The bird was a female cardinal. It was on the ground and appeared to be stuck to something. It was in distress.
When my wife and I approached, we could see that it was somehow glued to a rectangular piece of plastic. The more it struggled, the more it became entangled.
In trying to free itself, it had already pulled out most of its wing feathers. One of its legs was firmly stuck to the plastic tray.
The glue itself was a powerful adhesive. To even brush against it was to stick.
We discovered later that we had come upon something called a glue trap. It is designed to catch rodents such as rats and mice. But as the unlucky cardinal found out, it is indiscriminate and can entangle any small animal that touches it.
Glue traps are banned as inhumane in Ireland, New Zealand and the Australian state of Victoria. But, so far at least, they are perfectly legal in Canada.
You can find glue traps for sale in hardware stores and online. They are cheap. Glue traps big enough to ensnare a rat cost about $3 each. Smaller versions are less expensive.
The technology is simple. Any animal that touches one — perhaps attracted by seeds or some other form of bait — cannot easily break free. This in itself will not kill the animal. Time does that.
Typically, the tray containing the trapped animal is dropped in the garbage. There, the rodent will die slowly from a combination of starvation, dehydration and stress.
Death usually takes between three and 24 hours, says Humane Society International, an animal welfare organization.
Occasionally, the trapped animal is drowned in a bucket of water. This, too, is not an easy death. Humane Society International cites one experiment where it took an average of 2.6 minutes for a trapped rat to drown.
It is rather like waterboarding the animal.
Sometimes, a trapped animal escapes by gnawing off a leg or other body part glued to the tray. This too is not particularly pleasant.
Sandra Schnurr is a retired Toronto lawyer. She’s also an advocate for animals, including one that rarely gets good press — the common rat.
“They are surprisingly complex creatures emotionally and socially,” she says.
Schnurr became involved in rat litigation about a year ago. She was in a big-box store and noticed that it had glue traps for sale.
“I was surprised,” she says. “I thought they were illegal.”
A long-time supporter of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, she contacted the animal rights group to suggest that it spearhead a court campaign against glue traps.
But PETA, she says, wasn’t interested. So she founded her own group, Canadians for Animal Protection. And then she filed suit against five major retail chains that sell glue traps.
Her argument is that glue traps impose “unnecessary suffering” on animals, which is contrary to the Criminal Code.
Schnurr points out that she is not asking for a ban on all lethal rat traps.
“The old-fashioned snap trap (designed to immediately break the rodent’s neck) is far more humane,” she says.
On July 25, the case is scheduled to go before an Ontario Superior Court justice, which will rule if it can proceed.
The cardinal’s story does not have a happy ending. My wife and I did manage to extricate it from the glue trap.
She then took the bird to a charity that helps wild animals that are injured in the city.
But the veterinarian there concluded it was too damaged to survive. So the bird was put down. Collateral damage in the war against rats.
Thomas Walkom is a columnist with Torstar Syndication Services.