Kevin Sturges of Laurel lost his dog before he ever got him. Then he found him -- in Detroit.
The eight-week-old American-English cross bulldog, named Seamus, disappeared for nearly two days after being put on a flight from Birmingham, Ala., to Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
The brown and white puppy, purchased by Mr. Sturges for $375 from a Birmingham-area breeder, was found outside Detroit Metropolitan Airport with the airline tags ripped off his crate. Seamus was hungry and thirsty from little or no food and water for two days but was unharmed physically.
He finally arrived at BWI Friday night after a dedicated and frantic search by officials of Northwest Airlines who sent electronic messages to every U.S. airport -- and a few overseas -- the carrier services. Seamus spent the weekend in his new Howard County home.
"Nobody knows what happened to him," said Mr. Sturges, 26, a construction manager for a Washington government contractor. "I think he was stolen and brought back."
A Northwest Airlines spokesman said baggage handlers routinely check all animals to ensure they are placed on the correct flights but couldn't explain why Seamus did not appear at Baltimore-Washington Airport as scheduled Thursday afternoon.
"Animals are transferred like passengers' baggage," said spokesman Jim Faulkner. "There must have been a breakdown in procedure by equipment service employees. It's unusual."
Seamus' journey began Thursday morning when he was put aboard a DC-9 in Birmingham with connections to Memphis and Detroit before arrival at BWI. The puppy, in a plastic crate with wire-mesh front, was accompanied by two litter mates in separate crates.
But when Flight 248 arrived at 3:14 p.m. Thursday, Seamus was nowhere in sight.
"I immediately thought he had been stolen," said Mr. Sturges, who watched crestfallen as two other owners greeted their puppies.
Rather than give up, Mr. Sturges and his girlfriend, Adrienne Vadell, of Washington launched what turned out to be an international search for Seamus.
During the next 42 hours, the two faxed letters to the president and vice president of Northwest Airlines and engaged the help of
two local Northwest air cargo employees who sent out dozens of electronic messages to airports across the nation.
Northwest also assigned an investigator to search for the dog. The investigator called airports in Tokyo, England and Taipei, thinking Seamus might have been transferred to an international flight by mistake.
"Hundreds of people were looking for this dog," said Mr. Sturges who said he called more than 50 pet stores in the Detroit area in a vain attempt to find his pooch.
The breakthrough came Friday night when a Northwest employee found the six-pound pup in his crate near a fence outside the Detroit airport. The airline called Mr. Sturges and arranged for Seamus to be put on a flight to Baltimore.
After calling Ms. Vadell to tell her the good news, Mr. Sturges rushed to BWI where he met Seamus with kibble and water.
To compensate Mr. Sturges for his trouble, Northwest waived a $68 freight cargo fee and offered to reimburse him for any costs incurred in looking for Seamus. That means $45 for a veterinary examination and more than $100 for phone calls.
But right now, Mr. Sturges is getting to know Seamus, who quickly became acclimated to his new home. "He snores real loud," Mr. Sturges said.