Dog dies during Delta Air Lines layover, cause unclear

PHOTO: A Pomeranian dog named Alejandro is pictured in this undated photo.PlayObtained by ABC News
WATCH Owner says Delta tried to 'cover up' dog's death

The owner of a Pomeranian that died during a layover at Detroit Metropolitan Airport on Thursday is seeking answers from Delta Air Lines.

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Michael Dellegrazie said his 8-year-old dog, Alejandro, died on a flight from Phoenix to Newark, New Jersey, where he and his girlfriend are relocating, while in an animal-care facility at the airport.

"I got the phone call from my girlfriend ... and then she gave me the number to call Delta," Dellegrazie said in an interview with ABC News' "Good Morning America."

In a statement to ABC News over the weekend, Delta said the airline is conducting an ongoing investigation.

"We know pets are an important member of the family and we are focused on the well-being of all animals we transport," the company said. "Delta is conducting a thorough review of the situation and have been working directly with Alejandro's family to support them however we can. As part of that review, we want to find out more about why this may have occurred to ensure it doesn't happen again and we have offered to have Alejandro evaluated by a veterinarian to learn more."

PHOTO: A Pomeranian dog named Alejandro is pictured in this undated photo.Obtained by ABC News
A Pomeranian dog named Alejandro is pictured in this undated photo.

An airline official told ABC News the deceased dog was placed in a sealed bag and placed on ice, as requested by veterinarians, in an effort to maintain accuracy in any future necropsy.

The shipper of the dog was informed of the dog's death about 90 minutes after Alejandro was found unresponsive, the Delta official said. In each conversation with the family and their attorney, Delta offered to arrange an independent necropsy through Michigan State University. The family and attorney asked the airline to "stand by" on each occasion.

Dellegrazie's attorney, Evan Oshan, said he contacted Delta immediately to "put them on notice" and sent the airline a "preservation of evidence letter."

"I wanted to get to the bottom of this -- figure this out. We had a dead family member. A dog, but a family member," he added.

PHOTO: A Pomeranian dog named Alejandro is pictured in this undated photo.Obtained by ABC News
A Pomeranian dog named Alejandro is pictured in this undated photo.

Dellegrazie said he was filled with "very strong feelings of pain, anger and disgust" at the moment he received his dog, which intensified when he went through the pup's personal belongings and found them soaking wet.

"It was at that point that I stopped the retrieval of the items and called for a criminal investigation. The area was completely taped off, and some of the items were marked, and some of those are with the Detroit Police Department," he said.

Delta told ABC News the dog may have been wet from the refrigeration of the dog's body or from bodily fluids. Delta does not wash deceased dogs because doing so would jeopardize the accuracy of the necropsy, the airline said.

Nearly 507,000 animals were transported on U.S. airlines last year, and of those, 24 died, according to Department of Transportation figures.

PHOTO: A Pomeranian dog named Alejandro is pictured in this undated photo.Obtained by ABC News
A Pomeranian dog named Alejandro is pictured in this undated photo.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect additional comments from Delta Air Lines regarding the circumstances of the case.
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