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How much difference do cable restraints make for non-target animals?

posted Mar 9, 2016, 8:15 PM by Scott Slocum   [ updated Mar 9, 2016, 8:17 PM ]
Cable restraints are a special type of snare. They're used to catch wild animals for the fur trade and predator control. They can improve animal welfare; and in many cases, give trappers the option to release their incidental catches relatively unharmed. 

The benefits for domestic dogs can be tremendous. But how likely are trappers to risk the release of dangerous animals?

In this article, the advantages of cable restraints over regular snares are examined in a range of scenarios from easy and safe to difficult and dangerous. In each scenario, different types of animals are released from cable restraints by different types of people. The advantages vary according to the scenario, from big advantages for most domestic dogs, to questionable advantages for the more dangerous wild animals.


== Advice from the WI DNR ==

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WI DNR) cable-restraint guide (Olson and Tischaefer 2004) recommends the use of a catchpole to release a dog that's prone to bite. However, it doesn't provide any instructions for how to release wild animals, at least some of which (e.g. wolves) must be more dangerous and difficult to release than frightened domestic dogs.

Here are the instructions for releasing a dog that's prone to bite:

"... we highly recommend the use of a catchpole (which is nothing more than another cable restraint on the end of a fiberglass handle). Place the noose of the catchpole over the dog's head and tighten it gently. Then pin the animal down and cut the loop on the cable restraint to release it. A pair of quality cable cutters should become part of your personal cable restraint equipment."

== Evaluating the advice from the WI DNR ==

As always, the trapping lobby, even in this higher-quality WI DNR document, has glossed over the difficult parts of the subject:
  • An animal caught in a cable restraint is likely to afraid, stressed, injured, and still struggling. 
  • It would be dangerous for a trapper to approach an animal in that condition, and slip the noose of a catchpole over its neck. 
  • An unknown percentage of trappers would be reluctant to put themselves in danger that way.
  • Rather than putting themselves in danger, an unknown percentage of trappers would kill the animal. 
  • Trappers who risk a release put themselves in danger twice: once when they put the catchpole noose over the animal's neck, and again when they remove the noose and release the animal. 
  • Rather than putting themselves in danger the second time, An unknown percentage of trappers would use the catchpole to strangle the animal into unconsciousness before releasing it.
So, although cable restraints are widely promoted for the option they give trappers to release incidental catches "unharmed," it seems unlikely that, in dangerous circumstances, many trappers would be willing to risk that option to release dangerous animals (e.g. wolves).

== Unanswered questions ==
  • How many trappers, rather than take any risk, instead just kill the animal?
  • How many trappers, willing to deal with a snared animal but not with an injured animal released from a snare, opt to strangle the animal into unconsciousness (possibly causing further injury or death) before releasing it?

== Comparing cable restraints to regular snares, part 1: defining the terminology ==
  • Cable restraint: a snare that's built and set to the specifications of the WI DNR cable-restraint guide (Olson and Tischaefer 2004).
  • Purposes of a cable restraint: 1) to reduce the harm that's done to animals by the snares, and 2) to improve the chances of releasing animals from the snares relatively unharmed.
  • Ideal calm-dog scenario: A dog is caught in a cable restraint while walking or hunting with his or her owner. When the owner finds the dog, the dog is calm and waiting to be released. The owner releases the dog, unharmed, by simply loosening the noose of the cable restraint with his hands.
  • Ideal aggressive-dog scenario: A trapper finds a strange dog in his cable restraint, but the dog seems to be behaving aggressively. The trapper uses his catchpole to immobilize the dog, removes the cable restraint by loosening or cutting the noose, and releases the dog from his catch pole.
  • Ideal calm-wolf scenario: A trapper finds a wolf in his cable restraint (which he might have set intending to catch a coyote or bobcat). The wolf is not trying to escape or attack the trapper. The trapper--taking extra care to stay out of the catch circle, keep a barrier between himself and the wolf, and station an assistant with a weapon to defend against a possible attack--uses his catchpole to immobilize the wolf, removes the cable restraint by loosening or cutting the noose, and releases the wolf from his catch pole.
  • Ideal aggressive-wolf scenario: A trapper finds an aggressive wolf in his cable restraint. He's reluctant to risk a release. He calls for assistance, and his local fish & game officer comes to help. Together, they release the wolf.
  • Unfortunate aggressive-dog scenario: A dog, struggling to escape the cable restraint, is injured or killed when the steel cable cuts into its neck or other body part (Rankin 2016).
  • Unfortunate wolf scenario: A wolf, struggling to escape the cable restraint, is injured as the steel cable cuts into its neck. The trapper, reluctant to risk releasing the wolf fully conscious from his catchpole, strangles the wolf into unconsciousness before releasing it and retreating to safety. The wolf is further injured, or killed, by strangulation.
  • Unfortunate careless-trapper scenario: A careless trapper finds an aggressive dog or wolf in his cable restraint. He's reluctant to risk a release or call for assistance. He's in a remote area, and he can tell by the lack of other tracks in the snow that he's alone, and that what he does won't be observed. Rather than take a risk, he kills the dog or wolf, and tosses its carcass in the brush.
  • Unfortunate negligent-trapper scenario: A trapper neglects to check his cable restraints. An animal is caught in one, and is left to suffer (Snowdon 2016; CBC 2015). The animal is injured, deprived of water and food, exposed to the weather and predators, afraid for its life, and exhausted from trying to escape. Eventually, the animal succumbs and dies.
== Comparing cable restraints to regular snares, part 2: evaluating the scenarios ==

 ScenarioAdvantage of
cable restraint
over regular snare
while waiting
Advantage of
cable restraint
over regular snare
at point of release
Advantage rating: 
5=best
1=questionable
0=none
 Ideal calm-dog scenario much better much better 5
 Ideal aggressive-dog scenario much better better 4
 Ideal calm-wolf scenario much better better 4
 Ideal aggressive-wolf scenario maybe better unknown 3
 Unfortunate aggressive-dog scenario none none 0
 Unfortunate wolf scenario maybe better maybe better 2
 Unfortunate careless-trapper scenario maybe better none 1
 Unfortunate negligent-trapper scenario maybe better none 1

== Summary == 

To summarize in simple terms:

  • For calm domestic dogs (easy to release), cable restraints are much safer than regular snares.
  • For frightened, struggling animals (difficult and risky to release), cable restraints will be safer than regular snares in many, but not all, cases.
  • For animals caught by careless trappers who didn't build, set, or tend their cable restraints as required, cable restraints won't necessarily be any safer than regular snares.

== Conclusion ==

Cable restraints aren't perfect, but they would be a big improvement for Minnesota dogs. 


== References ==

CBC. 2015. "Hay River, N.W.T., Dog Killed by Abandoned Wolf Trap." CBC News North. Hay River, Northwest Territories, Canada: Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC). 

Olson, John F., and Rick Tischaefer. 2004. "Cable Restraints in Wisconsin: A Guide to Responsible Use." Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Wisconsin Trappers Association. 

Rankin, Eric. 2016. "'My Dog Died in My Hands' Says Owner of Pet Caught in Snare Trap." CBC News. February 2. 

Snowdon, Wallace. 2016. "Coyote Snares a 'Death Trap' for Pets in Parkland County." CBC News. February 15. 


WI_DNR_2004_CableRestraintGuide_Figure41
Diagram of a cable restraint (figure 41) from "Cable Restraints in Wisconsin: A Guide to Responsible Use." Olson, John F., and Rick Tischaefer. 2004. WI DNR, WTA.