Although it’s a cold and dreary day, that wasn’t going to keep me from going on my usual walk in the woods. I walked past Evergreen Valley Inn and to a dirt road that is seasonally maintained by the Forest Service. A monster-sized SUV with Massachusetts plates sped past, followed by a pickup truck with “Maine State Game Warden” painted prominently on its sides and rear. I figured I would be seeing the warden’s truck more often in the area, since deer hunting season opens this Saturday, so I didn’t give it much thought. My dog Spencer and I continued along, and then took a side path on some former logging roads and abandoned settlers’ land. Soon we were bushwhacking through the overgrown woods, although due to the deciduous forest is was easy to see where we were going. Rain threatened; I really didn’t want to walk back in wet clothes in 35-degree weather, so I decided to head back home before the sky opened.
As we made our way back to the forest road, the SUV with Massachusetts plates stopped alongside of me. Inside were two women in their 60s. After introducing herself, the driver said to me, “I hope you don’t mind, but when I saw you were with your dog, I felt I needed to stop and warn you . . . yesterday we were hiking and my dog was injured by a trap.”
She had been hiking the popular trail up Lords Hill where there is an abandoned mica, quartz and beryl mine, and where people who pick through the “mine dump” of blasted rock can still find gemstones if they are lucky. Just before she got to the top, only 1 foot off the trail, her miniature schnauzer suddenly went crazy, with erratic movement and horrible noise. She figured he had encountered a small animal, but when she looked, he was bleeding profusely from the mouth and thrashing wildly. She ran over to him and found he had gotten his foot caught in the jaws of a trap!
She told me that had her friend not been with her, she doesn’t know what she would have done. It was very tricky for the two women to free the dog from the trap – – first they had to figure out its release mechanism so they wouldn’t cause the dog even more harm – – and it was connected to a heavy chain wrapped around a tree, so it was hard to maneuver. Carrying her little dog, they flew down the trail to her car and rushed to an emergency vet about 25 miles away. Fortunately, the dog did not lose his leg and he will be okay.
She called the Maine State Game Warden and told him about the unfortunate incident. So together they walked up the trail, where she pointed out the offending trap. The game warden checked the trap – – a licensed trapper puts an ID tag on each individual trap he uses – – and there was no tag. This meant it was a poacher. But, the warden said, while the placement of the trap was both stupid and unfortunate (because many people and their dogs use this trail), had the trap been tagged, since it was off-trail (even only 1 foot) it would have been “legal.” What’s worse, trappers use a bait scent to attract an animal to the area of the trap, which is how her dog got caught – he was sniffing around.
I find it ironic that most of the dangers associated with the woods are not due to confrontations with wild animals, but are usually human-caused – – and this was no exception. Even during the height of deer hunting season, I am careful to wear bright orange and to make sure my dog is wearing a bright orange safety bandanna as well. It had simply never occurred to me that I would run into a danger like trapping! And worse, now that the leaves are covering the ground, there is simply no way to see a trap and my poor dog is especially vulnerable. Even keeping him on a leash wouldn’t have helped – – this trap was only 1 foot off the trail.
Needless to say, until trapping season is over, I think I shall be avoiding unmarked trails, nor will I bushwhack or traverse some of the more remote areas nearby. This poor woman’s story really left me shaken, because she had just gone on what was to be a pleasant, easy hike with her friend, and her dog was merely doing what dogs do – – sniffing around in the woods, but staying nearby – – and due to one person’s lack of regard, her dog barely escaped a grievous injury.
I’m sad – – and mad.