A lawsuit in 5th District Court seeks to recover $10,000 in civil penalties after a steel-jaw trap in St. George's Pioneer Park injured a St. George resident and his dog.
The suit was filed Jan. 22 by Craig S. Cook, president and general counsel for the Humane Society of Utah. Plaintiff Dennis Sopinski was injured along with Maggi, a 3-month-old springer spaniel.The suit says the two were walking in the park Jan. 1 when the trap, which had been set on a heavily traveled path, snapped shut on Sopinski's hand and the dog. After struggling for several minutes with only one free arm, Sopinski says, he was able to release his other hand and one of the dog's legs from the trap.
The dog suffered some muscle and tissue damage, requiring veterinary care. Neither the dog nor Sopinski had any broken bones, but Sopinski's injuries were serious enough to require treatment at an emergency medical clinic, according to the suit.
Cook says St. George and many other Utah cities have no laws prohibiting the setting of such traps within city limits. Exceptions to that are Logan, Salt Lake City, Tooele and Brigham City.
St. George City Attorney Gary Kuhlmann said Friday he doesn't know about the incident involving Sopinski. But he said that if, indeed, a trap were set in Pioneer Park, a nature park, it would violate city ordinances.
"We have an ordinance prohibiting the setting of traps in parks. The ordinance says, in part, that `no person shall in any described area (parks, parkways, trails and primitive areas) set a trap or shoot, injure, annoy, disturb or poison any wild animal or bird, or injure or destroy any nest.' "
Such an infraction of the law would be subject to a penalty of up to $750, Kuhlmann said, explaining that if a trap were set outside a park and presented a safety hazard, that "we would pursue the violation under the city's nuisance ordinance."
The suit says Sopinski contacted the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and was informed that the trap was registered and that the division had the owner's name, which has not been disclosed.
Society officials said the trap that clamped on Sopinski and Maggi was about a foot long, the size set for a raccoon, coyote or other animals of that size.
Laurie England, St. George, southern Utah branch director for the society, said she has no idea who set the trap but that it was possibly set to trap coyotes. The American Veterinary Medical As-sociation has declared use of the traps as inhumane.
Cook said the Humane Society "will sue the trapper for gross negligence, for setting a trap on a trail and for punitive damages. Also, we will continue to push St. George (and other cities) for a general ordinance prohibiting (snares and traps) anywhere in the city."