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It was to be Maggie's first airplane ride. She was flying to Los Angeles to lose her virginity. And there were other reasons for her to be skittish.
Maggie, a Jack Russell terrier, was being left with a stranger. That stranger, a baggage handler, had propped her travel kennel atop a dolly full of luggage. The dolly was headed for the cargo hold of a United Airlines plane. So when the kennel door popped open, Maggie did what any intelligent terrier would do. She hopped out and made a dash for it.
Maggie never made it to Los Angeles.
But she did embark on an odyssey.
The terrier ran the grounds of Sky Harbor International Airport for four days. Often spotted from afar, Maggie always eluded those who tried to corral her, including national guardsmen, airport security officials and even a stockbroker for the dog's owners, who drove up and down the bed of the Salt River south of the airport searching for the dog.
Finally, the dog's owners turned to television for help. Television was glad to oblige.
You see, the woman who tried to send the terrier to L.A., Lori LaJeunesse, is married to William LaJeunesse, a reporter for Phoenix's Channel 3 news. She is also the daughter of former Arizona attorney general Bob Corbin.
So in one of the stranger news judgments in recent Arizona history, Channel 3, as part of its 5 p.m. newscast on November 7, agreed to air a segment about the terrier's escape, complete with videotape of the LaJeunesses' second-grade daughter, Corbin, and Maggie playing in more carefree days. Following this news exclusive, Maggie was captured in a "friendly trap" loaned by the Arizona Humane Society and set at the airport.
The strange, public escape and capture of Maggie the Jack Russell terrier began November 5, when Lori LaJeunesse tried to book a flight for herself and the dog on Southwest Airlines. (Maggie had gone into heat the previous week and was ready to be bred with Sentinel, a male Jack Russell who resides in Los Angeles.) But Southwest refuses to transport animals, except for Seeing Eye dogs and other service creatures. So Lori bought a ticket on America West Airlines, which, she was assured, would allow Maggie to fly with her, the dog's kennel tucked beneath the seat.
As it turned out, however, Maggie's kennel didn't fit under the seat. Two flight attendants then told Lori that, because the airliner was almost empty of passengers, she could strap Maggie's kennel in the seat beside her. (Lori says she had the row to herself.)
But a third flight attendant put the kibosh on that plan.
"They just threw her off," says William LaJeunesse, who was not at the airport but was involved in the subsequent search for the dog. "Even if we'd bought a ticket for the dog, that wasn't the point."
He adds: "Later on, an America West guy called me back. He said, 'We can't let that, because if the animal defecates in its . . . cage, then it might get on the seat.'
"Which is just a crock of shit."
America West officials refused to comment.
After being reimbursed for the America West ticket, Lori booked a United Airlines flight and paid $50 to have Maggie placed in the plane's cargo hold.
At the time, Lori says, she asked the United baggage handlers to tie extra string around the kennel to ensure Maggie didn't get loose. They assured her the kennel was escape-proof.
Before Lori had boarded the plane, United officials informed her that Maggie had gotten loose and was running around the tarmac. Lori says they refused to let her go down and call for Maggie.
"She would have come to me," Lori says.
John Garrity, customer service supervisor for United, responds: "We were just afraid for their welfare. It was an emotional time."
Emotions continued to run high as the search for Maggie dragged on.
William drove down to the airport after work that night, and he and security officials drove around, looking for Maggie.
The dog had been spotted on the south side of the airport grounds, near the bed of the Salt River. William recalls the seriocomic nature of the event: "So we drive up and down the damn riverbed, and I've got this microphone, this megaphone, 'Maggie, come here, Maggie!' I think everybody in South Phoenix could hear me calling my goddamn dog. And we've got the searchlight on. . . . No dog."
The next day, a search party--including Lori, the LaJeunesses' other dog, a Bouvier des Flandres, Bob Corbin and his German shepherd--was formed. Other friends and associates, including the LaJeunesses' stockbroker, drove around searching for Maggie.
Still, no Maggie.
Every time the LaJeunesses had given up hope of recovering the dog, it seemed, airport security would call with another Maggie sighting.
Lori's mother, Helen Corbin, kept urging William to persuade his bosses at Channel 3 to let him deliver an on-air plea for Maggie's safe capture. LaJeunesse was embarrassed and initially resisted, but ultimately pitched the story to producer Lisa Hudson--without revealing his relation to Maggie.
Hudson approved the story--and stuck by that approval, even after LaJeunesse admitted that Maggie was his own dog.
Hudson was not available for comment. Phil Alvidrez, Channel 3 news director, was not aware of the story.
"God, we're everything to everybody," he said, laughing, when he heard about it last week. Alvidrez says stories about reporters and other Channel 3 staff are not prohibited, as long as the viewers are informed as such.
"You have to decide if this is a good story or not," Alvidrez adds.
The story--only 20 seconds long, but complete with footage taken from the Channel 3 helicopter--aired. Maggie, who apparently was not watching, did not turn herself in.
Then someone suggested a trap. It was set up in a spot at the airport Maggie had frequented and was baited with liver treats and a blanket from home. William and a friend camped out in sleeping bags, hoping to catch her, since the dog was more active at night.
Sure enough, the trap worked. "[Maggie had] a little gash here and there, but nothing outrageous. Of course, when I got her home, she drank a lot of water and was hungry," William says.
Although they praise airport security officials, the LaJeunesses are still teed off at both America West and United.
Lori was insulted when--after the dog got loose--she was handed $100 worth of United Airlines vouchers as an apology.
"I just thought it was so tacky," she says.
United's Garrity says the airline bent over backward to find the dog. "I feel that we did do everything possible," he says.
Channel 3 reported Maggie's safe return home on its 10 p.m. newscast November 9.
Although Maggie's capture made the news, it wasn't because her escape was a first of its kind. Sky Harbor operations supervisor Scott Maxwell says pets escape and roam the airport grounds for some period of time at least a couple times a year.