POUND RIDGE, N.Y. — Susan Roos was tooling along in her Land Rover when she came over a rise and hit the brakes, startled by a bird the size of a teenager.
"I actually thought my eyes were bad," Roos said. "I see this giant bird. It must have been 5 feet tall. It's running back and forth across the road. The long neck is going up and down like crazy. I slow down and stop, and then I realize what I'm seeing is actually real."
What she was seeing was an emu, and in Pound Ridge such encounters are common enough--and frightening enough--that the town council in this well-to-do New York suburb has just doubled the loose-emu fine.
Not that Roos had any idea she was seeing an emu. She sped to the town hall and rushed in, shouting, "There's an ostrich loose!"
"Everybody looks up calmly and sort of nods and says, 'Oh, I guess there's an emu out again,' " Roos said. "What did I know?"
The escaped emus in Pound Ridge apparently are pets. A Buddhist retreat keeps some on its property. Some other residents with large parcels of land keep emus among their exotics. None would return calls.
The new ordinance, which went into effect in June, means an escaped emu--or other "livestock"--can cost its owner as much as $200.
"Usually our problems are with crowing roosters or horses or cows that get loose and wander around on the roads," said Councilwoman Nancy Jane Woolley. "We didn't even know we had emus until they started getting out, because they don't have to be registered or licensed or anything."
Emus, which are native to Australia, grow to 5 or 6 feet, weigh about 110 pounds and can't fly. In the early '90s their meat was proposed as a low-fat alternative to beef, but that market collapsed in 1993.
"They can give you a real kick, and they can kick behind or in front. That's their defense, plus the pecking. They can hurt you. But normally they're not going to bother you if you're not bothering them," said Paul Kupchok, director of the Farm and Wildlife Center at Green Chimneys in Brewster, where animals are used as therapy for troubled children.
Green Chimneys has two emus and turns away others every month or so.
"Emus were all the rage there for a while," Kupchok said. "It seems there's something new every year."
Kupchok fears some owners may simply have released their birds.
"Once they escape, they're not coming back," he said. "Emus have no homing instinct."