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Ravens Attack Dog at Ocean Beach, Woman Beats Birds with Driftwood

The Sunset Beacon
Vol. 11, No. 7 - January 2002

By Buffy MaGuire

Circling, attacking ravens have been reported in the Outer Sunset District. No, this is not a Hitchcock movie - it's real life at Ocean Beach.

Early in the afternoon of Dec. 12, on a crisp, clear, windy day, Jenny Laude, a 26-year resident of the Outer Sunset, went for her usual walk with two dogs when her seven-year-old Wheaton Terrier, Harry, was suddenly attacked by a group of ravens.

"I was walking to the beach from Lawton over the Great Highway through the sand dunes, when six or seven big black ravens encircled us, crowing - and then there was no noise. "It was completely eerie. At the beginning of the attack, I believed they were speaking to each other through their crowing and then when it turned silent, that's how I knew it was serious. That's when they started to attack Harry's head," Laude recalled.

Alone with her dogs and the attacking ravens on a desolate beach, Laude was left with little defense.

"The ravens were working together. I began swinging the dog chain leash at them and screaming, but they were not frightened. Then I began walking, then, running away but they followed. I finally grabbed a big piece of driftwood, about six-foot long, and beat them off," she said.

"I am convinced that if I was not there to protect Harry they would have pecked him to death," she said.

According to Laude, the attack lasted more than 15 minutes and the ravens came within six inches of her other 35-pound dog.

Common ravens, often confused with crows, are indigenous to California. Ravens are one third bigger and more aggressive than crows. They are acutely intelligent birds that are both predators and scavengers. Typically they prey on dead, weak animals, including sea life washed up on the shore, and small rodents of any type.

Authorities are unclear on exactly what triggered the attack on Laude's dog.

"Ravens are opportunists. They take advantage where they can. This attack's not surprising, but it's not typical either," said Buzz Hull, research director at the Golden Gate Raptor observatory.

"The dog must have threatened their food source. Ravens wouldn't be interested in a 35-pound-dog," said Dan Murphy, a raven expert at the Golden Gate Audubon Society.

Yet, Laude feels compelled to advise other dog walkers of the potential for more attacks. She laughs at the way life echoes the movies, but sincerely worries for small animals at the beach. She no longer goes for a walk on the beach with her dogs.

Other residents have aired similar grievances.

Sean Scallan, a lifeguard with the Beach Patrol at Ocean Beach, has had other dog walkers complain to him about raven attacks.

"I have heard of ravens dive bombing small dogs, but never for 15 minutes. The raven's entire day is spent looking for food. They'll eat dead seals and I've also seen them bury objects and dig things up in the sand," Scallan said.

Scallan, a lifelong resident of the Ocean Beach area, has also observed an increase in the number and strength of ravens.

"About 10 years or so ago, there were almost zero ravens at Ocean Beach. Now, between Sloat and Kelly's Cove, they are numerous, hanging out in groups of six-to-ten ravens. They're durable."

The attack prompted Laude to wonder about the recent influx of ravens, as well.

"I don't know where the ravens came from," Laude said. "I've lived here for several years and in about the past 10 years I've noticed a dramatic increase."

In fact, according to the Golden Gate Audubon Society, data shows an upswing in the numbers of ravens.

"There's been a big bump in the population in the past 15 years. In late summer, now there's as many as 100 ravens in the Ocean Beach area, but in winter there would be between 30 to 60," said Dan Murphy, who compiles an annual bird count on ravens at the Audubon Society.

According to Golden Gate Raptor Observatory statistics, there has been an increase in the raven population statewide.

Sal Guange, dog owner and 20-year resident of the Outer Sunset, has noticed an increase in the numbers of ravens.

"I remember when my dog, 16-year-old Amaretto, was a puppy I used to walk him on the beach and there were only a handful of ravens. Now there are multiple groupings," Guange said.

"I've seen the ravens hover around the heads of weaker, smaller dogs. I would recommend dog owners with very small dogs carry their dogs at certain parts of the beach."

Without a specific scientific explanation for the increase in ravens or the birds' aggressive behavior, the role of the raven in the attack on Laude's dog lends itself to superstition.

Raven mythology, historically associated with bad omens, dates back to medieval folklore when ravens were said to follow armies in hopes of finding dead bodies to scavenge. The image of a raven is often a metaphorical tool employed by poets, artists and filmmakers to evoke a superstitious fear, such as in the works of Edgar Allan Poe and Alfred Hitchcock.

So, in a bizarre case of life imitating art, be forewarned - if you are walking a small dog at Ocean Beach, you may wish to carry a walking stick because the ravens are growing in numbers.

They're out there, waiting.

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