WARNING: Graphic Photograph Below!

Mint Valley Golf Course promises a lot of wildlife sightings such as birds, otters and beavers to those who visit its grounds. Some animals in the area, though, are considered pests, like nutria. One trap, called a Coniber, is designed to capture the nutria, however recently nearly killed a neighborhood dog in Longview, Washington.

Resident Melissa Higgins was inside her home when she heard an animal screaming outside. She immediately suspected it was her neighbor’s dog, Beans. She was correct and found him caught in a Conibear trap on the bank of one of the sloughs.

It took her and two neighbors just a few minutes to pry the trap open and free the scared little dog.

“I love this dog a lot and to watch him look at me and he couldn’t take a breath – he was choking and fighting for air,” Higgins stated to KATU News. “And any little movement I made to try and get it off of him made it worse. And it was just – probably one of the worst things that I’ve ever seen. It was bad.”

The nutria can damage dikes, dams and river banks while trying to build their homes and gather food. The traps to stop them dead in their tracks were set by a contracted professional trapper for the Cowlitz County Diking District.

The Washington Department of Fish and Game is still investigating as local members of the community state the traps should have been set up under water. A permit from trapping job suggests the traps should be in water, but they did not say if they have to be completely submerged.

Beans, although shaken, did not incur any serious harm and happily went back to his normal, bouncy self shortly after. Sadly another pet caught in a similar situation did not have such a lucky escape.

Maggie, the McCurtain’s 7 year old tri-colored Border Collie started her day on August 27, 2011 just like any other normal doggy day in Gresham, Oregon. Only today was an unusual day in the form of the backyard gate being open, bringing the exciting smells of the woods into her reach. Maggie, who loved exploring, stepped outside and only moments after being outside ran into a Conibear trap which had been left only 45 feet from her family’s suburban home.


Maggie’s death shows us the tragic consequences of wildlife traps.

Denise McCurtain was at home in the house when she heard a frantic knocking at her door. The neighboor on the other side informed her a black and white dog, who fit Maggie’s type was seen by the water and was not moving. Barefooted Denise ran to a distressed Maggie who had her head caught in the trap. With over 90 pounds of pressure around her head Maggie could not move and was nearly unable to breathe as her neck was broken and her windpipe crushed.

With no information about the trap the members of the community stood helpless to help Maggie. No one could master the trap open with pliers or screwdrivers and there were no numbers to call or posters around to advise just what to do. The traps springs were shut solid around Maggie and no amount of effort could save her as she collapsed and gave into her certain death.

The McCurtain’s informed their children of Maggie’s passing as gently as they could. No one took it easy and the thought of more traps just outside their safe home filled the family with fear and dread. Something had to be done, not just of Maggie, but for the family’s own safety. The trap which killed Maggie was set just 45 feet from their own back yard, where the children played regularly. Just like the trap which Beans was caught up in, these traps were also assembled for the nutria.

As it turns out there was a 3-inch circle sign posted near the fatal trap, stapled to a short wooden stake, indicating that the traps were federal property, and tampering or removing was a federal offense. A sign, yes, but no warning/danger alert about what the traps actually do to those who happen upon them. Also there was no information about how to remove the trap, no license or permit information. And if a child had been caught in one there were no instructions as who to call or what to do.

The McCurtain’s tried the normal avenues taken by people who feel something unjust has happened, they contacted the local authorities. A state trooper came and took a record of the account, but ultimately could not do more as the trapper had done nothing criminal. He did suggest the family contact an attorney if they felt they needed to take it further.

Revisiting the trauma of the loss of their beloved pet is too intense for some people who have encountered this type of situation and they simply let it go, to be forgotten. Also the expense of taking on the federal government is too daunting and complicated. In six weeks time the McCurtains found Predator Defense (A non-profit organization for the protection of native predators). A FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request was placed on their behalf and it was arranged for an attorney to represent them. As November 2011, Denise McCurtain has not heard one word of condolence from the homeowners’ association or from Wildlife Services.

The Conibear “instant-kill” trap kills by breaking the neck and strangling the victim. The one that killed Maggie had a 9” jaw spread; a trap of this size is almost impossible to open by hand. Conibear traps are square, with two rotating jaws, the larger version (the one Maggie died in) has two springs. You can see an animal-eye view of the Conibear trap by watching this video.

Conibear traps are used to capture and instantly kill species—such as badger, beaver, bobcat, coyote, fisher, lynx, nutria, otter, and raccoon—but they are indiscriminate. This means that pets, endangered species, and other non-target animals can be harmed without a second chance.

According to the manufacturer’s website,, these traps “should NOT, however, be used where non-target animals are at risk for capture” (original text in bold). The traps are strong enough to maim, injure, and kill a child.

As stated in the case of Beans, the Conibear traps should have been in water, in the case of Maggie this is highlighted by the investigators of Predator Defense. “In addition to violating state law, Wildlife Services violated their own internal directives. Directive 2.450 requires: 1 – That all traps be labeled. There were no labels on the traps used in this case. 2 – That warning signs be posted on main entrances or commonly used access points to the area where traps are set. No such warning signs were posted in this case. 3 – That Conibear traps greater than 8 inches be restricted to water sets.”

The McCurtains did not get close to a satisfactory outcome in their fight over the circumstances surrounding Maggie’s death, but if her story helps even one pet owner keep their pet safe Maggie’s legacy will never be forgotten.

For more information on Predator Defense and their work visit:

Written by: Renee Rhoades-Harrison