Missing on Arrival
By Karen Harbert, Aelwyd Cardigans, San Diego CA

At the 1985 CWCCA National Specialty in suburban Philadelphia, I picked up a puppy, Finnshavn's Helen McLeod, call name NellieMac or Nell, bred by Charlie MacInnes in Canada. She was by Am. Ch. Tessaract's Pete Of Santana out of Can/Am/Bda. Ch. Bawyni's Sweet Molly McGee.

I was taking two pups home: Nell and her litter brother going to a friend in rural San Diego County. At the airport I put them in a brand new Sky Kennel, tightened the crate hardware and checked them in. When I arrived in San Diego, a Skycap volunteered to bring my puppies to me. "Back in five minutes," he said. After 45 minutes I started to worry and asked another Skycap to check on the first. By now I was certain the puppies had missed the connecting flight in St. Louis.

The news was worse than I imagined; when the crate came off the plane, a baggage handler picked it up by the handle and, because the two front screws had fallen off in flight, the door fell out and the puppies escaped into the night. One was caught almost immediately, the other bolted across the runway. I had to wait until the crate was brought around to find out which one was missing; it was my Nellie.

The airline staff assured me that everything possible was being done to find my puppy, but it took some arguing before they saw the logic in having the only person she would recognize join the search. The Security Chief took me in his car for a sweep of the 500 acre airport. Two flights were held up when he notified the tower that he was going to drive the length of the runways.

We searched the back corners of the airport with a spotlight, stopping occasionally so I could poke into ditches, culverts and outbuildings. We saw eyes shining in our lights but they turned out to be cats, and once, a frightened rabbit. The information that coyotes hunted these did little to give me a peaceful night's sleep.

In the morning I returned to the airport to do it all again, but with little hope. She had not been spotted during the night and the Day Supervisor thought by now she was no longer on the grounds.

If she had continued in a straight line when she bolted across the runway she would have run into the fence that separated the airport from the US Marine base next door. I contacted the Provost Marshal who gave me permission to drive around the base in search. Word spread, and I soon learned that Marines on regular patrol, and others out jogging, had been alerted to watch for my missing puppy.

By mid-afternoon I was tired, and lost, and driving around in circles. I never expected to see my puppy again; I pictured a tire tread reading "BOEING" over her little body. I finally went home.

A message was waiting on my answering machine; she had been found, alive and unharmed, and was waiting for me at the terminal. Was that little dog ever glad to see me! But she remembered to thank the nice young man who bought her chicken in a red and white striped box.

I never learned how or where Nellie had been found. 'Joe' had gone off duty, and although I called back several times, I never reached him. We later determined that between airport and Marine Corps personnel, some 5,000 people had joined the search for my lost and frightened puppy.

Winners Bitch at her first show, as a six month old puppy

Nellie showed the effects of her ordeal for a long time afterwards. At one of her first shows we got some idea of her fright when a gentle but very tall judge leaned over her on the table and she became airborne, leaving a wet puddle on the table. I took her to obedience class so early that I had to lie about her age, but it did wonders to steady her.

I learned a lesson after that close call; after that when I shipped a dog I put a few drops of 'Loctite' on the crate hardware so the nuts can't possibly rattle loose. When shipping puppies I put a hospital wrist band around their necks; those are waterproof, identifying information slides inside the band, and they're just the right size.

Nell was lucky to have survived. She became an outstanding show dog, gaining both the American and Canadian Champion title, and important brood bitch for me. She lived to be 15 years old.

Nellie, Winners Bitch with judge Dolly Ward and owner Karen Harbert

Eventually Nell also earned three qualifying legs in Novice Obedience, but since they weren't all in the same country, she never got the CD title.

Reproduced with kind permission.

Karen Harbert is the author of "Murder at the Dog Show". So far there are 12 e-books in the series available from www.amazon.com.