Young dogs Sadie (left) and Eli play in the backyard where they saved a family member's dog from being an owl meal. | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 15, 2012 1:24PM
PINGREE GROVE — When Patrick Evans heard a commotion in his back yard one evening late last month, he went outside expecting to scold his dogs for fighting.
But what he saw was a battle of a much different sort — a great horned owl attached to one dog, with another trying to fight it off.
Fresh from an Army tour in Iraq, Evans’ daughter Amy was visiting for the holidays with her husband, five kids and two dogs. One of her dogs, Ramadi, a 7-pound shih-poo (a mix between a shih-tzu and miniature poodle), was in the back yard with her parents’ rottweiler, Eli, and their 70-pound boxer, Sadie.
“When I came out the door I saw Sadie on top of something and thought it must be another dog, but it was really dark so I couldn’t see,” said Evans.
He called the rottweiler inside. Little Ramadi came running too, dragging something, with Sadie giving chase.
“Suddenly I realized an owl had its talons sunk into Ramadi and Sadie was trying to get it off of her,” Evans said. “When they got to the door we were able to separate Sadie from the owl and my wife pinned the owl to the ground with her foot as I ran to get some gloves.”
Evans had to work to free the bird’s two-inch long talons. He believes the dog’s thick coat helped it escape injury.
“The craziest thing was that the owl turned its head all the way around, you know the way they can do, and looked right at us,” Evans said. “It really freaked us out.”
Once everyone was safely inside, Evans called the Pingree Grove Police Department.
Sgt. Rich Blair and Officer Anthony Mader responded.
“The owl stood outside the sliding glass door looking at the smaller dog as if he wasn’t leaving without it,” said Blair.
Blair was able to open the door and drop a fishing net over the bird. The officers noticed that the bird’s left eye was severely swollen. They took some photos with a camera phone before the bird was transported by a local animal control company to Willowbrook Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Center in Glen Ellyn.
Third dog attack
It was the third time in three days that Pingree Grove police had responded to such an attack, presumably by the same owl.
The first took place on Dec. 21, when, Officer Antonio Huerta responded when an owl attacked a small dog. The dog’s owner drove her vehicle into her front yard to scare the owl away. Her dog was unconscious and appeared to Huerta not to be breathing. The owner told Huerta she planned to drive her dog to the nearest animal hospital.
In the early morning hours of Dec. 22, Kyle Sweet was walking his dog Bailey, a 22-pound havanese, down Yorkshire Lane in the village when he heard what he called “a woosh of wind” and then a yelp from the dog.
“Something had attacked Bailey, so I jumped on this creature, and was wrestling on the ground in the dark,” said Sweet. “Fortunately the harness came free, Bailey broke free from his jacket and ran off, with this thing tangled in the dog’s jacket.”
Sweet then stood up and realized it was an owl. He was able to rip the jacket from the owl and returned home to check on Bailey, who had suffered only a cut above her eye. He returned 10 minutes later and found the owl still on the ground. A resident who had seen Sweet struggling with the owl had called police, so Sweet returned home.
The bird was gone by the time police arrived.
Sweet’s wife Erika believes she had a near miss with the same owl just the day before. Something leapt from the bushes causing Bailey to jump out of his harness and make the same hasty retreat home, she said.
Owl fatally injured
According to Sandy Fejt, education site manager at Willowbrook Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Center, the owl brought in from the Evans attack had most likely sustained its head injuries from a strike by an automobile.
“Most of the time they want nothing to do with humans or dogs,” said Fejt. “With its sight impaired it was probably very hungry and looking for easy prey.”
“Our veterinarian found its body mass index very low and its eye extremely infected,” Fejt said. There was no hope for rehabilitation and the bird was euthanized.
Fejt explained that great horned owls are common in Illinois and adapt very well to suburban life. The largest of the owls found in northern Illinois, they are around two feet tall, have a 3- to 4-foot wingspan, and females can weigh up to 5 pounds. Great horned owls are protected from hunting, removal and commercial trade by the federal migratory bird act.
According to Fejt, such attacks on dogs are not unheard of, but they are rare.
“Normally these owls hunt things like rabbits, squirrels and even skunks,” she said. “They have no sense of smell, so they hunt purely by sight and sound.”
Sweet was not happy to hear about the demise of the likely culprit of the attacks on his dog. However he was relieved to learn that the owl had been captured.
“It makes you a little paranoid, wondering what’s out there every time you hear a gust of wind,” he said.
Sweet remains a bit apprehensive, saying another incident occurred on Jan. 5 — almost two weeks after the incident at the Evans residence. He was walking Bailey just feet from the site of his previous run-in, when a bird swooped down from the sky, sending the dog scurrying home yet again.
“It got within five or six feet and then seemed to just abort and flew over the street and onto the house next to us,” Sweet said, adding that it could have been a hawk or some other type of bird.
“Now we go out together when we walk the dog and we carry knives, pepper spray and flashlights.”
He said the threat from coyotes has always prompted the couple to carry a flashlight, but the added threat from the air made them add weapons to their list.
According to Sgt Blair, the police have received no reports of bird attacks since Dec. 23.
Meanwhile, Patrick Evans is glad his dog Sadie was there to prevent a very hungry owl from making off with his daughter’s puppy.
Evans said he’s not sure if the owl would have been able to lift even a small dog in its injured state, but he’s happy they didn’t have to find out. Little Ramadi escaped with nothing but a short-lived fear of going outside at night.
Sadie the boxer received a hero’s welcome from Evans’ five grandchildren.
“They loved on her all weekend long for saving Ramadi,” said Evans. “We even let her get on the couch and sleep wherever she wanted.”