Air Canada faces firestorm over response after staff lose dog at airport

Air Canada is in the doghouse over a spokesman’s remarks following the disappearance of a dog who escaped airline staff at a California airport.

The company says handlers at San Francisco International Airport took the dog out of his crate on Monday after his flight was delayed and the pet either slipped out of his collar or broke it.

Air Canada says the dog — an Italian greyhound named Larry — bolted, and was last spotted about five kilometres from the airport.

The local CBS TV station took interest in Larry’s disappearance and says it asked the airline about its procedures after obtaining a statement about the incident.

Instead, the station says it accidentally received an email from spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick urging his colleagues to ignore the inquiry.

“I think I would just ignore, it is local news doing a story on a lost dog. Their entire government is shut down and about to default and this is how the US media spends its time,” the station said the email read.

Word quickly spread online, with many voicing their outrage over the company’s response.

“If you ever fly with your pet, you might not want to choose Air Canada,” one wrote on Twitter.

“How NOT to respond to a media request. Oh, @aircanada, you’ve done it again,” read another tweet.

The airline addressed the controversy in a statement Friday.

“Air Canada acknowledges inappropriate comments were made in response to a reporter’s follow-up questions for additional details regarding Larry,” it said.

“However, Air Canada has been providing the best available information to media on this matter. These comments do not reflect Air Canada’s standards or professionalism, and do not refer to the search for Larry by Air Canada employees which is ongoing.”

Larry’s temporary owner said she was furious when she heard about the message.

“I was angry… (but) I was not surprised that someone could be that stupid. It was an incredibly stupid, very cold, callous email,” Jutta Kulic said in a phone interview from Sacramento, Cali., where she is travelling for a dog show.

“I just find the whole thing just horrifying,” said Kulic, who lives in Ohio.

Kulic said she was taking care of Larry after his owner, a friend of hers, died of cancer. The friend wanted her dogs placed in “loving homes,” she said.

Larry was on his way to Campbell River, B.C., when he vanished, she said.

He was placed in a crate secured with several zip ties and Kulic said she gave staff specific instructions not to take him out.

“The only defence mechanism for almost any animal is fight or flight and in this case, for Italian greyhounds, it is strictly flight — they are just going to run when they’re scared,” she said.

Efforts to track down the pooch are still underway.

Air Canada said staff continue to search for Larry and have put up posters near the airport.

Kulic, meanwhile, said she’s received reports of sightings and has reason to believe Larry was struck by a vehicle on a highway on-ramp sometime this week.

But no remains have been found and she said she’s not sure whether he survived.

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