Origins: Folklorist Jan Harold Brunvand makes the point that in addition to "never
Valdez, Alaska — A bald eagle satisfied its hunger at a Valdez gas station when it snatched up a small dog and flew away, leaving the dog's owner screaming in horror.
The chihuahua-like dog had been let out of a motor home to run around in the station's parking lot while the owners, an unidentified couple from Georgia, cleaned the vehicle's windshield.
Witnesses said the pet was about
"It was the damnedest thing I ever saw," said Dennis Fleming, a gas station attendant. "The dog gave one yelp and that was it."
The woman owner clutched her hands to her face and cried, "Oh, my God," while Fleming tried to console her.
Her husband, however, didn't appear to take the dog's departure too seriously. Fleming said as the man walked around the side of the motor home, out of sight of his wife, he began to grin and chopped his hands in the air and exclaimed, "Yeah! Yeah!"
We've seen the Alaskan version of this pounced pooch tale told of dogs of unspecified breeds (see the above news item) but also of poodles, Pomeranians and chihuahuas. More telling than that, however, is the knowledge that stories very much like this June 1993 "news story" appeared in a 1989 collection of urban legends.
A 1996 British collection of such legends sets the tale in Scotland. (Same eagle, guys?) Indeed, summing up all the versions so far encountered, we have:
- Dogs (poodles, chihuahuas, Pomeranians, yorkies) made off with by eagles.
- A chihuahua grabbed by a pelican.
- Pampered pooch at Sea World-type amusement park gulped by shark.
Whether eagles could carry off dogs (even annoying little ones you'd love to kick in the arse if only the wife would turn her back for a second) as described in the legend is problematic. These large birds of prey generally aren't capable of flight with much more than three or four pounds clutched in their talons; although they might be able to carry a full-grown dog or cat a short ways, soaring into the heavens with one would most likely be beyond their capabilities. (Click here to learn more about what eagles eat and what they can carry.)
News stories about predatory owls and hawks make the dog-snatching eagle tale more believable. In 1995 a Great Horned owl terrorized a Maine town. During its reign of mayhem, it took off with a
In February 2000, a Jack Springer Sophie was scooped up by an eagle owl in the UK. (The dog escaped and made it home scratched up but otherwise okay a half hour later.)
In December 1999 a Florida woman defended her six-pound chihuahua from the
Could there be a steroid-enhanced eagle out there capable of air-lifting dogs out of their backyards? It would have to be a very special bird indeed, certainly not your run-of-the-mill eagle.
In March 2002, CNN reported on the case of a bald eagle's making off with a
We don't know how CNN arrived at a figure of
How a bald eagle could manage to take off carrying a
So where are we with this tale? We have an eagle that grabbed a small dog and apparently got it up into the air to about the height of a tree before losing it. That the bird tried and succeeded even this much is phenomenal, but it's still nowhere close to being the effortless "flight into the sunset bearing its prey in its claws" of legend.
We're right back to where we started: Eagles do not swoop down and carry off small dogs as an ordinary matter of course. Some may attack a dog on the ground, and some may even get it temporarily airborne, but they do not ultimately succeed in making off with it.
Barbara "bawled eagle" Mikkelson
Last updated: 1 August 2011
Brunvand, Jan Harold. Curses! Broiled Again! New York: W. W. Norton, 1989. ISBN 0-393-30711-5 (pp. 129-131). Bowley, Diana. "Owl Attacks, Kills Dog, Terrorizes Maine Town." Bangor Daily News. 6 January 1995. Enge, Marilee. "A Trip They Won't Forget." Sacramento Bee. 20 June 1993 (p. A5). Harlow, Doug. "Eagle Seizes, Releases Madison Family's Dog." Central Maine Morning Sentinel. 9 March 2002 (p. A1). Harlow, Doug. "Eagle Ordeal; Attack on Dog Has Owner Seething." Central Maine Morning Sentinel. 13 March 2002 (p. A1). Scott, Bill. Pelicans & Chihuahuas and Other Urban Legends. St. Lucia, Queensland: Univ. of Queensland, 1996. ISBN 0-7022-2774-9 (pp. 5-9, 72). Associated Press. "Woman Yells 'Drop the Chihuahua' After Hawk Snatches Her Dog." 22 December 1999. CNN. "Dachshund Survives After Eagle Carries It Off." 15 March 2002. The [London] Evening Standard. "Park Attack Owl Flies off With Dog in Talons." 8 February 2000 (p. 6). FOAFTale News. "Birds of Prey Gather." June 1994 (pp. 13-15). USA Today. "Across the USA: News from Every State." 21 June 1993 (p. A9).
Also told in:
Healey, Phil and Rick Glanvill. Now! That's What I Call Urban Myths. London: Virgin Books, 1996. ISBN 0-86369-969-3 (pp. 123-124).