Take Two for April 16, 2013

LAX uses therapy dogs to calm stressed-out travelers

Pets Unstressing People LAX

Daily Bulletin/Screenshot

Pets Unstressing People brings therapy dogs to LAX to calm stressed out passengers.

It's no wonder that Travel and Leisure magazine called LAX one of the worst airports in America: Long lines, cumbersome security, lost baggage, not to mention the difficulty of getting there.

But now there's a new program that could make your next trip to the airport a little less stressful.

"Pets Unstressing People,"or PUP for short, brings therapy dogs and their handlers into the terminals to help calm stressed-out travelers. The program was inspired by a similar program that has been in place at San Jose Airport since after 9/11. 

"Someone in upper management caught wind of that over here and said, 'How are they doing this, and this is something that we want to do," said Heidi Huebner, Director of Volunteers at LA. "I am the lucky person who was given the task to make this happen here."

The program at San Jose Airport was born when a volunteer chaplain decided to bring his therapy dog to the terminal. The dog was such a hit that the program expanded into what it is today. 

The way it works is handlers walk their trained therapy dogs through the terminals to visit anyone who expresses interest. The dog wear bright "Pet Me" signs inviting anyone and everyone to stop and visit with the dog for as long as they like. 

"We have 30 dogs and we are always looking to recruit more," said Huebner. "We've got a huge Doberman Pinscher, an Irish Wolfhound, we've got medium-sized dogs that are mixed mutts and smaller dogs, so its really a variety, it just depends on the personality of the dog."

Though many people will find comfort in these furry friends, not everyone likes dogs. Some people can be quite allergic or even have a fear of the animals. Huebner insists that the handlers are trained to recognize when someone is uneasy about the dogs. 

"If there is somebody who has a fear of a dog, allergies or just isn't in the mood to have a dog come visit them, the volunteers are trained to look at a situation," said Huebner. "They're going to take the dog in a different direction away from that person."


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