Thursday, November 23, 2000

Pinole is Set to Ban Some Types of Animal Traps


By Curtis Esquibel
Times Staff Writer

PINOLE -- The city may soon become the first in the Bay Area to ban several types of animal traps pest control companies use to kill raccoons, opossums and other large mammals.

Animal rights activists and some pet owners have sought the ban, saying the body-crushing traps are inhumane and have accidentally snared and killed a handful of East Bay pets over the past year. They also say the traps could injure children.

On Tuesday, the City Council considered an ordinance that would make use of the traps a misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum fine of $1,000, up to six months in jail, or both.

Final approval is expected at its next meeting in about two weeks. Berkeley officials are drawing up a similar ordinance.

"We're trying to send a message that the short-term solutions to get rid of pests might have devastating consequences," said Pinole Councilwoman Mary Horton.

The traps, specifically the types known as the Conibear and neck snare, have been banned for commercial and recreational use in California since voters approved the Wildlife Protection Act of 1998.

But a loophole in the initiative allows animal control businesses to use the traps for nuisance control or property protection.

Under the Pinole ordinance, public agencies would be the only entities allowed to use the traps, and then only if there is no other method that can ensure human safety or protect a threatened or endangered species, the ordinance states.

The problem with body gripping traps is that they don't discriminate, said Camilla Fox, a coordinator for the Animal Protection Institute of Sacramento, which has been urging Bay Area cities to ban the traps.

In an open field or public storm drain, they're just as likely to kill a family pet as a wild animal, she said. "When the trap is triggered, it will slam shut on whatever limb triggers it, be it a cat paw, a dog paw, or a child's hand."

The crusade to ban the traps has been particularly focused on Conibear traps, which have spring-loaded bars designed to crush raccoons, badgers or possums.

The ban's supporters want all trappers to use cage-style traps that capture animals without injury.

Marybeth Rymer has the image of a Conibear trap forever stored in her memory.

Last December, Rymer discovered the family cat of six years, Michael, dead after he walked into a trap about 20 yards from her front door.

"There were three or four of these traps set in camouflage," she said. "I'm lucky I didn't step in one."

Pinole was the first East Bay city to publicly discuss the issue. In August, the council asked the city attorney to draw up an ordinance banning use of the traps.

Last week, the Berkeley Citizens Humane Commission asked the city attorney to draft an ordinance similar to Pinole's.

There are no statistics on the number of family pets accidentally killed by the body gripping traps, in part because no state or local agency oversees the use of traps, said Leroy Moyer, director of Walnut Creek-based Voices For Pets.

Moyer said he's aware of at least four cases in the East Bay last year, but he suspects the number is higher.

The California Department of Fish and Game issues licenses to private animal trappers, but businesses are not required to report deaths or captures of unintended animals, he said.

"We only hear about them after it happens and people call."