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 8-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, Rodriguez said.
"It seemed like something from the 'Wizard of Oz,'" he told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "I'm a city boy. 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.
With food scarce and waterways freezing up, raptors are "looking a little more widely and taking advantage of whatever might be out there," she said.
Rodriguez said he was by himself at his sister's home in Bowmanstown, about 80 miles (128 kilometers) north of Philadelphia, and Zoey was playing in the fenced yard when he heard a loud screech, hurried to the door and looked out.
"The bird was holding onto the dog. There was flapping of wings and then it was gone," said Rodriguez, a 50-year-old healthcare executive visiting from Chicago.
He drove around the neighborhood looking for the 7-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 said it's not unusual to see eagles, 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 said.
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 Wednesday 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 bruises 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," his sister, Newhard, texted the AP late Wednesday. "She doesn't want to go out. ... I really can't blame her."