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Illegal hunting trap suffocates retriever

Union Leader Correspondent

December 07. 2012 8:38PM
Andrew, a 4-year-old golden retriever, died Wednesday night after being caught in an illegally set trap in Auburn. (COURTESY)

AUBURN -- New Hampshire Fish and Game is investigating an illegally set animal trap that killed a woman's dog on a well-used trail in Auburn Wednesday night.

Melissa Fogelson had been walking her 4-year-old golden retriever, Andrew, on a trail off Old Depot Road near Clark Pond in Auburn, using the trail because she believed it to be safe during hunting season, given the number of walkers and bikers who frequent it.

While on the trail, Andrew caught a whiff of something and ran over to inspect. What Fogelson didn't realize was that her dog was drawn to the bait on a lethal hunting trap.

The trap was a Conibear 220, an asphyxiating, "body-gripping" trap. It is nearly impossible to pull it open - and in fact harmful to the animal to force the trap open - particularly by one person. Instead, springs on opposite sides must be compressed and their safety hooks attached individually, a counterintuitive and difficult process even when not under stress.

"The more I looked at it the more I started to have a sense of what I might have to do, but I didn't have enough strength to do it," said Fogelson. "When I first looked at it I had no idea (what to do.) I tried - believe me, I was trying - but I couldn't get it off of him."

It took two police officers "with all of their strength" to remove the trap, she said.

The traps location and setting were illegal, officials said. Any trap over 6 inches wide must be set either 5 feet off the ground or under water. This trap was set on the ground.

"We have the laws in place for this exact reason," said Fish and Game Officer Chris McKee. "Any animal on the ground could've gotten into it, or person, or kid."

The trapper, whose name has not yet been released because the investigation is ongoing, is expected to be charged with trapping violations, which may lead to fines of up to $1,000, Fish and Game said. Fish and Game will also push for restitution for the dog owner.

The trapper, who has trapped in the past and took it up again recently, had taken the required courses and was aware of the laws, officials said. All of his traps in the area have since been taken down.

"I'm not really sure why he set it on the ground" said McKee. "He did what he did."

Auburn police Officer Anita Lombardo, who responded to the call, described the scene as horrible.

"I was thinking of a leg trap, like the bear trap you see in the movies," said Lombardo. "I was expecting to go out and find a panicking dog and panicking owner and together we'd get this dog out of the trap. I was not expecting what I saw. . When I went up, you couldn't even see where (the trap) was against his neck because it was so tight that it got lost in his fur. It was like a medieval torture device on this poor dog.

"When I went up the trail, I saw her sitting there, exhausted from carrying the dog from probably almost a mile out, just sobbing. . She just looked up at me and said 'I promised I would get him out.' . It was horrible. I couldn't even imagine what I would've done."

For Fogelson, who was not aware such traps existed and never anticipated to find one near such a busy area, public education on the devices and the laws "has to be" something that comes out of her story.

"Anybody could have landed in that trap," she said. "Kids, anybody else's dog, and truthfully no wild animal should die that way either. It was miserable. Supposedly they've found this guy and removed his traps, but that doesn't mean there isn't somebody else out there doing the same thing."

For now, Fogelson is just trying to make sense of what happened that night.

"I don't think I've hit anger yet. I think I'm getting there, but I still can't get over the shock and the surrealism and the fact that this even happened," she said. "All I keep seeing in my head is him being caught in the trap. I think I'm getting to anger, but I'm just heartbroken. He was my best friend, he was my kid, you know? He was just a four-year-old happy puppy playing in the woods."

This was first incident of its kind with body-gripping traps that McKee has encountered.

"The trapper is cooperating completely and fully, and is doing anything he possible can to help with us and the lady as well," he said.

McKee noted that the trapper hoped to eventually get in touch with Fogelson.

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