IN his continuing search for the more weird and wondrous in this world, David Ellis says that jittery flyers at some thirty-odd airports in the United States, and four in Canada, are being helped through pre-flight panic attacks by teams of special pooches that are part of a unique program called PUP… Pets Unstressing Passengers.
And it all came about because a volunteer airport chaplain simply took his dog to work with him for company at San Jose’s International Airport after the infamous 9/11: so many nervous flyers patted and befriended the friendly little animal, that the airport officially made it a first-ever “therapy dog.”
The concept quickly took off with other airports following suit, PUP owners every week now volunteering an hour or two of their time – and that of their dogs – and with Los Angeles International (LAX) alone having 40 pooches of numerous varieties on its roster for daily visits.
Director of Volunteers at LAX, Heidi Huebner says many things can stress passengers: a genuine fear of flying, crowds, daunting queues, terrorism concerns, flying to a funeral, to visit sick family members, or to attend stressful meetings.
“You can literally feel the stress levels drop when people see and befriend our dogs… those previously nervous start smiling, strangers begin talking to each other, everybody goes on their way feeling really, really good,” she says.
“One passenger whose husband of 40 years had just told her he wanted a divorce, saw our PUP at LAX, knelt down and wept on its shoulder… the dog just sat there as she let it all out: he could feel…”
And the parents of a 5-year old with autism now arrange for a PUP to meet her whenever she flies home to LAX, it’s greeting immediately relieving the child’s pent-up anxiety from the flight.
For more information about the program look at petsunstressingpassengers.com