A chihuahua is not the typical prey of the great horned owl.
But George Kalomiris of Crystal Lake nearly lost Chico, one of his two chihuahuas, to a particularly curious owl.
The great horned owl is common in the McHenry County area and capable of taking down bigger animals than the 4-pound Chico, such as skunks and raccoons. But it’s not common for what happened to Chico to occur, said Rebecca Murphy of the McHenry County Conservation District’s Wildlife Resource Center.
“They’re opportunistic,” Murphy said. “The reason it’s not real common is usually the human is right there, and having it there, that should frighten away a predator.”
Kalomiris normally walks his dogs during the day. But in Wednesday’s early hours, Kalomiris took Chico out.
On their way home, Chico stopped and began to whimper. Kalomiris yanked on the dog’s leash when the owl – a bird with a 5-foot wingspan – struck.
However, the owl’s talons, capable of applying 200 to 300 pounds of pressure per square inch, didn’t get a good grip through the chihuahua’s winter jacket, and the owl got caught on the dog’s leash. Kalomiris said he yelled and lunged at the owl, which flew away after four seconds. Kalomiris rushed the dog to an emergency vet, who performed X-rays but found nothing other than a superficial puncture wound.
“The doctors said he was very lucky to live,” Kalomiris said. “The jacket most likely saved him.”
Kalomiris always has looked out for circling hawks while with Chico, but has never worried about owls.
“[Owls don’t] know the difference between a pet animal or a prey animal,” Murphy said. “With a small dog like that, there is a potential that larger raptor species could take them down.”
That said, simply standing near the pet is generally enough to scare predators off.
“I was about 2 or 3 feet away,” said Kalomiris. “The vet said it must have been very hungry and desperate to do something like that.”
But the owl flew away unsatiated, thanks to a purchase by Kalomiris’ wife, Dana.
“Now I feel vindicated for buying dog clothes,” Dana Kalomiris said.
Learn more about owls
What: “In Celebration of Owls”
What goes on: Two showings of rehabilitated owls, two “owl prowls” - nighttime walks searching for owls
When: 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Jan. 28
Where: Prairieview Education Center, 2112 Behan Road, Crystal Lake
For who: Minimum recommended age for prowls is 6; an adults-only hike also is scheduled.