Maia the dog was found exhausted but in good health on Saturday after three weeks of evading capture at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport — the busiest in the world. She had escaped from her crate while it was being loaded onto a flight from Atlanta to the Dominican Republic.
Paula Rodriguez was traveling from her home in the Dominican Republic to San Francisco for a vacation on Aug. 18 when things took a turn for the worse. Her visa was canceled, CNN reported, and she had to spend the night in a detention center before a return flight home the following day.
But when Rodriguez went to board her flight home, Maia was nowhere to be found, and border enforcement officers demanded she get on her flight without her dog. Two days later, Delta Air Lines told Rodriguez the dog was on her way to the plane when staff opened her crate and she escaped, CNN reported.
Delta said in a statement to NPR that the airline worked with airport staff to search for the dog, including "around-the-clock" visual searches as conditions allowed and nighttime searches with night-vision goggles.
According to a GoFundMe page started by Rodriguez's sister, Maia and her owner had been inseparable for almost seven years, "which is probably why Maia so desperately broke through her kennel bag when they were separated," the page reads. "Maia needed to get back to Paula, especially after a very stressful travel."
Robin Allgood, who is known as a volunteer animal recovery specialist, created a Find Maia Community Facebook page at the end of August to help reunite Rodriguez with her beloved pet. She also posted signs for the lost dog, which paid off when a call came in at 2:30 a.m. on Saturday from a FedEx cargo worker who had spotted Maia.
"He told me he had seen her at 5pm on Friday, he saw her on Thursday and several other employees had seen her during the week," Allgood wrote on Facebook. "I jumped out of bed and headed straight to the airport."
She spent the rest of the day getting the runaround from airport security and staff, Allgood said, bouncing back and forth between the FedEx cargo facility and the Delta terminal at the airport. It wasn't until approximately 6 p.m. that another call had come in that Maia had been spotted, and Allgood was eventually allowed onto the airport grounds to try and capture the missing dog.
Allgood took the matter into her own hands, literally, crawling under a cargo rack to finally catch the dog.
"I got to her and she still hadn't noticed I was behind her...I took a deep breath and just grabbed her around the waist without hesitating," she wrote. "The next thing I hear is someone yell Robin's got her!"
The Atlanta airport shared the good news over X, formerly known as Twitter, on Sunday morning.
Maia and Rodriguez were finally reunited on Sunday and have since returned home to the Dominican Republic, Allgood posted on Facebook.
According to the Department of Transportation's 2022 Air Travel Consumer Report, more than 188,000 animals were transported by airlines in 2022, during which time seven animals died and one was lost. And although incidents like Maia's are rare, they often make headlines.
A Bengal cat named Breezy escaped from her carrier at Denver International Airport in mid-August and spent several days roaming the airport grounds before she was caught and returned to her owner, NBC 9 News reported.
NPR previously reported that a 4-year-old cat named Rowdy went missing in Boston's Logan International Airport in late June 2022. Rowdy got loose from her carrier after flying in from Frankfurt, Germany. Airport staff, animal shelter volunteers and construction workers spent three weeks trying to catch the cat before she was successfully apprehended.
And in May 2022, a dog named Rocky roamed around the Tampa International Airport for more than a week before he was caught and reunited with his owners. Rocky had slipped out of his collar while at the curbside baggage claim, Tampa Bay 10 News reported, and was eventually found hiding in bushes outside the airport.