Felipe Rodriguez says he thought he was hallucinating when an eagle snatched his sister's little white dog from her yard, flapped its massive wings and disappeared over the trees.
Did he really just see that?
He had. “Zoey” the eight-pound Bichon Frise was gone—taken by a hungry raptor Tuesday afternoon not 50 feet from his sister's house on the banks of the Lehigh River in Pennsylvania.
“It seemed like something from the 'Wizard of Oz,'” Rodriguez told The Associated Press yesterday.
“I'm a city boy," he added. "This doesn't happen in my world.”
Even more astonishing: Zoey would live to bark the tale.
More on that later. But first, let it be said that eagles are quite capable of taking a small dog or a cat.
“It has been documented before but not that often,” said Laurie Goodrich, a biologist at nearby Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, a ridgetop preserve that annually records tens of thousands of migrating hawks, eagles, and falcons.
“Food is scarce right now, particularly with this cold snap," she noted. ”The waterways are freezing up.
“They're going to be looking a little more widely and taking advantage of whatever might be out there.”
Rodriguez said he was by himself at his sister's home in Bowmanstown, about 130 km north of Philadelphia, when he heard a loud screech, hurried to the French doors leading to the deck, and saw the eagle with its talons in Zoey, who had been playing in the fenced yard.
“The bird was holding onto the dog. There was flapping of wings and then it was gone,” said Rodriguez, a 50-year-old health-care executive visiting from Chicago.
He drove around the neighbourhood looking for the seven-year-old Bichon, to no avail.
Rodriguez assumed Zoey was gone for good.
His sister and her family were devastated when they found out.
“I did nothing but cry all day,” Monica Newhard said.
Newhard noted it wasn't unusual to see eagles in the area, given her home's proximity to the river. She also suspected they occasionally grabbed one of the rabbits that lived under her shed.
But it didn't occur to Newhard that any of her four dogs would be in danger.
Heartbroken, she and her husband scoured the woods for Zoey's body. Little did they know their bitty Bichon would be found later that afternoon—a full four miles away.
Zoey's rescuer was Christina Hartman, 51, who said she was driving on a snow-covered back road when she spotted a furry white lump ahead and pulled over to investigate.
“I notice this little frozen dog, icicles hanging from all over. It could hardly move,” Hartman recalled.
She scooped up the whimpering pooch, wrapped her in a blanket, and took her home, feeding the dog two bowls of chicken-and-rice soup.
Gradually, the Bichon warmed up and began to show some spunk. Hartman noticed several small wounds on the back of her neck, and the dog walked with a limp.
She had no collar.
“This dog belongs to a family, and I'm gonna find out who owns it,” Hartman told herself.
It didn't take long. She spotted Newhard's public Facebook post yesterday morning—Newhard had uploaded a photo of Zoey—and made an excited call.
“I said, 'It's a miracle! I have your dog!”
Zoey had some bruising and a few missing patches of fur. It's not clear how far the eagle might have carried the dog, but Rodriguez said he can't believe Zoey survived.
“She is not really herself but she is getting lots of love,” Newhard texted the AP late yesterday.
“She doesn't want to go out [and] I really can't blame her.”