ELLISTON — Kelly Clark of Elliston got his dog Stella from Pintler Pets Humane Society in Anaconda a little more than a year and a half ago to help with some emotional support.
“It has been a godsend,” said Clark. “I’ve owned dogs before, but for some reason I’ve never been this attached.”
Several weeks ago, Stella and his two other dogs got out of their property. Clark spent three days, on little sleep, looking for the dogs. One of his biggest concerns were that they had encountered a predator or were hit by a vehicle. He said he never considered a trap.
“I was driving around in the dark calling their names, but nothing,” said Clark.” Then one day a little red pickup showed up and asked if I had three dogs and I said sure enough. He opened the door and the other two jumped right out, but Stella didn’t jump out.”
A hunter had come across the dogs north of Elliston. When they found Stella, she was very weak and could barely walk. The other two animals wouldn’t leave her side.
Clark got Stella to a veterinarian as soon as possible. Once the swelling went down, the vet noticed a clean cut that wrapped around Stella's right rear paw. She underwent two weeks of laser treatment to try and heal the leg, but after two weeks the skin began to slough off and they had to amputate.
MTN showed several veterinarians pictures of Stella’s injury. Each one said they couldn’t be 100% sure of the cause, but said the wound is very similar to what they see when an animal has been caught in a trap. In Montana, trapping is strictly regulated. Montana law requires traps on public lands to be set back at least 50 feet from a road or trail, and 300 to 1,000 feet from a trailhead depending on the type of trap used.
Even with those regulations, pet deaths do occur, although infrequently. Several weeks ago, MTN reported on a family in Missoula whose dog was caught in a trap and died as a result. That trap was illegally set in city limits.
Clark stressed that he isn’t against trapping and doesn’t blame trappers for what happened.
“This is my fault that they got out, I’m absolutely 100% responsible for them,” said Clark. “And again, I can’t say it was a trap, but a lot of indicators are there. My concern is that somebody had to let her out because it’s pretty difficult to get out of a trap from what I understand. If that person would have called that ID number on her collar maybe, we could have saved her leg.”
Stella’s recovery is looking well, though, and she’s already beginning to outpace the other dogs, even being down a leg.
Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks recommends that pet owners keep their dog on a leash or otherwise always under their control when outdoors, and not let the dog wander off, especially out of sight. If someone sees a dog or other domestic animal caught in a trap, they should call law enforcement who can help get the animal home.
More information about trapping in Montana can be on the FWP website.