Duncan and Lynda White were in Courtenay filling up their gas tank when their cell phone rang with the bad news.
Lynda listened as former dog breeder Jutta Kulic told the couple their new pet was missing.
Larry, a two-year-old Italian greyhound who was being flown from San Francisco to Victoria where the Whites would be waiting, had escaped from Air Canada handlers at the San Francisco Airport.
The Whites, both of Campbell River, were set to adopt Larry who had belonged to a friend of Kulic’s who died of cancer.
Lynda said Larry seemed the perfect fit for their family.
“We lost our oldest Italian greyhound in June, he passed away from liver cancer; he was 13,” Lynda said. “He was Duncan’s constant companion. This dog seemed to have certain mannerisms similar to him.”
About a year ago, Duncan was also diagnosed with cancer and the couple set out to find a new pet to brighten their lives. At the dog show in Nunns Creek Park in August, the Whites met up with a friend who was working as a judge. She put the Whites in touch with Kulic who was looking for a home for Larry. The young Italian greyhound seemed the perfect match.
“Duncan is also suffering from liver cancer, we’re not sure what kind of time we have,” Lynda said. “We had hopes for this dog to be a companion to him. Time is not on our side.”
But their plans were turned upside down after Larry escaped from his secure crate at the San Francisco airport.
Jutta, who lives in Ohio, was in Sacramento, Calif. for a dog show but drove Larry to San Francisco, where she dropped him off at the airport Oct. 7. The plan was for Larry to catch a connecting flight to Vancouver before flying to Victoria where the Whites would pick him up and bring him home to Campbell River. Unfortunately, Larry’s flight to Vancouver was delayed so arrangements were made to have Larry stay overnight on the Mainland.
“He would fly across to Victoria first thing in the morning,” Duncan recalled. “So we decided to go back home and we were filling up at Costco and Lynda got a call from Jutta that Larry had bolted.”
Kulic told Lynda that an Air Canada worker had let Larry out of his crate – which had four zip ties around it so he wouldn’t escape – despite Kulic’s detailed instructions to the airline’s cargo holders to not open the crate.
Angela Mah, spokesperson for Air Canada, said staff let Larry out of his crate because of the flight delay.
“Air Canada’s San Francisco team had Larry’s well-being as first priority when initially caring for him during the lengthy flight delay when he unfortunately escaped,” Mah said.
Larry slipped out of his collar, which wasn’t designed for a leash but rather just to carry his ID tags, according to Lynda. Witnesses told Kulic that Larry ran out onto nearby Highway 101 and was hit on the freeway entrance ramp around 4:45 p.m., within a half an hour of him escaping from Air Canada handlers. Kulic said three different cars pulled over and one couple rushed to Larry’s side.
“Shortly after 5 p.m., a couple called a local veterinary hospital, saying they had picked up a dog hit on the freeway, that it was still breathing, and asked to bring it for treatment,” Kulic said. “They were referred to the closest emergency vet, but never arrived there or at any other local vet contacted to date. I continue to network; social media has been amazing. Someone will come forward eventually if we keep working on it.”
Lynda said Kulic has been “very vigilant” in trying to track down Larry and a $2,500 reward is being offered for his return.
“She’s been on it since the time she got the phone call (that Larry escaped) and she has not rested,” Lynda said. “She arrived back in Ohio last night and the only reason she left San Francisco was she knew he wasn’t out in the cold by himself, running around. She is quite positive someone picked him up and attempted to call the vet but that’s where the information stops.
“We haven’t been able to find the people who picked him up or where they took him.”
Duncan said at first he believed the worst – that Larry had been killed – but now he’s fairly confident someone has Larry.
He said there is no evidence that Larry was killed. Highway clean-up crews haven’t found him neither have other search parties – including Air Canada.
Mah said the airline has been doing what it can to try and track down Larry.
“Upon learning Larry was missing, Air Canada contacted Larry’s handler and immediately instituted a search, with both cargo and airport staff,” Mah said. “We have reached out to local groups involved in animal rescue.
“Additionally, we have broadly alerted the airport community and posters are up.”
Lynda agrees that someone likely has Larry.
“The only other possible explanation is that someone’s taken him and doesn’t want to return him,” said Lynda who noted Italian greyhound’s are an expensive, gentle and loving breed. However, they can also be skittish, startle easily and love to run, which is why Kulic left specific instructions with Air Canada not to open Larry’s crate.
Still, Lynda said, “I don’t want to point fingers at them (Air Canada).”
But she hopes with all the media attention Larry’s story is getting in both Canada and the United States, as well as exposure through the Larry the Italian Greyhound Facebook page, that someone will come forward with some key information.
Duncan said he hopes if anything positive comes out of the experience, it’s that Air Canada makes some adjustments.
“I would like to see, in the future, that Air Canada has a good look at their policies and procedures when it comes to handling live animals that are unescorted so this doesn’t happen to anyone else,” Duncan said.
Mah said that in the meantime Air Canada’s U.S. cargo team continues to check in with area animal organizations and hospitals on a daily basis and is following up on any and all leads received regarding Larry. Mah added that Air Canada is in regular contact with Kulic regarding its efforts.