Trail danger: Dog owner urges trap safety

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MOOSE PASS, Alaska (KTUU) — After her dog was badly injured in an illegally set trap along a popular trail, Erin Knotek of Moose Pass decided she needed to do something to protect other pets.

Bella, a border collie that lives near Moose Pass, caught in a leg trap. (photo courtesy Erin Knotek)

"I felt very helpless, I didn't know what to do" Knotek said of the incident last October, where a trap was set before trapping season began. "I want to educate other pet owners on how to get your dog out of a trap, and what to look for."

In 2015, Knotek's border collie Bella won a national championship in an AKC agility competition in Reno, Nevada, becoming the first Alaska dog to win the honor in her division.

Bella, now 14 years old, is retired from competition and spends her days roaming the trails near Tern Lake with her owner.

Knotek says as they were walking along a popular hiking trail, she heard Bella start howling in pain. Bella had been caught in a leg trap, baited with rotten meat, a little more than 20 feet from the edge of the trail.

"This trap was set illegally and right next to a well-traveled path that not only myself but my neighbors travel right along and their pets and their children" Knotek said.

Unable to free Bella by herself, and with her husband 35 miles away at work, Knotek called a neighbor for help. Together they freed Bella after nearly 10 agonizing minutes. Bella sustained injuries to her front leg, and the trap ripped out one of her front teeth as is snapped closed.

Bella recovered from her injuries, but Knotek was determined to do something to inform trappers and pet owners about the dangers.

Knotek has partnered with the Alaska Trappers Association to conduct safety classes for pet owners and trappers. The next one is Wednesday, Feb. 13 at 6:30 p.m. at the Seward Community Library.

"What message would I like to get out? If you're going to be a trapper, trap responsibly and ethically," Knotek said. "Know the regulations and follow them, and please consider getting off the trail. 20 feet is not enough."

Knotek's sentiment is echoed by the Trappers Association.

"We support legal trapping and part of the problem is sometimes people trap in places where it's either not legal or not wise to trap and we try and teach trappers about where they set ," said Pete Buist, spokesman for the Alaska Trappers Association. "At the same time, we point out that dog owners have a responsibility to follow leash laws and that sort of thing, and while irresponsible trappers and irresponsible pet owners will inevitably clash, if everybody takes some personal responsibility and follows the rules and uses some common sense, it should minimize any problems between trappers and pet owners."

Knotek says she was not required to have Bella on a leash because they live in a rural area where it's not required.

"My dog bounced back pretty good," Knotek said. "I feel like I have a little PTSD myself because when I go down the trail with her, I'm very nervous...I'm very anxious myself."

You can find more information about pet safety and trapping regulations here.