Wyoming Woman Wants Trapping Reform After Her Dog Dies In Beaver Trap

What started out as a routine outing with her English bull terriers ended with Afton's Becky Barber emotionally shattered and dragging the lifeless body of one of her dogs back down the road still caught in the beaver trap that killed him.

Mark Heinz

February 17, 20249 min read

Becky barber
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

What started out as a routine outing with her English bull terriers ended with Becky Barber emotionally shattered and dragging the lifeless body of one of her dogs, Jester, back down the road still caught in the beaver trap that killed him.

“I had sent my husband a text, ‘We’re up Swift Creek, the dogs are having a blast!’ It wasn’t but a few minutes later that I was calling him, screaming, ‘We need help!’” the Afton resident told Cowboy State Daily.

‘He Was Such A Strong Dog’

She took Jester, 8, and her other English bull terrier, 11-month-old Kaia, for a romp up a road in the Swift Creek drainage near Afton last week.

Barber was especially close with Jester. He had been her near-constant companion since she adopted him when he was a year old. They even shared the same birthday, Oct. 20.

The road leads to the town’s water supply, so it’s plowed during the winter. But it’s gated and closed to unauthorized motor vehicle traffic. Only city maintenance vehicles are allowed to travel the road during the winter.

So, Barber and many other area residents assumed it’s a safe place to take dogs for off-leash exercise.

However, Jester got caught in a beaver trap that was placed just off the road, and despite Barber’s efforts to free him, he died in front of her.

The trap, a #330 Conibear, is designed to snap animal’s necks and kill them instantly, but that didn’t happen with Jester, Barber said. Instead, she thinks his throat was crushed, and he lingered.

“He was such a strong dog,” she said. “I’m sure it took several minutes before his heart stopped beating.”

Illegally Placed Trap

Baker said she’s sure the trap was placed illegally, since traps of that size are required to be at least partially submerged in water on public land, and that one wasn’t.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department issued a citation in connection with an incident in Swift Creek Drainage east of Afton, spokeswoman Breanna Ball told Cowboy State Daily.

“This is an unfortunate situation and our sympathies are with the dog owner,” she said. “The incident is currently under investigation. There was a violation of trapping regulations and the trapper was cited for setting a Conibear trap too large to be set out of the water on public land.”

The trapper’s name wasn’t released.

Baker said she knows the man who was ticketed and thinks the man’s teenage son might have carelessly placed the trap too close to the road.

According to Game and Fish trapping regulations: “A quick-kill body-grip trap having a jaw measurement of ten (10) inches or greater when measured vertically at its widest part of the jaw shall not be set, other than on private land, unless the bottom of the quick-kill body-grip trap is at least partially submerged in water when set.”

Wants Reform

Baker is an Afton native and said she became wary of traps after another dog was killed in a manner similar to Jester’s death in the same general area.

And while wrestling with grief over losing Jester, she said his death has also fired her up to push for trapping regulation reform. She’s already written to Game and Fish and the Wyoming Legislature.

Despite her sadness and anger, Baker said she doesn’t want trapping banned, but neither does she want Jester’s death to have been in vain.

“I don’t want to take the livelihood (of trapping) away, but there has to be limits. There has to be mandatory setbacks from public trails and roads,” she said.

Becky Barber of Afton took this photo of her English bull terrier Jester. Jester was caught in an illegally placed beaver trap and died.
Becky Barber of Afton took this photo of her English bull terrier Jester. Jester was caught in an illegally placed beaver trap and died. (Photo Courtesy Becky Barber)

Not Out Of Sight For Long

As news of Jester’s death spread across social media, Baker said recounting what happened was still difficult for her.

She set out with her dogs that day “to do our usual mile up and mile back” along the plowed road. Berms of snow from the last plowing were piled up on either side.

They were on their way back down, and about three-quarters of a mile from her vehicle she got ahead of the dogs. The dogs had been dashing back-and-forth and playing with each other. So, when it got quiet, Baker knew something was up.

“I thought, ‘Oh, it’s mighty quiet. The turds have gone up and over that snowbank there,’” she said. “So I called for them, and here comes my puppy.”

When Jester didn’t appear, she wasn’t immediately concerned.

“I figured, ‘My dog found something dead.’ I just assumed he had found a squirrel or something else to chew on,” she said.

When she called a few more times and didn’t get a response, she decided to backtrack and go up over the snow berm where Kaia had appeared.

“I took a few steps, and I could see my dog’s legs,” she said. “This trap was maybe 5-7 feet off the road.”

Barber made calls to her husband, the local emergency dispatch and Game and Fish. But any help was a long way out, and she couldn’t save her dog from dying.

Afterward, she started back, taking Jester’s body with her knowing that her husband and a game warden would be headed up the road to meet her.

“Jester was 53 pounds. I’m 5-foot-3 and 120. I struggled to get him back over the snowbank,” she said. “Then I put his leash back around his neck and dragged him down the road to meet my husband.”

Hard Aftermath

Barber said she was so distraught over losing Jester that she had to take two days off work, and the rest of her family is upset as well.

Even Kaia was so upset over the loss of her canine companion she had to be given sedatives, Barber said.

“That was her buddy. That’s who she clung to and who she played with,” Barber said.

Reforms Needed?

In light of what happened to Jester, as well as other dogs in Wyoming, the state needs trapping regulation reform, Wyoming Untrapped spokeswoman Lisa Robertson told Cowboy State Daily.

However, Wyoming Trapper’s Association Vice President John Eckman said that would likely just punish ethical trappers while not stopping carless or unethical trappers from poor practices.

Eckman said according to accounts of the event — that a #330 Conibear trap was set in the snow just a few feet off a busy public road — that was indeed illegal, and unethical.

“That’s on the trapper,” he told Cowboy State Daily.

Robertson said her group would like to see rules for mandatory setback distances from public roads and trails, and trappers be required to put up signs warning the public that traps have been set nearby.

There should also be some “trap-free” recreation zones on public lands, she said, adding that such compromises could actually protect the future of trapping in Wyoming.

“We aren’t asking for a ban on traps. But unless we get some cooperation and collaboration, there will probably be a statewide push to ban traps. Se we all need to push together to protect these animals,” Robertson said.

Eckman said the Wyoming Trapper’s Association offers voluntary training for people who want to buy a trapper’s license. The association also encourages ethical practices – such as never setting traps in areas known to have frequent human and pet traffic.

However, he’s not sure new rules, such as setbacks, would stop unethical trappers.

Moreover, requiring trappers to put up signs would just make it easier for anti-trappers to find, steal or “smash” traps, Eckman said.

He also said that as a dog owner himself, he understands how terrible it is to lose a dog, and taking dogs out in a state as wild as Wyoming comes with inherent risks.

“I like my dog more than I like most people. But I’m aware that every time we go out together, there’s a chance that he won’t come back with me,” Eckman said. “It’s an ‘enter at your own risk’ principle.”

He and Robertson both said their organizations support Wyoming making trapper education classes mandatory for anybody who buys a trapping license. Just as hunters education is mandatory to hunt in Wyoming.

High Court Ruled Pet Owners Are Responsible

As things stand now under Wyoming law, dog owners are solely responsible for the safety of their pets.

A case involving three Saint Bernard dogs dying after being caught in snare traps near Casper in 2014 went all the way to the Wyoming Supreme Court.

Robert Cardenas and his wife Ashley Cardenas, along with their two children Savannah and Braylon, sued the trapper who set the snares for emotional distress.

The Cardenas lived near the base of Casper Mountain. They were in the habit of letting their Saint Bernards Barkley, Jax and Brooklyn run loose unattended on state land near their home, where they were caught in the snare traps.

The high court in July 2023 ruled against the family. The court decided that under Wyoming law, dogs are property. Therefore, their owners alone are responsible for their safety and well-being when dogs are allowed off-leash.

Mark Heinz can be reached at mark@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Mark Heinz

Outdoors Reporter