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Body Grip Traps Restricting Rescue Searchers 'A Great Deal'

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- This is a busy time of year for deer hunters, but the same can be said for trappers. The trapping season began in October, and a group that works closely with law enforcement is now hoping to make a certain type of trap illegal.

Shiloh is the 4-year-old German Shepherd partner of Diane Stefonick, president of Northstar Search and Rescue.

"We are definitely a team," Stefonick said.

Over the past year, the pair has searched for Mandy Matula and Kira Steger. It's a bittersweet job that requires up to 20 hours of training a week.

"When it's a cadaver search I just give her the command to search and she knows exactly what she's after," Stefonick said.

But while trying to save someone's life, Stefonick sometimes worries she's putting Shiloh's life on the line.

"Panic strikes because you know what's out there. You know what kind of terrain you're in and where they are going to have the traps set up," she said.

There is one trap in particular that gives her concern -- Conibear or "body grip traps." They're used to catch bobcats and other animals. In 2012, 20 dogs in Minnesota were caught and killed in these traps.

Stefonick said the threat has caused her to pull back the reins on recent searches, wasting precious time. She said she and Shiloh recently came across a body grip while searching for a missing person.

"It's scary. I don't want to lose sight of my dog so I keep a tight lead on her. Either she's on a long line or she's in visual at all times," she said.

To be effective, Stefonick said Shiloh needs to be able to roam freely, which is why she and others would like to see body grips restricted to water or moved at least 5 feet off the ground. She's not against trapping, but she is against how body grips are used.

"It restricts us a great deal. We don't get the job done effectively or efficiently. We have to keep them contained so we can see what they are doing, and where they are going," Stefonick said.

Trappers have argued that the body grip traps are more humane than leg hold traps, and that dog owners should train their dogs to stay away or keep them on a leash.

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