New Zealand airport dog shooting prompts investigation

The fatal shooting of an aviation security dog, Grizz, at Auckland Airport has triggered a double-pronged investigation.

Both Aviation Security (Avsec) and the airport have commenced independent reviews into the events surrounding the death of the 10-month-old bomb detector trainee puppy.

Grizz was shot dead by local police on Friday morning after he escaped and got onto the airport tarmac, evading security staff for two hours and delaying 16 flights.

Following the incident, Auckland Airport staff who worked with the runaway security dog, including Grizz’s handler Noel Thorburn, have gone into hiding to avoid media over the weekend, Stuff.co.nz reported.

“We won’t be putting the handler through any more stress than he has already endured,” Aviation Security spokesman Mike Richards said.

“It would be fair to say we are all still quite raw from the experience and are providing support to affected staff.”

Mr Thornburn’s son Nicky told Television New Zealand Grizz’s death was a “tragic accident” and not his father’s fault.

“He has over 30 years of experience with dogs and they are his passion,” Nicky said.

“His job is to serve and protect our airport and people are disrespecting him for that.”

Nicky told TV NZ that his father was loved by his colleagues at customs, and he “wouldn’t hurt a fly”, let alone a dog.

Auckland Airport released a statement on Saturday indicating agencies and staff had tried “everything they could” to capture the dog which was just six months away from graduating from the training program.

The Emergency Operations Centre team … made their difficult decision only after they exhausted all the viable options available to them,” an airport spokeswoman said.

“We understand and acknowledge the strong community response to the decision, and our thoughts continue to be first and foremost with the Aviation Security Service dog handler, his colleagues, and all those who were involved in yesterday’s events.”

Auckland Airport will liaise closely with the government agency responsible for the airport’s security, Aviation Security, which will conduct its own review to determine what spooked the dog and whether the event will have any implications on further dog training.

It began with a two-hour chase in pitch black darkness as the dog evaded security staff on the tarmac, Mr Richards outlined in a statement.

Mr Richards said Grizz had dashed through a gate to the tarmac after escaping his handler while being loaded into the back of the Avsec Explosive Detector Dog unit wagon at about 4.30am on Friday. The gate had been opened to allow a vehicle to pass.

The airport Emergency Operations Centre was alerted and a full search was commenced, proving difficult in the dark.

When Grizz was located, he would not let anyone near him and continued to sprint across the runways.

“He did not have a permanent handler so was less responsive than a dog with a permanent handler,” Mr Richards said.

No food, toys or other dogs aided in capturing the dog throughout the three-hour long chase. The area was “too vast and too open” to try and use mobile fencing, he said.

The chase caused the delay of 16 domestic and international flights.

The world reacts

The shooting ignited widespread outrage not only from New Zealand and Australia, but sparked worldwide outcry over how the situation could have been better handled.

The story made headlines on CNN, American website The Daily Beast and even The Washington Post:

‘Don’t shoot your own animals’: Fury unleashed after service dog killed at New Zealand airport’ – The Washington Post.

‘Trainee bomb detector puppy shot dead at new Zealand Airport’ – CNN.

‘Runaway sniffer dog shot after grounding flights at new Zealand Airport’ – The Daily Beast.

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Some critics questioned why the “innocent dog” had been shot with a bullet rather than a tranquilliser.

When asked about this less extreme alternative, an airport spokesman told BBC News: “I do not have the answer to that. But there were no tranquilliser guns at the airport, and the police do not have them, either.”

Some were so disgusted by the “sad outcome” that they suggested boycotting travel to the country.

Originally published at The New Daily.

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About Alana Mitchelson

Alana Mitchelson is a journalist based in Melbourne, Australia. Follow her on Twitter at @AlanaMitchelson.

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