Geneva man, dog caught in illegal traps

Jeff Henry's dog Smoakie looks forward to Sundays, his day off the leash to run free through a field and into the woods near their Geneva home.

“They always go in the woods trying to flush out a rabbit,” Henry said. “As soon as the dog went in there on Sunday, I heard a yelp.”

That's because his 65-pound husky/collie mix was nearly choked out by a trapper's lasso-like steel snare trap 30 yards deep into the woods behind a Geneva building.

Henry rushed into the woods, behind the building just northwest of Route 31 and Fabyan Parkway, and found his dog struggling to break free from the wire trap, which was anchored to a tree.

“There was no way to get it off,” recalled Henry, who quickly called 911. Geneva police and firefighters responded and were forced to cut the trap from the tree to free Smoakie.

While sitting in the police station later that day, Henry thought the stress of his day was surely past him.

His daughter was set to head back to college that afternoon but was terrified after hearing from her dad, who was filing out a report about Smoakie's near-death experience. Henry reassured his daughter he would head back to the site and leave a note for the trapper.

“My daughter was so distraught, I told her I would go back to put a note on the tree and say something like, ‘Your trap almost killed my dog. Please get rid of your traps,' ” Henry said.

Henry, 58, slipped the note in a plastic bag to keep out water and nailed it to the tree at eye level.

On his way out of the woods Henry thought his luck had changed when he spotted what he thought was an old coin.

He soon learned the lasso trap was not the only one hiding in his dog's favorite woods.

“I reached down, and when my hand was almost on it, I stopped,” he said. “I decided to kick it with my foot instead, and a claw trap got my foot.”

His boot triggered a 6-inch-diameter, rusty-toothed claw trap.

“If I didn't have the cell phone and hammer I don't think I would have got out of there,” he said.

The Geneva Fire Department had to head back to the woods — just 15 yards from where Smoakie was trapped — to cut the claw trap off Henry.

Henry said Smoakie seems to be doing OK, but if the trap that clamped around his own boot had caught his dog — or worse, a child's leg — things wouldn't have turned out so well.

Houses in a neighborhood to the west of the woods sit roughly 100 yards from the spot of the traps, and the thought of kids playing in the woods has Henry worried.

“If it was a child, it could have completely clamped down on their ankle,” Henry said. “It could have broken a small animal's leg.”

Henry said he was lucky to have his boots on that day and survived with nothing but a red mark where the toothed trap clamped the toe end of his boot.

Both traps were secured as evidence by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, which investigated and found a third bucket trap nearby with a piece of bait in it.

“These traps were illegally set,” said Capt. Neal Serdar of the natural resources department, which hasn't yet determined who owns the traps. “Whoever is doing this is trying to get whatever they can.”

Serdar said none of the traps had a required label containing the owner's name and address.

A state officer who saw the trap said it was a professional job, according to Henry.

“The guy knew what he was doing,” Serdar said.

The snare trap is required to be at least half under water, and is typically used to catch beavers, Serdar said. But, “nuisance” trappers have been known to use snares when going after other wildlife, he said.

The trap Smoakie ran into last Sunday morning was anchored to a tree with no water in sight.

“The guy was lucky that it was just a snare trap,” Serdar said.

According to state regulations, “It is unlawful to use any trap with saw-toothed, spiked or toothed jaws,” such as the trap that clamped on Henry's foot.

Henry said he is certain about one thing: He will never head into the woods, no matter how far in, without a cell phone again.

“We will never go back there again,” Henry said of Smoakie's favorite hangout, where Henry says he occasionally sees other dog walkers.

“I just hope they catch the guy and convince him to quit setting his traps.”

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