Jack, a 6-year-old Jack Russell terrier, was recently the victim of a mystery assault — but owner Tracy Sheppard and her family believe the 15-pound pooch was the victim of a snowy owl attack.
Sheppard let her dog out before bedtime one night last month in their Ashburn yard. When the family tried calling the dog in, he didn't come. Jack was eventually found bloody and scared walking back from a neighbor's yard.
“When he got back to the house, he was bleeding and really torn up with deep lacerations on his side and head and what looked to be bite marks," Sheppard said.
An area animal hospital treated Jack for a deep cut on his side, a head wound, difficulty breathing and shock. He had a skull fracture and bruises on his lungs and around his kidney and liver.
Doctors told Sheppard that the injuries were consistent with being hit by a car or thrown from a window, but neither example made sense in this case because where the dog was located. Then Sheppard spoke with a neighbor, who shared that she'd recently seen a snowy owl pluck a rabbit from the yard and drop it, leaving the animal with similar cuts.
“The veterinarian said that absolutely could be what happened to Jack,” Sheppard said. The Sheppards later noticed a snowy owl perched on their neighbor’s roof with a “bird’s eye view” of their backyard.
Scott Weidensaul, an ornithologist studying this season's snowy owl invasion, told The Washington Post that an attack is possible, but the owl wouldn't have been able to pick up the dog.
“I could see a snowy owl attacking a small dog basically by mistake – seeing this thing moving at night and swooping down and hitting it,” he told the Post.
Sheppard filed an insurance claim for Jack's injuries and has been picked as Veterinary Pet Insurance's "Most Unusual Claim of the Month" — selected from 95,000 claims.
It's an honor Sheppard doesn't want to repeat. "I am not about to let him out off leash until I am sure these owls are out of the area," she said.