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Prize-winning show dog vanishes at Atlanta airport

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Posted at 7:53 AM, Mar 26, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-26 10:53:53-04

It's been three days since a prize-winning show dog disappeared at one of the world's busiest airports after being checked in for a flight.

Gale, a pure-bred American Staffordshire Terrier whose owners live in Amsterdam, was being shown in the United States by her handlers and had one final event in Louisville, Kentucky, on Saturday before flying home.

The handlers brought Gale and another dog to Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport, where they checked in for their KLM Royal Dutch Airlines flight and went through security. Not long after the handlers boarded the Amsterdam-bound plane in Atlanta on Saturday afternoon, they were informed that Gale's kennel was found empty when crews went to load her crate onto the aircraft. The handlers immediately called her owners.

"Me and my wife completely panicked," Gale's owner, Floris Van Essen, told ABC News in a telephone interview from the Netherlands’ capital on Monday. "We were out of our minds. You can imagine it's horrific to hear that a dog is gone and nobody knows where she is."

Van Essen said they've been in touch with the airport, the airline as well as the baggage handler, but being thousands of miles away and in different time zones "isn't helping."

"There's a sense of hopelessness and powerlessness because there's nothing you can do," he added.

Authorities and airport officials, including wildlife biologists on staff, have been trying to track down the dog ever since. Gale was last spotted Monday morning around 3:30 a.m. local time.

"The dog somehow got out of the crate and is now running around the airfield," Andrew Gobeil, a spokesperson for Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, told ABC News in an interview Monday. "We have about 4,600 acres of field out there, from the airfield and from the woods area. So we're looking throughout the entire airport."

"We're optimistic that we'll find Gale," Gobeil added. "We understand how important the dog is to the family structure when we want to make sure that we get Gale home safely."

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment Tuesday morning.

Gale's owners described the dog as "friendly" and "loving," but said she is likely scared and skittish in an unknown area.

"We're really missing a family member," Van Essen told ABC News. "We don't have any children, the dogs are our children. Her brother lives here, her mother lives here, and we really want her back home safe."