The coyotes have been more of a nuisance than usual this past winter. February and early March, the dogs had been upset by a group (3) of coyotes that had been coming in close to the farm ... our neighbors to the east and north had both said they had seen them in the fields close to our pastures, just outside of our fences. As a rule, one dog stays in the east pasture with one group of sheep while the other dog goes into the west pasture with another part of the flock. While in the west fields, the stock and dogs can go down to the confluence of the Little Thompson, which is about midway on our 80 acres.
Whenever BOTH dogs want to go into the west fields, it can only mean that coyotes or cougar have come up from the river and have moved in close to the barn. In the past, I have let them both go into the west fields ... they are gone for a few hours (never more than 4 to 6 hours and never overnight) and then they return to the barn.
On Saturday, March 4, 2000 both dogs wanted very much to go with the flock on Saturday morning, so I let them go. They did not come back. The female, Badger, came back around 10:00 pm Saturday night. Marley, the male, did not come back at all. I began searching for Marley Saturday night. I made posters, put them up and offered a reward. I notified both County Humane Societies, as well as the closest Veterinary Clinics. I continued searching all of the river bottom to the east and west, and the surrounding hills, until Wednesday, March 8th, morning when we found him.
One of the neighbors is known to set leg hold traps (now illegal) on the Forest Service land that is south and west of our farm. I became convinced in my mind that Marley must be in one of those traps or he would have come home. Wednesday morning, March 8, Keith and I went to find out if Marley was in one of those traps.
We drove around to a south entrance to the land where we thought the traps were, then hiked down a road for more than a mile. We followed the sound of the whining and found Marley in a large live trap. We both tried very hard to spring the door latch of the trap, but it was closed twisted and jammed. Meanwhile Marley was going crazy to get out. We could not lift the trap with Marley in it. The only thing to do was to cut the top of the trap open to get him out. The trap also had a deer leg in it as bait. The whole area around the trap smelled of dead things (like a bear smells). I wonder if a bear hadn't found Marley in the trap and tried to get it open.
We walked back up the road we had come down. The whole walk down and back out took about 1 hour and 45 minutes. When we got to the car we saw that a blue pickup truck was parked across the road so that we couldn't leave. A while later, a fellow came out from the locked gate who said he was the caretaker for the Ranch and adjoining land (where the trap was found). He said we had trespassed and he had called the Sheriff. We explained who we were and why we were there. He said he thought the trap belonged to a fellow who lived some miles away. He said he would have to tell the landowner and trap owner about us, but that he didn't think the Ranch owner would be concerned. He also said that we would get a letter from the Spring Gulch Watch as they always write down the license plates, call the Sheriff and send a letter to anyone they see on the roads. He wanted to know why we hadn't called him ... we said we didn't know who he was nor who to call. Until he told us, we knew nothing about the Watch group nor anything about the trap owner, or any interest he might have in what we had done.
On the way down the road we passed the Sheriff coming up. We stopped and talked to him and told him what had happened. He gave us his card and said to call later.
Wednesday night about 8:30 pm we got a very angry, loud, threatening call from the trap owner. He said it was criminal to trespass, that we had destroyed his property because we were angry ... that not only had we ruined his trap, but we had vandalized the cabin ... that "any idiot could open a trap"... that we owed him $300.00 for the trap, he had the papers on it ... that he damn well didn't have to turn our dog loose ... that he could do anything he pleased on private land ... that there wasn't any law about checking live traps on private land ... that we "had better pay up or there would be all kinds of trouble". Also that he had trapped lots of dogs through the years ... he could trap dogs if wanted to. He wasn't interested in anything we had to say ... he wanted his $300.00 and meant for us to know there would be bad consequences if we did not pay.
We did indeed receive a form letter from the Spring Gulch Watch group with a very specific, and threatening paragraph about "harm coming to our dog", added by the trap owner (we suspect). As there was NO return address and NO signature, there is no way to respond to whoever *THEY* are ... nor to know for sure who would send something like that.
We have been advised by the Sheriff and the Division of Wildlife to contact the Larimer County Humane Office. I did reach that office and was told that if we want to pursue this, they would have to give us a ticket for Marley "being at large". Then they would contact the trap owner and ticket him for the animal abuse he had done by leaving the dog in a live trap/not checking the trap for four days.
By Colorado State law: The 3 things one is supposed to do when one traps an animal in a live trap:
(1) turn the animal loose
(2) call the owner if possible
(3) call Animal Control or DOW to come remove the animal.
Live traps must by law be checked every 24 hours and every 12 hours in inclement weather (whether on private or public land). It is animal abuse to leave an animal in a trap or to shoot it in a trap.
The Humane Office is sending us forms to file about this whole "misadventure" ... they feel that at the very least we should have this information on file in the event that the trap owner or landowner act in some revengeful way in the future.
We are currently in the process of repairing the damage we did to the trap to get Marley out. We want to do what is right in this mess. The incredible, happy thing in all of this is that we found Marley before he died a terrible death. The really sad thing in this is that there is no way to stop the cruel behavior that has been done and will go on being done in the future. Whoever said "life isn't fair" spoke the truth.
Marley is safe at home now with his sheep and new lambs and when he comes up for a lean and an ear scratch I say to him "pay attention Marley: there's NO place like home ... there's no place like home."
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