Tracy Sheppard of Ashburn, Va., keeps a very close eye on Jack, her 6-year-old Jack Russell terrier due to his penchant for finding trouble. However, trouble recently found 15-pound Jack when he was picked up by a snowy owl who flew away with him before eventually dropping the petrified pooch in the neighbor’s yard. Jack limped away from the snowy owl-snatching with severe injuries and was rushed to the emergency animal hospital, earning him the title of January’s “Most Unusual Claim of the Month” by Veterinary Pet Insurance Co. (VPI).
“Jack and our English bulldog, Lola, went out for their pre-bed potty break, and after a few minutes, my son called them back into the house, but only Lola came in,” explained Tracy. “We called and called for Jack but he was nowhere in sight. Finally, we saw him walking back from our neighbor’s yard. I noticed him walking tentatively and darting between trees but it was dark and I couldn’t see him very well. 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.”
The Sheppards thought possibly a fox or coyote had gotten the better of Jack and rushed him to the emergency animal hospital. At the hospital, Jack was treated for a variety of injuries, including a deep laceration across the left side of his body, deep wounds on his head, difficulty breathing, and shock. X-rays showed that Jack had bruising of his lungs and a skull fracture. The veterinary staff was also very concerned that he was bleeding internally, so they performed an exploratory surgery and found that Jack had bruising of and around his kidneys and liver, but no major vessels had been damaged. Fortunately, Jack has since made a full recovery.
“For the first few days Jack was back home, he did nothing but sleep,” said Tracy. “After a few days I saw his tail wag and he did his famous floppy ear head shake, and I knew he would be OK. I am not sure he ever knew what hit him, so he is eager to get back outside and play, but I am not about to let him out off leash until I am sure these owls are out of the area.”
Once Jack was on the road to recovery, the Sheppards turned their attention to what caused the peril to their pooch. The veterinarian concluded that Jack’s injuries were consistent with that of getting hit by a car, dropped from a window, or even thrown from a moving vehicle. Knowing that none of those situations occurred in the short time he was left unattended, the Sheppards were extremely puzzled. The following day, their neighbor called and said that she had recently seen a light-colored owl pick up a rabbit in her backyard and drop it. When the neighbor inspected the rabbit for injuries, she said it looked as if it had been cut open with surgical precision. The Sheppards were immediately certain that a similar incident occurred with Jack.
“The veterinarian said that absolutely could be what happened to Jack,” said Tracy. “Snowy owls are extremely rare and are native to the Arctic Circle. However, North America is seeing a rare incursion of these birds this year and it seems that one of these stealth owls swooped in, picked up Jack then immediately began pecking him and using its talons to severely injure him. The owl eventually dropped Jack to the ground, causing the internal injuries. We’re very fortunate Jack got away before more damage was done.”
The Sheppards soon confirmed their suspicions when they spotted a snowy owl perched on their neighbor’s roof with a “bird’s eye view” of their backyard.
“The Sheppards’ story should remind us all that we share our world with wild animals,” said Carol McConnell, DVM, MBA, vice president and chief veterinary medical officer for VPI. “It’s a good idea to reduce the potential for conflicts in non-lethal ways that can be as simple as keeping trash cans secured and brush trimmed back to make your property less appealing for wild animals. I also recommend keeping an eye on your pets when they’re outside, and working with your veterinarian to keep vaccinations current, for protection from diseases that wild animals can transmit.”
As a VPI Pet Insurance policyholder for more than five years, Tracy recognizes the peace of mind having pet insurance offers when Lola or Jack gets sick or injured.
“It’s hard not to see dollar signs and worry about the financial burden of something catastrophic like this,” said Tracy. “I knew VPI would be there for me and Jack when we needed them so I could focus on his recovery and not the bill.”