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Keeping your small pet safe from predators


On November 30, The Tennessean reported that a Nashville-area dog was attacked by a bird of prey. On Friday, November 28, a red-tailed hawk circling the Vanderbilt community captured Bean, a 7-pound Maltese / Shih Tzu mix, while he was in his back yard. His guardian's 22-year-old daughter was outside as well, and witnessed the attack. The hawk then dropped the small dog, but talon injuries on his neck and back, combined with the blunt force of the fall, proved to be too devastating even after veterinary care. Two days later, Bean died.

This is not the first story of its kind that I have heard in recent years here in Middle Tennessee. While it does not happen all the time, large birds of prey can and will sometimes pick up small pets. In fact, raptors have been known to carry away animals as large as 20 pounds. During a hunt, a bird of prey won't likely distinguish between a wild prey animal and your small pet. Some of the more powerful birds likely to hunt small pets include the Great Horned Owl, Northern Goshawk and Red-Tailed Hawk.

If you have a pet such as a cat, small dog, rabbit or ferret, be careful when allowing your pet outdoors. Keeping your pet on a leash can help you keep control, but when your pet is off-leash, extra caution should be exercised. Only allow your pet into the yard under close supervision. A smaller pet left alone in a yard can be an easy target, while birds of prey may be less likely to attack if a larger predator (like an adult human) is nearby. However, sometimes even this won't stop them, as in this most recent case; therefore, If you see a bird of prey overhead, it's best to play it safe and take your pet indoors immediately.

If you have more than one pet, letting them out together for a supervised play session can take advantage of "strength in numbers". Having cover over your yard - whether trees, canopies or other shady areas - may also help keep your pet better hidden from eyes in the sky.

Birding experts also recommend removing any bird feeders from your yard, as they attract the smaller birds and mice that raptors hunt.

Of course, raptors are only one wild predator that has been known to attack pets in our area. Coyotes and foxes can also pose a threat to domestic animals. As humans encroach more and more on wild habitat areas, many of these animals are left with nowhere to turn but our own backyards. Help keep your pet safe through keen supervision and a heightened awareness of your surroundings.

For more tips, I like this post on

Reminder: All birds of prey are protected under the Migratory Bird Treat Act, and it is illegal to injure, capture or kill any raptor. 

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