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Snowy Owl Attack? Terrier Allegedly Plucked From Yard

The Washington area's unusual winter visitors are accused in a pet's serious injuries.

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.

Craig Smebakken February 28, 2014 at 09:21 AM
Had a Great Horned owl swoop out of the trees at for my Yorkie just last. I was lucky to have spotted the bird before he got to the dog. They are especially mobile right now because the recent snow on the ground has made it somewhat harder for them to find smaller prey.
Michele February 28, 2014 at 10:28 AM
Ditto what Craig said - he was right there and almost could not prevent such an attack. Why would you NOT monitor your dog, at night, when you let it out. Seriously, in this cold??? (it has been in the teens here at night - let the dog out to do it's business and bring it back in ASAP when it is done!!!) There are plenty of animals around that will go after your little dog! I have noticed the feral cat population in my area which is usually pretty steady seems to be decreasing. I hope this is a wake up call to monitor your pets.
Wildermann February 28, 2014 at 12:10 PM
Odd that what in nature would be a normal instinctual predator/prey event becomes an alarming attack. Humans are much to blame for creating the environmental circumstances where scenarios such as these happen. Not too many years ago a bald eagle was consuming in a treetop in my backyard an animal with orange fur. My son asked, what animal has orange fur? Maybe a young red fox, I suggested. A few days later, signs were posted around the neighborhood looking for a missing orange tabby cat. Mystery solved.
Tracy Wells Sheppard February 28, 2014 at 04:30 PM
The dog was not left out unmonitored in this cold. He was let out for a quick potty break before bed. I could have been standing right next to him and not likely prevented this from happening. The odds of this happening to a dog of his size in the time it takes for him to do his business is slim to none, but it did. This also happened almost 8 weeks ago, before there was any news of this rare incursion of this non native bird to this area.
Michele February 28, 2014 at 05:56 PM
I am sorry for the assumption - the way the story is worded I thought he was unsupervised. Since he had to be called back in, and no one saw him taken or knew where he was it sounds that way. Where I live, people often let their dogs out in their fenced back yards and assume nothing could possibly happen to them. I see large red tail hawks and similar in my neighborhood daily, and am surprised more pets are NOT taken.

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