Let’s face it – air travel is stressful, exhausting, and a test of one’s patience—it’s absolutely “ruf.” Delays, overbooked flights, no overhead compartment space are expected, but a group of the fluffiest, most adorable dogs to cuddle?
That is what you will find at many airports today. These dogs, and pigs and cats in some instances, stroll the terminals with their handlers focused on helping travelers destress while waiting for flights. Research shows that animal interactions help decrease cortisol levels and lower blood pressure, a benefit for anxious fliers.
The number of airports with therapy dog programs is on the increase. According to the Alliance of Therapy Dogs, in 2017, there were 48 airports with the program. Last year that number increased to 58, and it is on a steady increase. Just last summer, the UK introduced its first therapy dog at Aberdeen International Airport.
San Francisco International Airport will deploy the “Wag Brigade” if a flight is delayed. They are escorted into the terminal wearing vests that read, “Pet Me!” The project pairs the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Animal Assisted Therapy Program.
Another four-legged creature has joined the brood, a pig named LiLou. She is not the only airport pig. Albany International Airport is home to Bacon Bits, a 101-pound potbelly pig, joining a group of 30 dogs that also comfort flyers at this airport. Denver International Airport boasts not only 100 dogs but a cat as well.
San Jose International Airport is credited as being the first U.S. airport with a therapy dog that started shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. SJC’s Interfaith Chaplain Volunteer Kathryn Liebschutz owned a trained rescue/therapy Boxer/Great Dane mix dog named Orion. She asked for permission to bring Orion to SJC to alleviate travelers’ anxieties about taking to the skies again. Today, SJC has 23 active therapy dogs that stroll its terminals.
From a tiny Pomeranian to a giant Mastiff, Charlotte Douglas International Airport boasts the CLT Canine Crew; Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport MSP Animal Ambassadors, and San Diego International Airport, “Ready, Pet, Go!”
Many will make special arrangements to be on hand while groups fly in and out after a conference. Click here for more information on the Alliance of Therapy Dogs and here for a team-building activity that is also for the dogs.