A security worker at Auckland Airport is “very upset” after his dog was shot dead by police on Friday morning.
Aviation security dog Grizz ran off after becoming spooked while on the job about 4.30am.
His escape caused lengthy delays for more than a dozen flights.
Airport staff spent three hours trying to catch him without any success, and eventually asked police to shoot him so that flights could resume.
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Nicky Thorburn posted on Facebook that his father was the Avsec handler in charge of Grizz at the time.
“It was a last resort, my dad is very upset about this,” he said.
“I’m reading disgusting comments… and people need to understand how traumatising and upsetting this was for him.
“Please have compassion.”
Thorburn said his father, Noel Thorburn, had worked in customs and aviation security for more than thirty years, and was considered one of the best at what he did.
The airport earlier said that Grizz had been caught but later confirmed he had been fatally shot.
Members of the public questioned why he wasn’t knocked out with tranquilisers.
TVNZ’s Hilary Barry asked: “Do they not have a tranquiliser gun? I don’t care if your plane is delayed. You don’t need to shoot the dog”.
Renee Scott posted on the Stuff Facebook page: “Surely the more humane thing if desperate would be to maybe tranquillise if really and truly necessary.”
Fran Calverley agreed: “Why couldn’t they shoot it with a knockout drug?”
However airport spokeswoman Lisa Mulitalo said Grizz was only killed as a last resort.
“They did everything they could, but unfortunately the dog had to be shot,” she said.
“We’re really upset about it.”
Current status: Sitting in a plane in Tauranga that can’t take off because a dog is on the Auckland Airport runway.
— Adam Morris (@bigmarnmorris) March 16, 2017
Aviation security spokesman Mike Richards said Grizz had been on the loose for around three hours.
“At around 4.30am an Avsec security detector dog was spooked and got away from his handler,” he said.
“The emergency operations centre was activated and a search was commenced.”
Richards said 16 flights were delayed, as pilots would not risk passenger safety with a dog on the loose.
Inspector Tracy Phillips said airport staff eventually asked police to shoot Grizz around 7.30am.
“This followed considerable efforts over several hours by Avsec and airport staff to contain the dog,” she said.
“This is not an outcome which anyone wanted, and police were only asked to be involved as a last resort.”
Unfortunately an Aviation Security dog was shot this morn @AKL_Airport staff had tried for 3 hours to catch it our thoughts are with handler
— Auckland Airport (@AKL_Airport) March 16, 2017
Richards said those involved understood why Grizz had to be killed.
“The handler and Avsec are naturally upset but do understand there were no other options, in the very difficult circumstances,” he said.
Andrea Midgen, the acting national chief executive for the SPCA, said the airport would only have shot Grizz as a last resort.
“I would say it’s one of those unfortunate accidents,” she said.
“They put a huge investment in those dogs to do the job they do, and they treat them as part of the family.”
Grizz was one of three puppies which joined the Avsec team in May 2016.
Avsec posted pictures of the trio at the time, but it wasn’t immediately clear which of the dogs was Grizz.
Midgen said her thoughts were with aviation security staff as they had lost an important team member.
“It would have been the hardest decision they’ve had to make.”
Richards said the focus in coming days would be on understanding what had gone wrong.
“Avsec will undertake a review of the incident to try and ascertain what spooked the dog, and if this has any implications for ongoing training,” he said.
Aviation Security Service (Avsec) dogs
Avsec’s explosive detector dogs (EDD) have different jobs than the customs and MPI pups, tasked with sniffing out explosives rather than drugs or food.
Each EDD has a human partner, or handler, and they work together to ensure no dangerous materials are present in our airports or on aircraft. They’re based in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown.
The job requirements for an EDD are to be happy, confident, sociable, non-aggressive and love playing with toys. Avsec doesn’t discriminate by breed.
Dog teams undergo 10 weeks of training before graduating from the Police Dog Training Centre as operational.
The dogs’ presence in airports can deter potential explosive-layers and they also conduct random searches around the airport, such as at check-in counters, screening points and gate lounges.
They also back up police and customs and corrections teams when there are bomb threats.
Mobile and quick, the dog teams are considered the most reliable and cost-effective way of detecting explosives.
*An earlier version of this story incorrectly named the dog as Frizz, due to a spelling error by Avsec. The dog’s name was Grizz.
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