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Dog escapes hungry great horned owl in backyard attack

A bichon Shih Tzu named Bailey is recovering after being attacked by a great horned owl in Sherwood Park.

Sherwood Park dog owner found big bird on top of her bichon Shih Tzu

One or more great horned owls have been spotted in the Sherwood Park area. (Jessica Cook)

A bichon-Shih Tzu cross named Bailey is on the mend after she was attacked by a great horned owl in Sherwood Park. 

Owner Anita Labrentz let the pooch out for a pee at about 10 p.m. Tuesday and noticed she was taking longer than usual to do her business.

She went outside to check and made a grim discovery.

Anita Labrentz stands with Bailey near where the dog was attacked by an owl. (Anita Labrentz)

"I saw her lying in the snow and I was trying to figure out what was this dark shape right on her," said Labrentz. "I couldn't make it out and my mind wasn't comprehending what I was seeing."

She soon realized it was a large great horned owl.

"And it looked at me, and it blinked a couple of times, and I was just so surprised," said Labrentz, who rescued Bailey. 

"Just reached in and grabbed my dog away and pulled her right out from beside the owl," she added. "I think I was probably within six or eight inches of him."

Shih Tzu may have passed out

Labrentz thought she might get pecked but the big bird left her alone.

"I was so concerned with my dog, I just brought her in my house," she said. "She was unresponsive so I thought she was already gone."

The dog had a several puncture wounds from the owl's talons but soon came around and has since been to the vet. 

Bailey's wounds from the attack are healing. (Anita Labrentz)

"She's got a heart murmur so they think maybe she passed out from fear, instead of the flight-or-fight response that would be expected," said Labrentz.

It's the first time Labrentz has seen an owl in the 25 years she's been living in Sherwood Park. But it's not the only recent sighting.

'Scared the snot out of me'

A few neighbourhoods away, Jessica Cook was at home preparing lunch for her daughter on Tuesday when she got an unexpected visitor.

"There was a very large bird perched on my deck railing, and when I was able to take a closer look I realized it was a very large owl," said Cook. "Scared the snot out of me a little bit."

Cook, who had previously only seen owls in the zoo, was able to snap a few photos and determine it was also a great horned owl.
Bailey is on the mend after she was attacked by a great horned owl in Sherwood Park on Tuesday 1:21
 

"We were quite surprised and taken aback by seeing him," said Cook. "Beauty for sure, but also just a little bit unnerving seeing a big giant owl staring you in the face."

It was especially unnerving after Cook learned about the attack on Bailey. Cook also has pets.

"I have two small pups, they're quite small, smaller than cats," said Cook. "Knowing that the bird was outside, we were cautious. I waited quite some time after the bird left to let the dogs out." 

Attacks on dog rare

Biologist Jocelyn Thrasher-Haug, manager of environment planning with Strathcona County, said there are a number of owls in the area.

"We have been aware of several owls in the urban area within Sherwood Park. For a number of years we've been watching them," said Thrasher-Haug. "Great horned owls are the most common."   

What is uncommon is having one attack a dog.

"We've never had a concern or a complaint regarding their behaviour, so this is a new issue that has come up," said Thrasher-Haug.
Area resident Jessica Cook says this great horned owl kept a close eye on her, but did not fly away while she was snapping photos. (Jessica Cook)
Owls are protected under the Alberta Wildlife Act.

If there were persistent behaviour problems, Thrasher-Haug said they would contact provincial wildlife biologists.

"Just to see if there were any issues that we should be dealing with," she explained. "You know, perhaps the owl was injured or isn't able to gather natural prey. That's something that we would maybe take a look at."

The dog attack is likely a one-off incident, Thrasher-Haug suggested.

"While definitely frightening for the owner and the dog, it's not typical and it's not behaviour we've ever had to deal with in Strathcona County."

'Some creatures are food for others'

Owls help control pests, such as rodents. While pets are not typically targeted by owls,  Thrasher-Haug advises owners to keep their eyes open.

"We always tell people if they're in a natural area to always be aware of their surroundings," she said. "Always keep your pets on a leash and close." 

Labrentz agrees that the onus is on owners to watch out for the safety of their pets.

"I think it's nature — sadly, some creatures are food for others," she said. "I think what we just need to do is be more aware and look up as well as around."

About the Author

Scott Stevenson

Journalist

Scott Stevenson is a journalist with CBC Edmonton. He has worked in the news industry in Alberta for nearly 20 years, including 10 years with Alberta's other public broadcaster, CKUA. He has also worked in newsrooms in Calgary, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat and Cold Lake. Share your stories with Scott at scott.stevenson@cbc.ca.