Caught in a painful trap

Animals: Steel-jaw leghold traps are inhumane and dangerous to pets and untargeted species.

March 14, 2001

TRAPPING WILD animals for fur is not a popular pastime in Maryland, but it could be a more humane one.

Steel leghold traps are a particularly unpleasant device, inflicting violent pain on impact and compounded violence as desperate animals struggle to free themselves. Sometimes they gnaw off their own limbs to escape or ease the agony.

These steel-jaw traps are inefficient and nonselective. They can, and do, injure and kill animals that trappers are not hunting. That includes pet dogs and cats, protected songbirds and waterfowl, deer and even livestock.

Four suburban counties already ban these furbearer traps as public hazards, allowing their use only if completely under water.

More than a half-dozen states have banned or severely limited use of these inhumane traps. So has the European Union and 90 other countries.

Legislation to ban steel leghold traps -- not trapping and not all commonly used traps -- is before the General Assembly. Opponents argue that the legholds are more effective and no more cruel than other traps. But their chief objection seems to be the cost of buying these alternatives.

One compromise suggested would require that leghold traps be padded; such devices are commonly available. That might soothe public fears, but it does not make leghold traps more humane.

To bolster enforcement, Maryland also should require a trapping license. Unlike other states, Maryland only requires a general hunting license, with no trapping education.

That's a poor basis on which to enforce existing trapping regulations and manage the wildlife resource.

Animal suffering may be a harsh reality of nature. But indifference to the torment of animals trapped for recreation or profit is something human society must not sanction.

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