Flying with animals can be a stressful situation for any pet owner, but it’s turning into a true nightmare for one woman after an airline lost her dog at the world’s busiest airport.
On August 18, Paula Rodriguez, from the Dominican Republic, boarded a Delta Airlines flight for a two-week vacation in California with her six-year-old dog Maia, according to CNN.
But during a layover at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Paula was stopped by border force staff who told her she didn’t meet the requirements of her tourist visa and told her she would have to return home. Since the next flight out wasn’t until the next day, she had to spend the night in the detention center, forcing her to separate from her dog.
A Delta agent took Maia for the night, though Paula expressed worry because her dog had been distressed from the flight. “He told me not to worry, that she’d be taken to a facility with staff trained for that,” Paula told CNN. “That they’d give her food and water and take care of her. It wasn’t my wish, but I understood. There was nothing I could do, and I trusted him.”
The next day she was escorted to the gate, where she was told Maia would be waiting — but the dog wasn’t there, and no one seemed to know where she was.
Paula panicked as it became clear her dog was unaccounted for. She refused to get on the plane without her dog, but when border agents told her she couldn’t stay in the US without a visa, she had no choice but to fly to Punta Cana on her own.
Far away from the airport, she continued searching for answers about Maia: “I called Delta, Atlanta airport, even San Francisco. I filed every claim possible. I called all the shelters and veterinary surgeries I could in Atlanta. I was in agony for two days with no answer.”
Finally, after two days, she got an answer: while Maia was being transported to the plane, staff opened her kennel and she escaped onto the runway. “Planes were taking off and coming in,” she told CNN. “He said they chased her but she ran faster and faster and she escaped. That’s all I know.”
With Paula unable to reenter the US, her mother flew in on her behalf, but Delta staff told her they have no leads or updates. Delta representatives told CNN that they are still searching for Maia and “feel deeply concerned for the customer and the dog.”
Paula suspects that her dog might still be hiding in the airport: Maia is microchipped, so if she was picked up by a shelter she would be contacted.
But searching the airport is no easy task, either: Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is the world’s busiest airport by passenger traffic, and Delta’s hub is the largest airline hub in the world. For now, all Paula can do is wait from afar.
“I’m in agony,” she said. “I’ve been living a nightmare since Friday, knowing my baby is out there somewhere scared, or might be injured. All kinds of thoughts come into my head and I can’t do anything. Every minute feels like a day.”
“Everyone who knows me knows what she means to me. I don’t go anywhere without her. She’s so well behaved that I take her to restaurants, literally everywhere. She’s my partner in everything.”
While things may seem hopeless now, sometimes pets are lost at airports and are found days later: just this month, a cat named Breezy reunited with her owner days after escaping onto the tarmac at Denver International Airport.
This is a nightmare situation for any pet owner, and our thoughts are with Paula during this stressful time. We hope the airline locates Maia and makes things right soon.
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