Lost pet? Husband & wife rescue team builds special humane traps

Published: Oct. 17, 2017 at 7:43 PM AKDT
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Tonya and Rich Bruechet of Wasilla are a husband and wife, lost pet catching team.

"I just want to get them all home" said Tonya Bruechet, "and my husband told me 'you can't save them all' "

But the Bruechets, and the custom-designed humane traps they build at home, have saved many pets, 22 in the past few months.

Tonya's mission began about two years ago when she asked to help find a 150-pound English Mastiff, named Goliath. The dog scaled a six-foot tall fence and was missing for more than five weeks.

Hidden wildlife cameras showed that Goliath was stealing food from the trap set out to catch him, which was way too small for a dog his size. "Goliath was belly crawling in there to get the food (being used as bait)" Tonya said.

Goliath was eventually captured, but the problems with using a smaller trap lead to the Bruechets designing and building their own home-made trap for larger pets. It consists of a six-foot tall, chain link dog kennel, turned upside down. Rich modified the entrance gate and rigged up a trigger device with rope, which is baited with food. When a large dog walks in and pulls on the bait and rope, the gate swings down and captures the dog.

"What's really interesting is that you have a dog that's running from his own shadow, and when they get in the trap, a little switch goes off and most of them act totally fine" said Tonya,"they're back to living on the coach or on a leash, being the perfect family dog."

The Bruechets says the large trap was transported recently to the Glenn Highway near Eureka to help catch two stray dogs that no one had been able to grab for weeks.

Rich also designed and built a smaller trap that has features that make it impossible for a pet to steal the bait food without getting caught.

Tonya says often using a humane trap is the only way to catch a missing pet, because they go into what she called "survival mode" where they will run, even from their owners.

"I've had a couple of owners break down completely" said Tonya, "in tears just balling on the ground, sitting down because they've had this dog since he was eight weeks old and he was 10 feet away, and he's been lost three weeks, and they're like 'come here buddy. He knows who I am'...the dog looked at them and bolted into the trees."

While the Bruechets work together, Tonya says her husband has just one rule about the lost animals she helps to find. "I'm just an animal lover and I'm not allowed to take any of them home " she said with a laugh.

Tonya Bruechet recently set up a non-profit organization called "HELP: Helping Escaped & Lost Pets-MatSu". You can contact the organization through its

For lost pets in the Eagle River-Chugiak area, the group suggests posting on the Eagle River Alaska Lost & Found Pets Facebook page.

Volunteers with the group stressed the importance of electronic chip implants, that can help identify a lost pet, and they said pet owners must register their pet's information with the chip maker to all rescuers to return missing pets.