Raptors Preying On Small Dogs

Hawks, owls or eagles suspected in a string of mysterious attacks in Payson subdivision


Large birds of prey, such as red-tailed hawks like this one, are suspected of killing two small dogs in the Woodhill subdivision last month.

Large birds of prey, such as red-tailed hawks like this one, are suspected of killing two small dogs in the Woodhill subdivision last month.

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Officials believe hawks or owls have killed at least two small dogs in the Woodhill subdivision in the past month.

One dog, too heavy to carry off, was found by its owner in the back yard with multiple talon marks. A bird reportedly carried off another dog.

Area resident Lucy Briggs said she has stopped letting her small dogs out alone and urges others to take precautions if they have pups too.

Animal control officer Don Tanner said wildlife does occasionally prey on pets, especially if they appear defenseless.

That was the case for JoAnne Smith and her 14.5-year-old Silky Terrier Sugar. The dog could no longer hear or see well and had a hard time moving around, Smith said.

On Oct. 18, Smith said she hadn’t seen or heard Sugar in some time. When she looked out back, she saw the dog lying on its side, unresponsive.

A neighbor helped her rush the dog to the veterinarian, but the dog had passed moments earlier.

The vet discovered small marks on the dog’s neck, reportedly inflicted by a bird’s talons, she said.

Smith said she has seen large birds in the area before and one hawk even set up a nest nearby, but she never thought they would attack her dogs.

Tanner said Woodhill is a common area for wildlife since the subdivision backs up to Rumsey Park and a major wildlife corridor.

“The coyotes use the washes as byways,” he said.

Although coyotes can jump fences as high as six feet, they commonly stay out of yards, he said. Birds, on the other hand, have been known to attack small pets.

“The best thing they can do is keep an eye on their dogs,” he said, “even if their yard is fenced.”

Smith and Briggs said they won’t let their dogs out again without supervision.

“It is scary and people should know that if they have a small dog and they have a fenced yard and they think it is safe that it may not be safe, especially at night,” Briggs said.

During the night, great horned owls go on the hunt. With a body length of up to two feet and a wingspan of up to five feet, the huge owls hunt throughout the night. Their talons can exert a pressure of 300 pounds per square inch, much greater than the human hand and matched among raptors by only the golden eagle. They usually perch during the night and locate their prey by sound. Feathered baffles on their wings ensure that the birds, rabbits, squirrels, chickens and other small animals on which they prey rarely hear them coming. The owls sometimes prey on animals larger than themselves, including skunks, porcupines, swans, herons, dogs, cats and even small alligators.

The most likely suspects during daylight hours include eagles and red-tailed hawks. Red-tailed hawks have similar dimensions — with bodies up to two feet in length and wingspans of nearly five feet. They live mostly on small rodents, but sometimes prey on jackrabbits, dogs, cats and turkeys. Ironically, sometimes great horned owls take red-tailed hawks as they sleep in trees at night.

Bald and golden eagles are larger, with wing spans greater than seven feet and body lengths up to 40 inches. Bald eagles live mostly on fish and carrion, but they’ll also take ducks, rabbits, raccoons, beavers and even drowsy great horned owls. They can kill even large swans with a mid-air strike and often hunt cooperatively. They can carry prey in flight weighing as much as 15 pounds and can apply 10 times as much pressure with their talons as the strongest human hand.

Briggs’ home also backs up to the forest. She said she sees elk, hawks and coyotes frequently. Several months ago, Briggs believes her dog Penny was attacked by something in the yard because it refused to go outside again.

Smith, 77, said the surrounding wildlife had never concerned her before.

Now that she only has one dog left, she isn’t taking any chances and has closed the doggy door.

Briggs said she has done the same.

“We no longer allow our small dog to use the doggie door or go outside alone,” she said. “It is a nuisance, but we would be heartbroken if she were to be snatched away.”

Although heartbroken to have lost Sugar, Smith said she is happy her husband, who is 92, got to see the dog one last time. A day before Sugar was killed, Smith said she brought the dog to the nursing home to visit her husband.

“And the next morning this happened,” she said. “I couldn’t bear to tell him what had happened, so I had to be really strong and not show my emotions,” she said.

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