FAIRBANKS -- Even though people told her it could happen, Patty White never dreamed that an owl would kill one of her little dogs.
"People told me, 'You have to be careful about owls,' and I said, 'No, that can't be, an owl never killed a pet before.' "
But that's precisely what happened Jan. 13, when what is believed to be a great-horned owl swooped down and attacked Teddy, her 8-year-old, 7-pound Yorkiepoo, at the end of their driveway off Freeman Road in North Pole.
White had let Teddy and Teddy's daughter, Bella, a Yorkiepoo/Maltese mix, out to go to do their business at about 9:30 p.m. Bella came back, like she always does, but Teddy didn't, which isn't unusual because he likes to wander farther down the driveway.
"I called Bella back, and she immediately ran back," White said. "(Teddy) was still barking down the driveway, I could hear him, but he didn't come back."
So White went back into the house and started reading, thinking Teddy would return a few minutes later, barking at the door the way he usually does. After about 10 minutes passed, White, who had got caught up in her reading, realized Teddy still wasn't back. It was 12 degrees below zero and White figured Teddy's feet were probably getting cold. She mentioned it to her husband, Greg, who put on his coat to go look for the dog.
"I just had this weird feeling why he hadn't come back because he's always at the door barking a few minutes after I call him," White said.
As Greg White walked down the driveway with a flashlight to look for the dog, he met neighbor Brandon Welton and a friend walking up. Welton was carrying Teddy in his arms.
"He said, 'We're sorry but an owl killed your dog,' " White said.
Welton was driving up the road when he said he saw the owl in the distance. As they got closer, they could see it standing over something. They told White it was an "enormous" brown and black owl, standing more than 2 feet tall.
"They thought it had a cat," White said. "They stopped the car and backed up and only then did the owl leave. It flew back up into a birch tree."
When her husband walked up to the door carrying the dead dog, White said she had a "meltdown." She couldn't believe an owl had killed the little dog, even though her husband told her he had seen the owl in the tree and Welton had seen the raptor standing over the dead dog. Patty White took the dead dog to the Fairbanks North Star Borough animal control shelter to have it looked at.
"I wanted to know for sure it was an owl," she said.
A vet at the shelter examined the dog, which had a gaping wound on its head, Patty White said. The vet told White she could see the talon marks where the owl had grabbed the dog and that the owl hit the dog so hard that it broke its skull. There was a piece of the dog's skull missing, White said.
"It didn't have time to pick him up," she said. "I think maybe it was trying to pull him apart when Brandon drove up."
White also called the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to find out if owls killing dogs is common. A biologist told her this is a down year for snowshoe hares, which are one of the prime food sources for great-horned owls and that he wasn't surprised that an owl would go after a small dog like Teddy.
White wrote a letter to the editor to the News-Miner to alert people to the fact that large owls do attack and kill dogs and not let them out alone, especially at night.
While she was saddened and shocked by the dog's death, White said she's glad they "got him home in one piece instead of finding him in pieces with his collar laying there" or not finding him at all and spending hours looking for him.
"He was so, so special to me," Patty White said.
The Whites have lived in the neighborhood for 28 years, and Patty White said she has heard owls but never seen them. After what happened to Teddy, White said she doesn't let her other dogs, Bella and Roxy, a Maltese, go outside alone.
"Every day, I'm looking in the trees for that owl," she said. "I never dreamed it would actually do what people say."
By Tim Mowry
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner