A rural Calmar woman hopes other pet owners never suffer the anguish she did last week when her dog perished in a snare trap.
Candi Nelson was walking on a neighbor's property between Spillville and Protivin Wednesday when her two-year-old blue Weimaraner became entangled in the snare.
"He suffocated in my arms when I was unable to loosen the trap," she said.
She blames herself for not being aware of the potential danger and that she didn't have the equipment that might have allowed her to save her beloved dog.
"I want to implore all dog owners who walk or run their dogs off-leash on public hunting ground, or out in the country, to carry a side cutter with them - a new one that is capable of cutting through high-tensile cable," she said.
Nelson said her neighbor didn't realize she and her dog might be walking there.
"He feels absolutely horrible," she said.
Nelson said she doesn't want to "bash" the person who set the trap, but rather save the lives of other pets so they don't have to go through what she did.
On Thursday, which would have been Skylar's third birthday, Nelson said she still had no feeling in one of her fingers which she used to try to free her dog from the trap's noose that had tightened around his neck. She said the trap was along a fence line and the noose got so tight it almost became embedded in her dog's skin.
She was able to get her hand under the wire, and searched for something that would have released the mechanism.
"I couldn't, no matter how hard I tried," Nelson said.
But she believes she would have been able to free Skylar with a side cutter.
"It's my fault for not getting one of those wire cutters and taking it with me. I got one today. I will never leave home without it," she said.
She said the cutters are available at lumber yards and farm supply stores.
According to Iowa Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Biologist Terry Haindfield, snare traps are used along fence lines, waterways, animal trails and culverts. They're also legal in ditches, although they can't be placed within 200 yards of a residence or a lane that serves a residence.
Snares cannot be placed in any public road right-of-way so that the snare, when fully extended, can touch any fence.
Haindfield said he recently read an article that recommended all pheasant hunters should carry a cable cutter capable of cutting through braided wire.
"Regular wire cutters aren't strong enough," he said.
"It's unfortunate people don't realize they would need them until something tragic happens," Haindfield said.
He also said cable cutters aren't effective with conibear traps, used for raccoon or beaver. They are designed to instantly kill a raccoon, but a larger dog can survive if it's released. A rope is needed to release the trap, Haindfield said.
He said it's important to inform others and to be aware of trapping seasons, to prevent similar tragedies. Trapping opened Nov. 3 and runs through Jan. 31 although beaver trapping remains open through April 15. Trapping is legal on state land.
Haindfield said trappers don't want to catch domestic animals and try various techniques to keep them out of their sets.
"It doesn't always work out that way. We have to weigh all these things out, as far as trying to reduce crop damage from beavers and raccoons and livestock depredation by coyotes while doing it as safely as possible for people with domestic pets," he said.
Haindfield explained trapping is necessary to reduce some of the populations of animals that don't have many natural predators.
He said pet owners need to be responsible. If a dog or cat strays onto private property, accidents can happen, he said.
Nelson said she typically transports her bike and dogs to an unimproved road near her home where she lets her dogs exercise away from traffic.
"Unfortunately, my truck wouldn't start that morning and I was short on time because I had to leave for work. That's why we were walking in the field that day rather than biking on the road. So many things just lined up wrong that day," she said.
Skylar was a rescue dog Nelson fostered, then adopted.
"He was very special to me. He was my constant companion. I couldn't go from room to room in the house without him following me," Nelson said.
"He was the playful one of my dogs. He was always getting his Frisbee or decoy duck and throwing it at me so I would play fetch with him. He looked forward every day to his walks/runs. Hopefully Skylar's death will mean some other dog, or pet, will live."