LOS ANGELES (CBS/AP) — Los Angeles International Airport is already looking to expand its therapy dog program, which was launched in April.
The airport’s 30 dogs are intended to take the stress out of travel — the crowds, long lines and terrorism concerns.
“You never know why people are flying,” said Heidi Huebner, director of volunteers at LAX, which launched Pets Unstressing Passengers (PUPs) in April. “Travelers might be in town for a vacation, a funeral, to visit a sick family member or to attend a business meeting.”
Huebner told KNX 1070 NEWSRADIO even the most stressed-out passengers calm down when there’s a cute little puppy around.
“When you walk in with the dogs, you feel the stress level drop immediately,” she said. “People start smiling, people start talking to each other, they’re taking pictures, they’re hugging the dogs.”
Dogs have to be healthy, skilled, stable, well-mannered and able to work on a slack 4-foot leash, said Billie Smith, executive director of Wyoming-based Therapy Dogs, Inc., which certifies the LAX animals. They have to be comfortable with crowds, sounds, smells — and they need to pass through security like all airport workers.
Handlers are taught to watch for people who fear or dislike dogs or those who might have allergies. In most cases, people approach the dogs, identifiable by the vests or bandannas they wear.
Los Angeles’ dogs, which are featured on trading cards, are as varied as its airport passengers. There’s a long-haired Dalmatian, a Lab-pointer mix, a field spaniel, a poodle, three Australian Labradoodles, a Doberman and a 150-pound Irish wolfhound named Finn who has two tricks.
“He looks you in the eye and lays down on the job,” owner Brian Valente said. “When I’m around Finn, it makes me feel like things are OK. When Finn’s around other people, they are OK. It’s almost instant, even if just for a moment.”
Mineta San Jose International Airport is widely credited with introducing the first airport therapy dog in the days after Sept. 11, 2001, when flights were grounded, passengers were stranded and reaching friends and relatives in the East was nearly impossible.
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