San Diego International Airport may have a spiffy new canine bathroom, but Los Angeles World Airport (LAX) has a brand new therapy program. While researching the pet relief area in San Diego, I discovered a really cool program at another California airport--Pets Unstressing Passengers (PUPs) in Los Angeles. The program launched in April, around the same as San Diego's potty area, with a team of thirty therapy dogs tasked with making airport visits more pleasant.
While most dogs at the airport are looking for suspicious packages, these pups, which range from a long-haired Dalmatian to an Irish Wolfhound, are there to ease the stress of travel. The dogs at LAX have to go through an application and certification process to make sure they have good manners and are comfortable in a crowded, hectic environment. The handlers receive training to be mindful of people who may have fears or allergies.
I've never met an airport therapy pup, but apparently it's not a new concept. Mineta San Jose International Airport first introduced a non-official therapy dog in the days after September 11, 2001 when flights were grounded and passengers were stranded (California clearly loves their dogs!). After seeing how stressed and anxious people were, the volunteer airport chaplain got permission to bring his dog, Orion, to work. Orion made such a positive impact that the airport formalized the program and now has nine official therapy pups.
Miami International Airport also has a therapy Golden Retriever named Casey. She has a web site, receives fan mail, and even stars on the reality show Airport 24/7: Miami.
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Handlers have found that the therapy dogs instantly put a smile on people's faces and cause stress levels to drop. The pups even help build human connections, encouraging strangers to start talking to each other over a common love of dogs.
I hope I'll meet one of these pups during my next trip to L.A.!