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A Dog’s Life.

By Mia McCarthy


I'm going to start this story with a detail that is best gotten out of the way sooner rather than later: my dog was carried off by an eagle. My father was recently awarded sole custody of the family dog, Juno, a plucky Chihuahua-Jack Russell mix. Juno must be about fourteen years old. She is the last surviving childhood canine companion shared by my brothers and me. She has come to live out her golden years with my father in Somerset West, a town which Dad has aptly christened Zimmerframe Central.

Juno was born in the boarding house of the boys’ school that my brothers attended when we lived in Johannesburg. When the family who ran the boarding house appealed to us to take one of the unplanned mongrels off their hands, my father was adamant that a lapdog would never pass the threshold of our home. He dreamed of bringing home a Mastiff, an inclination which was (thankfully) quashed by the increasingly threatened welfare of our cats.

Anyway, Dad lost the battle. We brought Juno home when she was still a mewling, palm-sized runt. It has been heartwarming to see how fond my father is of Juno now, considering the unpromising start to their companionship so many years ago. He walks her faithfully on the beachfront every morning. He feeds her premium supplements and softened meat treats. She doesn’t have a dog bed because she sleeps with him under the covers.

When I tell people this story about Juno, who has recently travelled from Gauteng to the Western Cape in the passenger seat of my father’s Toyota Fortuner, they marvel at the trajectory of her life. “Yes,” I agree, “she has had an interesting life.” Then, the inevitable pause. “She was carried off by an eagle once.”

When I tell people this story about Juno, who has recently travelled from Gauteng to the Western Cape in the passenger seat of my father’s Toyota Fortuner, they marvel at the trajectory of her life. “Yes,” I agree, “she has had an interesting life.” Then, the inevitable pause. “She was carried off by an eagle once.”


This is a true story. While I never saw the event itself, there is plenty of evidence to confirm the event. Let me set the scene: at the time, we were living in Kloof, an area of Durban known for large properties and purebred horses. We were in possession of neither. We were renting a lovely house with a truly enormous garden (really, the size of a small conservancy) from a family who was living closer to town.

Kloof lands between the city centre and the rural outskirts of Kwa-Zulu Natal, so it’s not uncommon for gardens to be crawling with all sorts of fauna. Snakes slithered, fruit bats flitted, and squirrels and tree hyraxes skittered through our lawn. Flocks of trumpeter hornbills used to land heavily in our sprawling litchi tree and liberate its flimsy branches of the sweet fruit. Yellow-billed kites and Martial eagles circled overhead daily.

One day, my mother was spooked by a ghostly white apparition which appeared alongside her car as she was mosying up our driveway. The spirit turned out to be a juvenile crowned eagle. The crowned eagle, or Stephanoaetus coronatus, is the most powerful eagle species on the continent. Before they mature into adulthood, the babies are shockingly snow-white in colour. We affectionately named our new resident Snowy. Sometime after the first sighting of Snowy, Juno was delivered to me in a dreadful state. She was caked in mud and deteriorating rapidly into a state of serious physical shock. When I noticed that she was bleeding very slightly from some puncture wounds in her flank, I feared the worst. My dog had been bitten by a snake.


We rushed her to the vet in town. I was convinced that her fate was to die on that cold examination table from a tragic encounter with a black mamba. While I sobbed in anticipation of her untimely demise, the vet looked up at me quizically and asked, “Do you guys live in the upper highway area?”


Shocked by his audacity to play clairvoyant while our dying dog lay in his arms, we told the vet that yes, we lived in Kloof. He pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. “I think your dog was carried off by an eagle.”


Apparently, this happens often enough to small dogs in the upper highway area that local vets can diagnose Failed Raptor Rapture with ease. Juno was likely picked up by the inexperienced juvenile crowned eagle and dropped from a safe height. Apart from some bruising and superficial puncture wounds, she was unharmed.

Snowy appeared once again in our garden weeks later, accompanied this time by an adult parent. It was an exquisite sighting for a family of twitchers. So enamoured were we with the fearsome pair that we scarcely paid attention to Juno, who was going berserk over the return of her airborne assassin. As she raced closer to the tree which housed the eagles, though, we were torn between growing concern and crippling laughter at the sight of this canine bullet orbiting a pair of bemused eagles.


Concern quickly overtook amusement as the juvenile eagle dropped like a thunderbolt from his perch. I shrieked Juno’s name and flailed my arms in a weak attempt to deter the eagle from its target. My mother was paralysed by laughter or terror, or both. I howled with despair as the fearsome bird descended, pale wings flung wide, like the angel of death. Was Juno to be remembered forever as a to-go for a trainee apex predator on the fly?


Suddenly, Snowy veered upwards, and Juno launched her unharmed little body into my arms. In the recesses of the garden, the piercing cry of the juvenile eagle sounded. Juno lived to see another day. And another, and another. As you read this, she is likely curled up at my father’s feet, chewing on a treat with the satisfaction of a dog who has lived a full and happy life.

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