VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Wild animals in Virginia Beach are being harmed, and in some cases their injuries are fatal.
Animal Control says they are now investigating animal cruelty cases after illegal traps were set across the city.
The most recent incident happened on February 5 on Cheswick Lane. Virginia Beach Animal Control and Virginia Beach Fire Department Ladder Truck 7 found a raccoon dangling from a tree branch. His leg was confined to a trap, and the trap links were caught on a limb.
Lisa Barlow, President of Tidewater Rehabilitation and Environmental Education, said when they reached the animal in the tree, he was only about 10 lbs, when a raccoon of his size and age typically weighs around 20 lbs. She estimates he was suffering for about a week.
Due to the condition in which the raccoon was found, Animal Control is investigating the case as animal cruelty, which is prosecuted as a Class 1 misdemeanor.
"To have the trap there, as we discussed, is legal; however, it is required to be staked down. The problem was that the raccoon was able to get away with the trap on its leg, where this is cruel," Animal Control Supervisor Rebecca Franklin says.
Just across town two months earlier, two separate foxes were also found confined to a trap. Franklin says,"It's definitely more [often than] we would typically see in that time frame."
As the animals tried to get free, their injuries got worse. Once they were found, they required surgery and care. One fox is set to be released within the next week or so.
Franklin says they can't help but question the "what ifs."
"[Imagine] a child [touching a trap]. If these things are out and set... if somebody were to happen to see them and step on one or stick their hand trying to figure out what they are just due to curiosity, that they could get hurt."
She also cautions people to watch their pets even if the traps aren't designed for them.
In the case involving the raccoon, the trap was called a Dog Free Raccoon Trap, but Franklin says everyone still should be vigilant.
All three cases are being investigated as animal cruelty cases, and officers are looking for anyone who was involved.
According to the Department of Game & Inland Fisheries, "It is lawful to set traps in water from December 1 through the last day of February, both dates inclusive, and at any time within the incorporated limits of any city or town in the Commonwealth and in the counties of Arlington, Chesterfield, Fairfax, Henrico, James City, Loudoun, Prince William, Spotsylvania, Stafford, Roanoke, and York, except as otherwise specifically provided by Department permit or by local ordinances."
Trapping is also lawful on private property and for those with a valid license to trap.
On their website, DGIF also provides techniques to try if an animal has become a problem for property owners:
- If you are feeding wildlife, stop. This will cause them to lose their natural fear of humans.
- Keep trash inside until the morning of trash pick-up or place trash in an animal proof container, such as a metal trashcan with latches on the lids.
- Do not leave pet food outside; keep pet feeding areas clean.
- Remove bird feeders when problem species, such as bears, have been seen around them.
- Close up all openings under and into your buildings. Animals look for places to den and raise their young—don’t give them that opportunity.
- Clear overhanging tree limbs and branches which may be providing wildlife access to structures.
- Clear fallen fruit from around trees.
- Pass along this information to your neighbors. If anyone in the neighborhood is feeding wildlife directly, or indirectly, it can cause trouble for everyone.
- Reflective tape, lights, or noise sometimes works, but they will eventually grow accustomed to these methods, so this is only a temporary solution.
- Electric fencing can be very effective in keeping wildlife out of crops, beehives and structures.
- It is illegal in the State of Virginia to trap and relocate an animal to another area.
Click here for rules and regulations set forth by the Department of Game & Inland Fisheries.