ARL’s director of law enforcement explains the dangers of this illegal trapping device

Earlier this month, we shared the incredible story of Wilson, a 6-year-old stray cat in Westport, Massachusetts who found himself in a very painful situation—an illegal steel leghold trap snapped shut on his right paw.

Read Wilson’s full story

Though Wilson kept his leg, more often animals suffer amputations and even death as a result of becoming trapped in this illegal hunting device.

In fact, the cruel suffering that animals stuck in leghold traps endured inspired the ARL to team up with other animal welfare organizations to push for legislation prohibit their use.  In 1996, the ARL and others successfully helped pass legislation that made it illegal to use or possess a leg hold trap.

Unfortunately, recently proposed legislation seeks to loosen or eliminate restrictions.

Lieutenant Alan Boral, director of the ARL’s law enforcement team, describes the dangers of illegal steel leghold traps (also called foot-hold traps) and why they are inhumane.

ARL Blog: Can you explain to our readers what a steel leghold trap is typically used for and what happens once an animal triggers it?

Lt. Alan Borgal: Of course. Steel leghold traps are a hunting device commonly used to capture so-called nuisance animals to keep them away from communities, livestock, endangered wildlife, and public water systems. People may think that this is the only way to manage certain animals, when, in fact, there are other legal and more humane methods.

leghold traps

In June of 2013, Philbert, a stray from Athol, was rescued and brought to the ARL with an illegal leghold trap clamped to his left leg. Unfortunately, his leg had to be amputated due to the extent of its injuries. Lucky for Philbert, he was adopted by a wonderful family and is now living happy and comfortably.

There are different types of leghold traps, but the overall mechanism is the same. A steel leghold trap is a spring-operated trap that is shaped similar to an animal jaw. It is supposed to be anchored by a short chain attached to a stake in the ground to keep the captured animal in that exact spot. The weight of the animal stepping on the trap triggers the “jaws” to snap shut on the animal’s leg- or other body part- in a vice-like grip.

ARL Blog: How can an animal free itself from a steel leghold trap—or can it?

AB: The force of the steel leghold trap snapping shut on an animal’s leg has already inflicted serious damage and pain. In most situations, the animal can only be freed from the trap by human hands. However, even officials trained in animal rescue cannot always remove a trap without causing further injury.

Sadly, most animals instinctively react to the shock and pain by frantically trying to pull their leg out of the trap. In a desperate attempt to free themselves, the animal often sustains more injuries, such as

bone fractures, muscle and tendon tears, and tooth and mouth damage from biting at their trapped limb and the trap itself.

If a trapped animal is not found soon enough, it can die from blood loss, shock, or starvation—or other deadly circumstances such as environmental conditions and falling prey to other animals.