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Therapy Dogs Offer Stress Relief At Airports



Since many people were afraid to travel by plane after the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, an interfaith chaplain volunteer at Mineta San José International Airport (SJC) brought her therapy dog to the airport in order to help ease air travelers’ anxieties. 

Her idea was an instant success and SJC now has 13 teams of volunteer handlers and dogs in a K-9 Crew that offers stress relief to passengers a few hours a day, seven days a week. There are numerous breeds and all the dogs are certified by Therapy Dogs International (TDI).

Following in the footsteps of SJC, Miami International Airport, San Antonio International Airport, Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City, and 20 more airports now have therapy dog programs in terminals.

Scott Elmore, spokesman for ACI-NA, an organization representing airports in North America, says the program has helped many people overcome their fears.

‘’Airports are exciting places of much activity, but at times they also can be overwhelming for some travelers. As simple as it may sound, encountering a four-legged friend in the terminal can be exactly the experience that takes the edge off the airport experience.’’

Los Angeles International Airport launched its Pets Unstressing Passengers (PUP) program on April 15, 2013. Heidi Huebner, the PUP program director, says people are definitely less stressed around these pooches.

‘When the dogs are in the terminals you can feel the stress level drop. Expressions change. People look up from their laptops and their phones. They take pictures. They come over to pet the dogs. Conversations start between strangers. And even people just passing by begin to smile.”

Although many airports are thrilled to have dogs, Billie Smith, executive director of Wyoming-based Therapy Dogs, Inc. says that he knows that some people would prefer to see cats in terminals.

“We used to have cats in our organization and we grandfathered in about 10 of them prior to deciding to have just dogs. The cats weren’t quite as accepting of everyone as the dogs were, but there are always exceptions.”

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