Raccoon trap case prompts animal cruelty investigation in D.C.

The Washington Humane Society is investigating a case of animal cruelty in northwest D.C.

After getting notified by residents on the 3800 block of Yuma Street, officers rescued a raccoon with his front leg caught in a steel leg-hold trap, which is illegal in the district.

The animal's injuries were so severe that they decided to euthanize him.

Over the course of at least three days, the Humane Society says residents reported sightings of the injured raccoon.

Officers say he suffered broken bones in the trap and trying to free himself, it appears he chewed through his own leg. Now, District officials are promising to find and prosecute the person or people responsible.

“It's horrific. I don't understand it really,” said neighbor Eline Molberg.

The trap is “activated by a pressure plate so as soon as the raccoon would have stepped onto it, it would have snapped up and held onto it,” said Michael Triebwasser, a Humane Law Enforcement Officer.

The Washington Humane Society has been canvassing the neighborhood, posting fliers. Officers say the raccoon's front leg was broken by the trap—the bone was exposed for several days.

“I mean it just would have been in a terrible of pain, exposed to all sorts of diseases and infections. Clearly it was done inappropriately,” Triebwasser said.

If a trapping company is found responsible, Ward Three Councilmember Mary Cheh, who, in 2010 introduced the Wildlife Protection Act, says it would be the first case prosecuted under the new law.

“This is exactly the kind of horrific cruelty that we're trying to stop. In other words, people should be able to deal with wild animals and if they're in their homes have them removed etc. but there's no reason to do it inhumanely,” Cheh said.

Desperate to free himself, officers say the raccoon tried to chew through his own leg, but the trap held firm. In the end, officers ended his suffering, by euthanizing him.

“That's totally horrible. I have no idea why anyone would do that to another animal,” said neighbor William Khoury.

Residents can't believe it. They say they love seeing wildlife here and that raccoons are not a major problem.

Most concerning - neighbors say - is the idea that this trap could have closed on someone's pet—or, even worse, a child.

“These things are indiscriminate. A child or domesticated animal could fall prey to these traps as well. So they're very, very dangerous. And even if they only got the wild animal they're very, very horrible,” Cheh said.

The Washington Humane Society is offering a $6,000 reward for information leading to an arrest or conviction in this case. Under the law, Councilmember Cheh says that if prosecutors can prove intent to maim, torture or inhumanely kill an animal, violators could face five years in prison and a $2,500 fine.

Councilmember Cheh says individuals can also be prosecuted under D.C.’s general animal cruelty laws. Ultimately, she says none of these statutes stop a resident from dealing with problematic wildlife, especially if they cause a threat because they're aggressive or carrying diseases.

But, in the district, she says if you're going to trap, catch or even put down an animal, you must do it humanely. And this trap is simply not.

The Humane Society will investigate, then provide the case to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Then, depending on the evidence, a warrant may be issued and MPD could make an arrest.