Who Trapped Taffy?
By Kathryn Weaver
Saturday, December 13, 2003 was a normal, chaotic day in my house full of kids and pets. It was quite cold that day and with everyone fresh out of the shower, I made the executive decision not to take our dog Taffy for a walk on her leash, but rather to let her go and have a run and do her business. We had been fairly vigilant about not letting Taffy run free as we live in Christieville on the Simon River and discovered last summer that she had been swimming the river and visiting people near Village Road (ranging much further than we had ever thought) and we were worried that she would get hit by a car. However, Taffy missed her doggy friends who also have the run of our small, private road, and once in a while we would let her out to run and socialize; she would normally return within 20–30 minutes.
Taffy had not returned after an hour, but we were not concerned because now and again she would really go for a run, and as it was so cold we were fairly certain she would not stray too far. After lunch, the kids went out to look for her along the road; this normally never failed to bring her in as Taffy jumped at any opportunity to play outside with them. By suppertime, I had taken a walk to look for her myself, and on my return I called the SPCM and SPCA on the off chance that someone had seen her and picked her up. No luck. I stayed up until midnight, periodically going outside to call her and becoming increasingly more and more worried as it was -25 C outside and she had never stayed out this long.
Sunday morning saw us bright and early out and about looking for Taffy. Several times throughout the day we took the car and checked the highway, Christieville Road and Village Road through Morin Heights hoping to find her but also looking for a body on the road. We alerted all our neighbours and called the SPCM and SPCA again. No sign of Taffy anywhere. My greatest fear at this point was that she had gone down to the river and had fallen through the ice. Posters went up all over Morin Heights and Montfort on Monday and Tuesday, one of my daughters and I slogging through snow and freezing rain affixing more than 100 posters to telephone poles, notice boards and in local businesses. On Wednesday, my neighbour and good friend Shona French took on the gruesome task of going to the beaver dam downstream to see if Taffy’s body had washed up, but the accumulated snow and ice made it impossible to see anything.
By Thursday afternoon, hope was fading. Taffy had been gone six full days and I was certain she had drowned in the river, trapped under ice. The SPCA (both in Ste-Agathe and Montreal) and the SPCM were very helpful, posting Taffy’s description and checking it against all new arrivals. Friends and neighbours had joined in the search, but it was as if Taffy had disappeared off the face of the earth. We were heartbroken and beginning to realize that we had truly lost our beloved pet the week before Christmas.
Mid-morning Friday, December 19 found me at my desk in Montreal when I received a highly excited phone call from my daughter Rachel, “Taffy’s home!!! She just came back. She’s really thin and her neck is bleeding and Daddy is taking her to the vet!”. “Neck is bleeding” turned out to be a major understatement—Dr. Pelletier performed surgery that afternoon, inserting 31 stitches at half inch intervals all the way around Taffy’s neck and throat to close a large, deep wound caused by a wire snare—a ligature trap. The wound was ¾ inch deep under her jaw and how the wire did not sever an artery or Taffy’s trachea is a miracle. I prepared myself for a shock when I went to pick her up Saturday morning. Taffy was a bag of bones, and the line of large blue stitches marching around her neck made her appear to have had a head transplant; she looked like a real Frankendog. She was extremely weak; exhaustion, trauma, starvation and loss of blood would have killed her had she remained out another night.
Last spring, I had read with horror and sadness Alana Hoffer’s story of her dog Grace’s death in a Conibear trap, 20 yards off the Aerobic Corridor. I was disgusted to learn that it is legal to place these traps anywhere on public land without regard to other people who might be making use of the area for recreational activity. I was even more horrified to discover that Taffy had been trapped on PRIVATE land in a small wooded area between our road and the next, less than a kilometer from our house. Unable to move or bark (her bark took ten days to come back), Taffy sat slowly strangling and bleeding for six days until the trapper cut her free while checking his trap lines.
Furious, I called the police to make a complaint only to be told that trapping was a municipal matter. As everything was closed down for Christmas at this point, I was unable to get any information until January. When I called the municipality of Morin Heights, I was informed that Morin Heights has no bylaw against trapping on its books. Trapping comes under the aegis of provincial law, so I turned to the Société de la faune et des parcs du Québec (FAPAQ) where a receptionist spent 20 minutes trying to convince me that trapping was necessary and trappers performed a service to the community. In fact, of all the people I have talked to on this issue, the only ones who seem to support trapping are in the government.
Increasingly frustrated by the bureaucratic run-around, I found myself knocking again on the municipality’s door and speaking with James Jackson, Inspector of Environment, trying to find out what could be done about trapping in Morin Heights. Trapping is regulated by provincial law and is permitted anywhere on public land as long at the trapper is carrying the correct permits and licenses and is using approved traps. I wanted to know why, in an area like Morin Heights that is becoming more and more residential, is there no bylaw to protect people and their pets from injury or death while pursuing recreational activities and enjoying the great outdoors?
Mr. Jackson told me that outlawing trapping would be very difficult; it is a practice that is woven into the history of Canada and any change would have to be brought about at provincial or national levels. In a nutshell, the province makes laws that the municipality is obliged to follow; however, the provincial law is the basic minimum and sets the standard, but the municipality is permitted to raise the standard above the minimum. Well here is one person who will be petitioning city council to re-evaluate its position on trapping in Morin Heights. Surely the rights of the tax-paying majority who do not condone trapping should take precedence over the tiny minority who participate in such an antiquated and barbaric activity.
Personally, I am not a fan of hunting. I do not see the need for it. But I can appreciate that some people hunt to put food on the table and consider it an enjoyable outdoor activity. At least with hunting, the animal has a fighting chance, a chance to escape, and if it is killed, it is a much more humane death than a slow, painful death in a trap.
Mr. Jackson referred me to Pierre Thivierge at FAPAQ for more information on the rules and regulations and for insight on recourse I would have in my particular situation. I must say that the receptionist I had originally spoken to at FAPAQ did direct me to the FAPAQ website and its code of ethics for trappers. Three of the items in this code of ethics struck me as particularly germane to my case: “I will ask permission for access to private land”; “I will inspect my traps regularly”; and “I will not place my traps in an area where is it possible I will catch domestic animals”.
When I asked Mr. Thivierge about the code of ethics and who enforced it, he told me that it was more a set of guidelines for trappers and they were not enforced at all. He also told me that FAPAQ enforces the regulations with respect to trapping: the season, types of game, special traps for each animal, permits and licenses. If a trapper is trapping on public land and is holding the proper authorization and is in season he can trap to his heart’s content. I contacted the landowners in my area and NONE of them have given permission for trapping on their land. In my case, it becomes a civil matter and it is up to me to hire a lawyer and file charges for trespassing. I have no recourse unless I can catch the trapper in the act and give his name or license number to the police. There seems to be no support for the general non-trapping public in the government regulations.
As well, Mr. Thivierge told me that an ethical trapper will check his traps every day, every second day at the maximum. This way, if a quick kill has not happened, he can put the animal out of its misery; and he can harvest his kill before it is destroyed by other animals. Obviously, the trapper operating in my area has not read the code of ethics as he was on private land without permission, my dog suffered for six days strangling and bleeding before she was cut loose, and his traps are placed between two residential roads where nearly everyone has a cat or dog that goes outside (not to mention children playing, skiing or snowshoeing in the area who could come across a trap).
One thing I have not been able to find out is what constitutes a “quick kill”. The FAPAQ would have us believe that when traps catch the right animal (and who tells the animal that it is approaching the wrong trap?) the kill is quick and humane. Nobody can tell me if a quick kill takes five minutes, two hours or six days. I asked Mr. Thivierge why these traps aren’t identified so people don’t accidentally stumble on them and he told me that they have a problem with people vandalizing, destroying or stealing the traps when they are visible–surely this is an indication of public opinion on trapping! Quick kill aside, one statistic I have come across several times in my reading is that ¾ of animals trapped are discarded because the trap has caught the wrong animal. What a painful, wasteful practice!
I have also been in contact with Ray Raymond of the Quebec chapter of the Sierra Club. Mr. Raymond has been extremely supportive and helpful, full of information. He suggested I write a letter of complaint concerning Bill 147 and trapping to Minister Pierre Corbeil. Anyone who wishes to express their opinion on trapping can reach Mr. Corbeil at 5700 av. 4 ouest, Edifice de l’atrium, #A-308, Charlesburg, QC G1H 6R1. As well, Alana Hoffer has a website with a petition on it that is worth a visit www.graceslegacy.com .
Please, if you feel as outraged about trapping as my neighbours and I do, write a letter to the municipality, make a complaint to Mr. Corbeil in Quebec. There is no reason why we should have to accept trapping simply because a very small minority wishes to continue an outdated, cruel practice.
I am happy to report that Taffy is making a complete recovery. It took nearly two weeks for her bark to come back, another couple of weeks for her energy and spirit to revive and five weeks for her wound to heal. She has a nasty scar and is unable to wear a regular collar as yet and she is more clingy and constantly looking for reassurance from us. As well, she suffered frostbite to her feet and has to wear boots because her feet are too sensitive to walk outside in cold weather. An ordeal such as hers should not have to be repeated. I would like to thank my friends and neighbours who helped us look for Taffy, and all the people who have expressed support and outrage over her ordeal.
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