps are actually set: the beavers, coyotes, raccoons, muskrats and other wildlife that are threatened with a slow, inhumane death that no creature deserves.
"There are plenty of ways to reduce human-wildlife conflict," says Mitchell, "without resorting to the use of cruel and indiscriminate traps."
Jessica Scott-Reid is a Winnipeg-based writer and animal-rights advocate.