JACKSON — Aska Langman likes animals. And that’s a good thing.
Langman — the new director of Wyoming Untrapped, a nonprofit that aims to reform trapping laws — lives over Teton Pass in Victor, Idaho. Her home is full of the animals she and her husband consider theirs. And on top of those are the dogs she boards and the revolving cast of orphan creatures that need a home and that she tries to help. The count is often in the dozens.
Langman admits that her eclectic home herd — pack? flock? gaggle? tribe? fauna scrum? arkload? — might be a bit much. But her life led to it naturally.
“I always knew I wanted to do something with animals, but I wasn’t sure what,” she said. “I kind of grew up with a menagerie.”
Langman was born in New York City, studied animal science at the University of Vermont and spent a year in Africa working with wildlife managers. During an uninspiring stay in Florida she reconnected with a friend in Lander. She moved there, then to Jackson in 2011, then to Victor. Along the way she worked as a technician at Fish Creek Veterinary Clinic and Victor Veterinary Hospital, and also did time as boss of the Teton Valley Community Shelter in Driggs. And she met Will Haywood, a finish carpenter for OSM, and they moved into a house in Victor that came with a neighboring 50 acres. That’s the center of the animal congregation, the conglomeration of beasts that ensures she and her husband never come home to an empty house.
Their “own” animals include two dogs, one named Bullet that they took on when his owner dumped him after the hound was blinded by a bullet in the head, and five cats, including “three childhood cats” that came west with her.
The crew also recently included another foster dog, three horses, 16 chickens and three goats. There are four pigs, including a potbellied 92-pound 2-year-old named Stewart who sleeps inside and ignores random puppies chewing his tail. They agreed to take in another dog and “she gave birth on the way to my house,” adding five puppies. There are currently five kittens that arrived surprise-style.
“Just yesterday morning someone dumped a dog on me,” Langman said. “A friend called and said, ‘Did you know there’s a puppy under your truck?’” She went out and found “a fluffy little thing” to add to the family.
In June she took over direction of Wyoming Untrapped, a group founded in 2014 by Lisa Robertson and Debbie Reis. The group educates pet owners and lobbies for changes to trapping laws and regs that could make the old-time practice less of a threat to dogs and less of an ordeal for target animals.
“A lot of people don’t know there’s trapping in Wyoming, especially people from other places,” Langman said.
The Wyoming season runs from Nov. 1 to April 30 for “furbearers,” the bobcats, badgers, beaver, mink, muskrat, martens and weasels that are the main targets. There’s also year-round trapping for nuisance animals and for those considered “predators,” which oddly includes jackrabbits and feral housecats.
Some trap for fees paid by landowners who want bothersome critters gone. Some trap for cash, with a bobcat pelt bringing $200 to $400, though a beaver pelt brings only about $8. Some of it’s also a cultural thing: Trapping was part of the Old West, and many trappers learned from dads and grandfathers.
But a growing urban population means conflict. Trappers don’t aim at the animals.
“They set traps for the seven furbearers, but the traps are totally indiscriminate,” Langman said. “The catch could be a dog, it could be a bald eagle.”
It’s mostly a strategy of accommodating to reality, not changing the world.
“We’re not trying to get rid of trapping,” Langman said. “We would just like it to be more humane.”
One tactic Wyoming Untrapped uses is giving classes for dog owners on how to get caught dogs out of a trap. The group also campaigns for changes to the rules.
Wyoming Untrapped would like to see a trap-free zone in each county; favors a rule that makes trappers check their trips every 24 hours instead of every 72 — “it might save some animals, or at least prevent suffering”; and would like trap setbacks that move the devices at least 50 feet from the center of trails instead of the current 12-foot rule — “We would have way less dog incidents on the trails.”
When she’s not away on Wyoming Untrapped business, Langman continues to look after her brood, and also the usual two to five dog-sitting customers who help pay the bills on the nonpaying creatures.
“I don’t like to keep track of it,” she said, but she guesses it’s in the $5,000-a-year range. Luckily, she said, she gets deals from veterinarians, help from the animal welfare group PAWS and donations of cash and food, which are appreciated.
“I’m always happy to get home and find a donation of food and not a donation of kittens,” she said.