'Boy, could she run!' Pearson airport leads effort to find Spanish podenco
Capturing the runaway dog was a co-ordinated effort
Adopting a rescue dog from Spain comes with its fair share of complications. But the adventure of Crystal, the white Spanish podenco, is a story her foster handlers will never forget.
Neither will staff at the Toronto Pearson International Airport.
Crystal made a run for it when the plane landed — forcing one of the busiest airports in North America to suspend arrivals and departures for about an hour last Tuesday until they found her.
"They had nighttime vision cameras and everything to track her," said Rhonda Martins of Greyhounds, Galgos and Podencos of Atlantic Canada. The organization, based in Lower Sackville, N.S., helps people on the East Coast adopt the often-abandoned podencos from Spain.
Martins and another member of her group arranged the adoption of four podencos, including Crystal. They were flying the dogs home when Crystal disappeared in Toronto upon landing.
It turns out Crystal's crate may not have been properly fastened. When the cargo door of the British Airways jet opened Monday at 8 p.m. ET, Crystal jumped out and ran off into the darkness.
"I ended up getting security clearance to go out on the tarmac and one of the guys drove me around for hours and it actually started to rain," Martins said. "It rained so bad. We had hoped that she'd get cover, but she just kept running the whole time."
Eventually, Martins had to go back to her hotel with the other three dogs. Airport staff at Pearson assured her they'd keep looking.
"I can't say enough about Toronto Pearson," Martins said. "They did a phenomenal job. This was not their fault. And they just spent 13 hours looking for her. She was running and they were fantastic. They were not giving up until they found her."
Staff helped from all levels
What happened over the next 12 hours was a high-tech co-ordinated search quarterbacked by staff high up in the control tower.
Chris Stubbs, an aviation safety officer with the airport, was the man on the ground. He said while the control tower diverted at least one aircraft away from the affected runway, security operations tracked Crystal using security and thermal cameras.
With so much tech involved, Stubbs said he knew they'd find her. In fact, he said if Crystal was going to get lost anywhere along her international journey, she's lucky it was within the fenced-in confines of the airport.
Early Tuesday morning the infrared thermal cameras got a lock on her. Catching her, though, was a different story.
"There were times where it just looked like a white blur running down the taxiway," Stubbs said.
'Boy, could she run'
That morning the airport's wildlife team, Falcon Environmental Services, joined the effort. Falconer Keith Everett uses birds of prey to scare away nuisance birds from the runways.
Some days, there is wildlife to deal with. Other times, like last Tuesday, there are domestic dogs to track. He drove his truck up and down the runway. Trying — and failing — to lure Crystal closer.
"Boy, could she run," he said. Podencos are cousins of the greyhound, which explains their speed and agility.
"The main thing was keeping her away from any part of the active runway and just kind of pacing ourselves, just slowly getting closer and closer," Everett said.
Finally, Crystal tired herself out.
"She was just so tired at this point, after all this time, that she just crawled underneath the truck and laid down," Everett said.
Everett got under the truck with her. He managed to get a collar around her neck but he didn't rush her. Instead he gave her treats, spoke to her and tried to gain her trust.
Throughout it all, Martins kept Doug Balser and his wife — Crystal's new owners in Moncton, N.B. — up to speed on their pup's adventure.
"We were concerned that something could happen not only to Crystal, but to the other people there," said Balser.
For Stubbs, it was an unexpected but rewarding day on the job.
"You never start a shift thinking you're going to be chasing a dog down a runway," he said. "But overall, I'm glad it ended the way it did. There's nothing like being able to reunite an animal with its owner."
Balser and his wife, Karen, couldn't agree more.
"Just a huge sense of relief and just happy to get her," he said. "She's a lovely little dog, just a really gentle soul."
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