These days, airports and flying are often stressful experiences. If the freeway traffic getting to the airport doesn’t stress you out, the traffic at the airport will – and that’s before you discover your flight has been delayed or canceled!
So, how do you handle your airport stress? How about petting and talking to an airport therapy dog? Nearly all of the SoCal airports have airport therapy dog programs, most of which began in 2017-18. Volunteer handler-owners regularly bring their trained and certified therapy dogs to airport terminals to help passengers relax a bit and feel less stressed while waiting for their flights.
Think about it. How can you continue to feel uptight and tense when an adorable, tail-wagging pooch looks up at you, just waiting for a kind word and a scratch behind the ears? Soon you may begin conversing with fellow passengers or the dog’s handler-owner about the program and the dog, forgetting about your flight anxiety.
Airports require therapy dogs and their handler-owners to be trained, and most SoCal airports require them to be certified, registered, and insured by a recognized therapy dog organization such as Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dogs, Inc., Alliance Therapy Dogs, or Therapy Dogs, Inc.
The handler-owners are required to clear background checks, get fingerprinted, and pass all other security requirements of airport employees. After meeting all of the prerequisites, the handlers and dogs are given airport badges, in addition to shirts for the handlers and “pet me” bandanas or vests for the pooches. They also must pass through TSA screening upon every visit to the airport.
LAX’s therapy dog program is PUP – Pets Unstressing Passengers. The dogs and handlers must complete an exercise to assure they work well together and partake in terminal training to become familiarized with LAX. PUP volunteers also assist passengers with their questions, especially about directions, and are registered with Therapy Dogs, Inc. Passengers are invited to interact with the dogs and post selfies with PUP therapy dogs on LAX’s Facebook page.
Traveler’s Tails is the volunteer therapy dog program at Hollywood-Burbank Airport. It’s very popular with passengers who suddenly develop big smiles when a dog and its handler stop by the passenger waiting area. Children love to pet and talk with the dogs and work off some of their pre-flight energy, which surely pleases their parents.
The next time you fly out of Long Beach Airport look for the STARS – therapy dogs in the Simple Therapy and Real Smiles Program. While you’re waiting for your flight and charging your phone, the time will whisk by while you’re giving and getting attention from a friendly airport therapy canine.
Flown from Ontario International Airport lately? Maybe you happened upon a furry member of the Paw Squad, the airport’s therapy dog program from Inland Empire Therapy Dogs. “In November 2018 we started with three dogs,” said Carolyn Riche, of Inland Empire Therapy Dogs and their airport lead, “and now have 15 dogs in Terminals 2 and 4 daily, both days and nights.”
She remembers the time she and her dog, Elliot, spotted a young woman sitting alone and looking sad. When they approached her, she looked up and smiled a bit, then reached down to give Elliot a hug. Through tears, she said her mother had died and she was on her way home. “Elliot couldn’t change her situation, but he gave her comfort and affection while she was there,” said Carolyn.
Willie Edwards, ONT’s director of customer service, has often experienced passengers who remark about the dogs, “I wish my home airport had them” or “How can I get my dog involved?” Willie said passengers even ask when the Paw Squad will be getting their own social media channel.
Ready, Pet, Go is the therapy dog program at San Diego International Airport, which offers waiting passengers lovable, friendly, adorable, four-legged friends to pet, hug, and maybe steal a kiss or two from. The program’s handler-owners and their dogs stroll through the terminals bringing smiles to all, including the airport ambassadors who accompany them to answer travelers’ inquiries along the way.
Surprisingly, John Wayne Airport doesn’t have a therapy dog program, but according to Joel Aguilar of JWA’s volunteer program, they expect to soon offer PUP.
Enjoy your summer travels and take advantage of airport therapy dogs to lessen stress and help you relax – unless you fly out of Palm Springs International Airport, which has no therapy dogs. The reason? They claim to already be stress-free, and were named by SmarterTravel.com as one of the ten most stress-free airports in the USA. Now that’s something to bark about!
Terri Daxon is a freelance writer