The Fatal Bellman

Spriggan is a tiny dog.  When I first got her, she was 2.5 pounds, one quarter of the size she is now.  Despite the exponential weight gain (such as it is), I still classify her as a tiny dog.

Baby Spriggan on Mike



Mike I think would prefer I not post pictures of him sleeping all the time.  It's not like he does nothing but sleep -- it's just that those make super-cute pictures.


When she was a tiny baby and I was an incredibly overprotective/obsessive helicopter mom, I found all sorts of things to be terrified of:

  • What if she finds a way to climb up three feet of shelving and eat a bunch of chocolate?
  • What if Pixie accidentally eats Spriggan in one bite, thinking she’s a delicious treat?
  • Is her nose too dry?  What if she’s sick?!
  • Is her nose too wet?  What if she’s sick?!
  • What if a bird of prey snatches her up and carries her off while she’s playing outside?

That last one was based, in part, on a video I saw in which a ‘golden eagle’ (apparently) grabs a toddler and tries to fly off with it before dropping it:


When Spriggan was little, I worried about this all the time and watched her when she was outside, always concerned that I’d be too far away to tackle the offending avian.  After a few months, I relaxed a little, allowing her to run without constant supervision, and a few months after that, I forgot this particular fear entirely.

I was swimming in this blissful ignorance until a couple months ago, when, like a lightning bolt, the panic returned.  I had forgotten to be afraid of that particular thing, and suddenly… I remembered!

I told myself, “You are being completely absurd.  What are the chances of such a thing?  It’s got to be nearly impossible.  A bird would have to be monstrous to even consider picking up a ten-pound dog, especially one as feisty and wiggly as Spriggan.”

But I worried anyway.

We’ve never really let her out by herself at night, but since the fear returned, I’ve been extra sure not to let her rush out after Pixie.  We take her out on a leash, in part to be sure she doesn’t get eaten, but mostly to assuage my other obsession, namely that her digestive system is working properly.

And then, tonight.

I took her out on her leash around 11:00 pm.  She wandered about for a few minutes and then stopped to pee.  I told her she should poop too before we go inside, so I was waiting on her to agree and follow through, when we heard a noise from the elder of our two pecan trees.

The noise was rustly and fluttery and had a little chirrup at the end.  My first thought was that an owl had caught a bird in the tree.  “Do they do that?” I thought.  Then, confirming the strigine nature of the sound, I heard hooting.  Then a sound that was more like the cry of a baby than a hoot.  Then more hooting.

Spriggan, when this began, tugged on her leash insistently.  I’m not sure whether this was an urge to run inside because she was scared or whether she wanted to run toward the sound to investigate; she’s not stupid, but she’s not a coward either.

I waited a few seconds, telling her, “Just hurry up and go and then we’ll head inside.”  I mostly knew this was wishful thinking, as she is perhaps the most easily-distracted creature to own intestines, but I didn’t particularly want to have to come back outside later.  Then, something in my mind, like a cutaway from CSI, showed me the scene from an owl’s POV:  I zoomed in over my own head and saw movement under a bush, the grass rustling under tiny feet, and thought, “PREY!”

Back in my own body again, I scooped Spriggan into my arms just in time.  A huge (by my terrified standards) owl swooped in just over my head, hooting along the flight path, and flew up to the roof, where it fluttered and hooted again.  I screamed a single, short burst… not, I realize now, from surprise but rather from some instinct to let the bird know I am large and loud and scary.

I don’t think it was impressed.

I apologized to Spriggan for screaming in her ear, and we hustled inside.  I called Mike immediately to tell him about the experience, and we agreed that Spriggan NEVER goes out the door alone at night.

When Mike got home, he said he heard it too, from somewhere in the direction of our backyard.  He started researching owls online.  The first time I turn my head to see what he’s pulled up, I see the following title:  How to Keep Dogs Safe from Owls.

This is a thing.  It is not a paranoid fantasy on my part.  There are all manner of articles warning to keep pets under 20 pounds safe from birds of prey.

One thing I don’t know is whether the owl was actually hunting.  I would think, if it thought it could catch Spriggan as prey, it wouldn’t be hooting on its way down.  Maybe it was just feeling territorial.

In any case, the world is a terrifying place.