Oct. 2, 2012
By Misty Volaski, firstname.lastname@example.org
After a month of wild goose chases, Kim Stroud finally got the call she’d been hoping for: Dakota had been found. Saturday morning, “We got out the binoculars and looked up in the tree, and my husband goes, ‘I think that’s Dakota,’” said Ojai resident Jill Swan, referring to the great horned owl that escaped from the Ojai Raptor Center Aug. 30. “She had the leathers on her legs.” The Swans, who had read about Dakota’s disappearance in the Ojai Valley News, immediately called Stroud. “We were so glad we had found her!” Swan enthused. “Kim came right over.” “I’ve gotten so many calls!” Stroud said. “I feel like I know where every owl in the valley lives now. The response (to Dakota’s escape) has been great.” Once Stroud arrived at the Swans’ Moreno Drive home, she knew this call wasn’t another false alarm. But the raptor was weak and unwilling to come down, despite Stroud’s offer of a dead mouse. So she left the Swans with leather gloves, a box and instructions on how to capture the owl if she came down. “Then the crows got after her again, they started dive-bombing her,” Swan said. “We almost had her, then she flew into the river bottom, and Pat went out there. She was just taking small hops, and he finally caught up with her. He was so excited.” So was Stroud. “I was surprised we hadn’t heard her. She was only about a half-mile away” from the Ojai Raptor Center on Baldwin Road. Stroud rushed Dakota back to the center, where she weighed the owl to assess her condition. The results were grim: Dakota had lost almost half her body weight. “Which means she had not eaten, and she’d been out there for weeks,” said Stroud. “She was so weak. I could pick her up with my bare hands … we started fluid therapy.” The ORC crew brought her mate, Newton, in to see her, in hopes that it would raise both the owls’ spirits. “We thought maybe he’d hoot at her,” said Stroud. “Since she’s been gone he’s been hooting more, not as easy for us to pick up … But he didn’t really react.” Saturday evening, Stroud brought Dakota home, “so I could give her fluid therapy all night.” But the next day, the raptor, who has been in Stroud’s care for 17 years, hadn’t made any progress. “She was really low. All we could do was push fluids.” Despite Stroud’s efforts, Dakota died in her arms Sunday morning. “It was renal failure,” sighed Stroud. I was kinda hoping—” she paused. “The only good thing is, it’s closure. At least we got her back, we know what happened now.” The Swans were disappointed to hear that Dakota hadn’t survived. “But we’re pleased to have found Dakota for her (Stroud). She doesn’t have to worry about what happened to her. At least she (Dakota) is at peace now.” Dakota was buried on the ORD property. Stroud said she hopes the loss will serve as a cautionary tale, discouraging anyone considering a keeping wild animal as a pet. “They imprint on humans,” she explained. “That’s what happens when people keep wild animals and try to raise them as a pet. If they escape, they don’t survive out in the world. They can’t hunt by themselves anymore.” Stroud added that the ORC will begin searching for a new great horned owl to add to the nonprofit organization’s ambassador program, which takes birds they cannot release back into the wild — like Newton and Dakota, as well as other owls, eagles and hawks — around the community to help educate the public. The raptors will be on display at the ORC’s Ojai Day booth Oct. 20. After that, Nov. 10 from noon to 4 p.m., the ORD hosts is biannual Open House at 370 Baldwin Road. See www.ojairaptorcenter.org for additional details.