It's a warm autumn afternoon. The leaves have turned from a brilliant green to vibrant hues of red, yellow, orange and just about any variation thereof.
It's a glorious Northeast Iowa day and rather than cleaning the house or accomplishing some pre-winter chores, you decide to take your loyal canine companion for a walk and a romp. His tail wags uncontrollably as he quickly senses what's about to happen. He's seen you take a jacket out of the closet hundreds of times and is well aware of what is about to ensue. For a dog, it just doesn't get much better. It's fun with a capital F...U...N.
But instead of taking your normal route down a friendly dirt path, you decide to explore a new area that promises to bring Mother Nature forward in all her spectacular, natural glory. Your pooch is beside himself as he leaps, twists and bounces along in front of you ... stopping to sniff something here or sense something there. It's a good day to be alive, and you swear you can see a smile on his face.
A pileated woodpecker streaks past at low altitude, giving out his patented Woody Woodpecker screech as he darts through the sky like an avian missile. The cares and stresses of everyday life seem to lessen with every step as you simply share the joy of being alive and healthy with one of your best friends.
The dog disappears for a moment as he charges toward a narrow, quiet stream that runs adjacent to your path. And then it happens. The serenity of the moment is suddenly, alarmingly broken by a loud, "I'm-in-big-trouble" yelp and you know your companion is in trouble - big time. You can't see him, but you can hear his desperate thrashes as he flips and flops and tries with everything he has to free himself from the monster that has him by the throat and is choking the life out of him ... rapidly.
As you reach his side, you can tell it's bad - real bad - and a sense of panic consumes you instantly. What was a carefree stroll through the timber has turned into a nightmare of mega proportions. Your dog is dying, and you don't have a way to stop it. A bitter, dreadful taste fills your mouth and a certain paralysis envelopes your entire body, but now is not the time to freeze.
You rush to his aid, but there's little, if anything, you can do. A tough, braided-wire snare is choking him to death and is so tight it threatens to break through his skin. The harder he struggles, the tighter the noose gets.
In desperation, you dig under the wire with your fingers and try to loosen the death grip it has on your gentle friend. You put every bit of strength you possess into the effort, but it's no use. The trap has worked to perfection and all you can do is stroke his head and reassure him as he slowly but surely leaves for his trip to eternity ... the fear in his eyes only too evident.
Consumed by total and unequivocal grief, you sob uncontrollably as you kneel by his side. Anger, sadness and an overwhelming sense of loss make your mind and body limp. How could such a wonderful Northeast Iowa day have gone so horribly wrong? Why did it have to happen to him ... to me? Why God, why?
Although I wasn't there when it happened, that's the scenario that's been playing over and over again in the theatre of my mind after reading Sarah Strandberg's poignant, heartbreaking account of Candi Nelson of Calmar and the recent tragedy that claimed the life of her beloved blue Weimaraner Skylar. They were just out for a stroll. A violent death should not have been the outcome.
Nelson told her story to Decorah Newspapers in hopes that other pet owners would read it and thus become more aware of the hidden dangers that lurk during trapping season. To her immense credit, she did not blame the "trapper" or condemn the act of trapping itself. In light of such a horrific event, that attitude speaks volumes about the quality of person she is. My hat is off to her and I'm so sorry for her loss ... as we all are ... even the trapper I would assume.
Instead of insisting that trapping be banned in Iowa and everywhere else for that matter, she chose to warn fellow pet owners that it can easily happen to them as well. She encouraged everyone to carry a "side cutter" that is powerful enough to cut through a wire snare when they exercise their dog. Sound advice indeed.
Since the story was published in the Dec. 4 Public Opinion and posted on our website, we've had more reader "comments" about it than any other story since I became managing editor back in 1985. The remarks varied from "all trapping is barbaric and should be outlawed," to "trapping is perfectly legal and pet owners should be aware of that and prepared for the possibility of their animal running into one."
As a long-time hunter, I've been extremely fortunate over the past 40 years that none of my bird dogs has fallen victim to a trap (knock on wood). I realize that trapping, when done properly, is legal and has been part of our Midwestern life for generations. But I did like one suggestion that was brought up by a rational reader:
Why not make it a requirement that all trappers must leave a visible, easily seen sign or marker that a trap has been set so be mindful of your pet? That seems to make a lot of sense to me, but then I'm no expert.
I'm just a pet lover who can't imagine what Candi Nelson went through that day. And I hope I never have to.